Miss Sharman's Homes
Charlotte Sharman was born in 1832 in Southwark and was brought up in a deeply religious Evangelical atmosphere. She was a delicate child and was educated by her mother at home. Along with her sister Phoebe, she later became a governess in a school run by their parents. After visiting in a workhouse some orphans whose parents she had known, she took a growing interest in the plight of such children, especially girls, many of whom ended up living on the streets. For some of these children that she encountered, she found homes with the families of friends, or paid for their care with foster parents. Others she passed to the homes run by George Muller in Bristol.
After writing a pamphlet about the need for a home to care for such girls, the encouragement and financial support that she was offered led Sharman to set one up herself. The home was opened on May 6th, 1867 in a rented a house next door to her mother's residence in West Square, Southwark. The establishment aimed to offer a home and domestic training to destitute orphan girls. The first residents were ten small girls under the care of a teacher who acted as both as a matron and governess to the small family. A year later, the children numbered 42, necessitating a move to a larger house. By May 1869, there were 80 children and a second property was taken on. By 1870, four houses in and around West Square were occupied. In 1871, the homes included a nursery branch with 36 children at 32 West Square, one for 36 five to eight-year-olds at 23 West Square, an infirmary at 44 West Square, and a large house known at The Mansion at 14 South Street (now Austral Street) with 93 residents. The Mansion, provided at a modest rent by the Vicar of Botolph, was also used as a school.
When very poor state of The Mansion led to an order for its demolition, Sharman decided to erect her own building on the site and on July 22nd, 1875, the foundations stone of what was to become the 'Orphans' Nest' was laid by the Duchess of Sutherland. The north wing of the new home was ready for use in the following May although it took until 1884 for the whole building to be completed.
The Orphans' Nest site is shown on the 1895 map below.
Any applicant for admission was required to be an orphan and destitute and, if over 12 years of age, to provide a satisfactory reference as to her character. All cases were strictly investigated, and, except in extreme cases, they were admitted in rotation. Admission was free, except for cases supported by special subscription. There was no fixed age either for receiving orphans or for sending the girls out to service and each case was considered individually. Inmates were said to be 'carefully instructed in superior needlework, and receive a plain English education.' The institution was described as 'Protestant inter-denominational', with the girls attending chapel on Sunday mornings and church in the afternoon.
As well as the Orphan's Nest, a small home continued in operation at 21 West Square. In 1891, Miss Sharman was living at 20 West Square with her Companion, Louise Colley, and her adopted daughter Charlotte, then aged 16. She also established other branch homes at The Cedars, Overcliffe, Gravesend; Lynwood, Upper Grosvenor Road, Tunbridge Wells; Coombe Denys, Newton Abbot; and The Limes, Mount Pleasant, Hastings. There was also an 'Educational Branch' at 22 St Michael's Road, Stockwell.
Miss Sharman died on December 5th, 1929, at the age of 97. She worked up until the end, typing her letters herself. It was said that during her life she had cared for more than 2,700 children and had received more than £320,000 in charitable donations to support her work.
The Austral Street building subsequently became the Westminster Hospital's All Saints annexe, later known as All Saints' Hospital. It is now occupied by the Imperial War Museum's photographic archive.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- The Ancestry UK website has two collections of London workhouse records (both name searchable):
- The Find My Past website has workhouse / poor law records for Westminster.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Various annual reports, correspondence and papers (1877-1947).
- Williams, Marguerite Charlotte Sharman: the romance of great faith (1931, Relgious Tract Society)
- None identified at present.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.