Ancestry UK

School of Industry / Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, London

The School of Industry for Female Orphans was established in 1786, thanks in good part to the efforts of the Rev. Basil Woodd. Its object was 'to provide an asylum for poor orphan girls who have lost both parents, and to clothe, board, and instruct them.'

Prior to 1853, the home occupied premises at Church Street, Paddington Green, where twenty-four girls could be housed. It then moved to purpose-built accommodation at the corner of Grove Road (now Lisson Grove) and St John's Wood Road, London NW8. The building's portico featured a sculpture — 'Defend the Fatherless' — by Edward Gusatvus Physick.

In 1865, in order to avoid giving the impression that the home was a reformatory or industrial school, it was renamed the Home for Female Orphans Who Have Lost Both Parents.

Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Home for Female Orphans, 'Defend the Fatherless', 1854. © Peter Higginbotham

Girls entering the home were required to have been born in lawful wedlock and be between 6 and 11 years of age. Admission to the home was by election of the charity's subscribers and donors or by a lump sum payment of at least £70, with girls below the age of 6 being allowed entry subject to payment of a larger sum.

Preference was given to 'those of respectable parentage.' All the girls admitted had to provide a medical certificate as to their general state of health and freedom from scrofulous or scorbutic disorder, fits, or disease, deformity, or infirmity, and a certificate of birth and baptism, or satisfactory evidence of age. The marriage and burial of parents also had to be proved.

Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

David Sloan, who has a family connection with the home, has kindly provided a photo of two of the inmates, Maud and Mildred Cole, in their Sunday uniform.

Maud (seated) and Milly Cole, Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, c.1906. © David Sloan

Girls were kept in the institution until 16 years of age, unless constitutionally weak, when the period could be extended. On leaving, they were supplied with an outfit and, if possible, placed as domestic servants with reputable families. However, a guarantee was required, except in cases of urgency or destitution, that in event of the Committee being unable to find a situation, a girl would be no longer chargeable on the charity's funds.

The Grove Road home could accommodate up to 80 girls, but the charity's funds usually did not permit it to run at anywhere near its full capacity.

Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, c.1924. © Peter Higginbotham

Relatives or friends of the inmates were allowed to visit them on first Monday in every month between 9 a.m. and noon, and 2 and 5 p.m.

Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, date unknown. © David Sloan

In 1870, Miss Caroline Ann Laver became matron of the home. She retired in 1923 after more than 52 years in the post.

Miss Caroline Laver, Home for Female Orphans, St John's Wood, date unknown. © David Sloan

In 1925, it was reported that some of the charity's subscribers had withdrawn their subscriptions because the girls were being taught dancing and to act plays,

The orphanage is believed to have closed in around 1932. The Grove Road building no longer exists.


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  • None identified at present.


  • Thanks to David Sloan for providing some of the pictures.