Ancestry UK

Boys Garden City, Woodford Bridge, Essex

Although Thomas Barnardo had opened his Girls' Village Home in 1876, it was not until 1909 — four years after his death — that a comparable establishment for boys came into existence.

The Boys' Garden City, as the new home was named, was built at Woodford Bridge in Essex, in the 39-acre grounds of a large old property called Gwynne House.

Gwynne House, Woodford Bridge, c.1922. © Peter Higginbotham

As with the Girls' Village, the Woodford Bridge establishment was based on the cottage homes principle with the boys living in family-style groups each under the supervision of a resident house-mother.

Much of the initial construction work for the site was carried out by boys' from the Barnardo's London Labour House who took up residence in at the property in 1909. On 21st July 1910, foundations stones for three of the first houses, in memory of King Edward VII, Dr Barnardo and Canon Fleming, were officially laid by Prince and Princess Alexander of Teck and Miss Fleming. The Garden City was officially opened by the Duchess of Albany on 23rd May 1912, by which date twelve houses had been finished and with around 300 children now in residence. The scheme eventually also incorporated a school, dining/meeting hall, chapel, gymnasium and hospital.

The layout of Garden City site in the 1930s is shown on the map below.

Boys Garden City site, Woodford Bridge, c.1938.

Aerial view from the south-west of Boys' Garden City, Woodford Bridge, c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Barnardo Saturday House, Boys' Garden City c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Chapel interior, Boys' Garden City c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1911, a donation by a local family named Johnson enabled a swimming pool to be built.

Swimming bath, Boys' Garden City c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

The home' medical facilities were originally based in a building similar to one of the boys' homes although a much larger facility, the John Capel Hanbury Hospital, was erected at the south of the site in 1923.

Hospital House, Boys' Garden City c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

By 1939, it was recorded that the development accommodated around 750 boys within 43 households. The inventory of buildings then included:

King Edward VII School
Natal House
Gurney Sheppard House
Pellew House
Schools House
McCall House
Acworth House
Angas House
Dr Barnardo House
Barnardo Saturday House
Britannia House
Canon Fleming House
Christine House
Corby House
Empire House
Kempstone House
Lucking House
New Zealand House
Thurlby House
Union Jack House
Wakefield House
Gordon Williams House
John Capel Hanbury Hospital

Canon Fleming Memorial House, Boys' Garden City c.1912.

Pellew House, Boys' Garden City c.1912.

The home's large central building for meeting and dining was Canada Hall, funded by the contributions of the people of Canada.

Canada Hall, Boys' Garden City, Woodford Bridge, c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Dining Hall, Boys' Garden City, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Boy Scouts outside 'Schools House', Boys' Garden City, Woodford Bridge. © Peter Higginbotham

Details of other developments on and around the site are given on the separate pages for John Capel Hanbury Hospital, Hanbury Hospital Home, Princess Margaret School, Hood House, Thurlby House, The Residence, Westfield and Dudley House.

Boys' Garden City, Woodford Bridge, 1930s. © Peter Higginbotham

With the clouds of the Second World War gathering, boys from the home were being evacuated to safer areas as a precaution against the possibility of enemy air raids. The picture below shows Garden City boys passing through London in September 1938 on their way to a camp in Surrey.

Garden City boys in transit through London, September 1938. © Peter Higginbotham

The home was closed down during the war with a number of temporary homes being set up in large country houses in East Anglia and Scotland. When Woodford Bridge re-opened after the war, it became a mixed home.

A steady fall in demand for places at the home eventually led to the demolition of most of the cottages. Gwynne House and its stable block were sold off in 1985 and are now used as a hotel. In 1978, eighteen acres of the site were sold for housing development. The other surviving building, the home's former chapel, has also been converted to private residential use.


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.


  • 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)