Ancestry UK

Marie Hilton Crèche, Stepney Causeway, London

Marie Hilton (1821-1896) was originally from Richmond, Surrey, but in 1843 took up a post as a governess in Brighton. There she joined the Society of Friends and subsequently married fellow Quaker John Hilton in 1853.

Marie Hilton, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1861, the couple — now parents to five children — moved to London's dockland area. In 1871, as part of the Quaker mission in Ratcliff, Marie set up a crèche — then a very novel facility — to allow parents in poor families to work while their children were looked after. Mothers paid twopence a day, for which their child was supervised, fed, rested, and dressed in freshly washed clothes when they returned in the evening.

Marie Hilton Crèche advertisement, 1890. © Peter Higginbotham

Marie Hilton Crèche — mealtime, c.1902. © Peter Higginbotham

By the time of her death in 1896, Marie Hilton's crèche, had expanded to occupy 12-16 Stepney Causeway, dealing each day with up to a hundred children aged from three weeks to five years. The establishment also had its own infirmary, a temporary home for incapacitated mothers, and a training and convalescent home at Feltham in Middlesex.

Marie Hilton Crèche — nursery, c.1902. © Peter Higginbotham

It was Hilton's deathbed wish that the operation of the crèche should ne taken over by Barnardo's who occupied most of the adjacent property on Stepney Causeway. The formal transfer took place in 1899 at a prayer meeting in the chapel of the boys home. The crèche continued to develop and over the years occupied a number of other buildings on the street. In 1925, these included 15, 16, 21, 23, 25 and 27 Stepney Causeway.

With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the home was closed and never re-opened.


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  • Barnardo, Syrie Louise, and Marchant, James Memoirs of the Late Dr Barnardo (Hodder & Stoughton, 1907)
  • Batt, J.H. Dr. Barnardo: The Foster-Father of "Nobody's Children" (S.W. Partridge, 1904)
  • Bready, J. Wesley Doctor Barnardo (Allen & Unwin, 1930)
  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Rose, June For the Sake of the Children: Inside Dr. Barnardo's: 120 years of caring for children (Hodder & Stoughton, 1987)
  • Wagner, Gillian Barnardo (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1979)