Ancestry UK

The National Children's Home Story

The First Home

In March 1869, Thomas Bowman Stephenson, then aged 30, was approached by two fellow Methodists, Alfred Mager and Francis Horner, seeking his support for a fund-raising appeal they were launching. Mager, aged 32 and a banker by profession, and Horner, ten years his younger and a rising businessmen, were both involved in the running of the Sunday School at Lambeth's Clifton Street chapel. The two friends had also been conducting services in the notoriously rough Mint district of Southwark and their proposal was to open a model lodging house there to help down-and-out men. Stephenson, however, brought them round to the idea of a home for homeless and friendless boys where training would also be provided.

Alfred Mager (left), Francis Horner (centre) and Thomas Bowman Stephenson (right)

The plan was adopted and a small house found to rent at 8 Church Street, Lambeth. One late-nineteenth century author described the property as follows:

A more prosaic place could scarcely be imagined. The street — its name has been changed to Exton Street — is close to the railway arches which cluster around Waterloo Station. It is by no means the brightest street in a not very brilliant neighbourhood. An entry (now figuring as a wide doorway) was the only playground. A stable behind served as a dining-room. Wood-chopping was the only industry. A loft in the rear became a dormitory for the boys. A white mark on the wall of the higher building shows the spot at which the washhouse was erected.

8 Church Street, Lambeth

The first two boys were received into the home on Friday July 9th, 1869. From the start, Stephenson — influenced by institutions such as the Rauhe House in Germany and the Mettray colony in France — wanted the home to be family-like in nature. The home was supervised by the resident 'house-parents', a Mr and Mrs Austin, whom the boys were expected to call 'Father' and 'Mother'.

On July 16th, a meeting was held at the home to promote the work. At the meeting, a formal constitution was agreed for the operation of The Children's Home, as the establishment was now called, which also included Instructions and Advice for house-parents. A governing committee was appointed consisting of Mager and Horner, together with the Revd C.H. Kelly and Mr W.T. Whelpton. Stephenson was appointed as the Home's Honorary Director.

Two months after its opening, the number of boys at Church Street had risen to more than twenty and an adjacent house was rented. Following Stephenson's transfer to the Bethnal Green circuit in 1871, it was decided that the home should be relocated to larger premises which were closer to his new location. The move to the new home, at 84 Bonner Road, Bethnal Green, took place in June 1871.