A History of Princess Alice Orphanage
History of Princess Alice Orphanage, with special thanks to Barry Guy
for his research in "A Hurried History of The National Children's Home
at Princess Alice Drive, Birmingham 1882 -1982"
In pouring rain, at 3.15pm on Tuesday 19th September 1882, Mr Samuel Jevons, using a suitably inscribed trowel, laid the foundation stone of the Princess Alice Orphanage at Birmingham.
building of the Orphanage had been made possible by the generous gift
of £10,000 by Mr Jevons' father and a similar donation from the
Methodist Thanksgiving Fund – and came at a time when the National
Children's Home and Orphanage was stretched to breaking point with
children in need of care.
first 'Governor', Mr Thomas Durley of Abingdon, was appointed to the
position for the sum of £100 pa and it was under his care that a clear
evangelical Christian approach to the work was developed and the
principles of obedience and punctuality were instilled.
first houses, Shaftesbury for girls and Marsh for boys, quickly became
oversubscribed, but with additional funding over the next ten years a
bakery and kitchen, dress-making room, carpenters and painters shop and
working farm and garden were added, providing children with a wealth of
skills. At this time, 108 children were resident. An
infant department was added in 1895 – a year of financial difficulty
for the Orphanage – and to meet the growing need, children with one
known parent were occasionally admitted to its care.
The turn of the century was a time of change for the Orphanage, with the retirement of Thomas Durley in 1903 and the appointment of a series of successors over the following decade.
school at Princess Alice Orphanage was charged with the very great
responsibility of educating all the boys and girls in its care, although
one resident remembers at one time that the schoolmaster, Mr Ratcliffe,
often taught up to 150 children at a time. Divided into three classes,
the children excelled at spelling under Mr Ratcliff's teaching. Although
children of all abilities copied the same manuscripts, for each mistake
the lower class was make to rewrite the word ten times, the middle
class twenty times and the top class fifty times. Subsequently, spelling mistakes became few and far between!
Orphanage Choir, under the direction of Sister Jessie Drayton, was a
great success in the years before the outbreak of the First World War. There was also a Scout Troop set up around this time. For
Old Boys, an association was established, although the girls had to
wait until 1919 (and chain themselves to the gates in protest!) before
they were admitted to the ranks.
the outbreak of war in 1914, the home felt the hardship along with the
rest of the nation, however the farm and gardens made rationing more
bearable for the boys and girls. With the
development of the war came the unfortunate and inevitable news of the
deaths in the battlefield of some of the earliest Old Boys.
the wars, the Orphanage survived the influenza epidemic, thankfully
without fatalities and acquired a new hospital through the generosity of
Mr G E Lowe in 1923. During this time, the
school was taken under the directorate of the Local Education Authority
and day boarders were admitted for the first time. Developments planned for the Orphanage were regrettably prevented by the Depression following the Jubilee in 1932.
the Second World War, the Orphanage swelled to 300 residents through
the intake of evacuees from other branches of the Home. Although several bombs fell around the Orphange, the only casualty of the war was a work horse from the farm.
World War Two, changes in childcare within the Home and within the
national strategy as a whole, began to affect the way in which the
Orphanage was run. By this stage, the children at
the home were far from all being orphans, with many having one or even
two relatives known to them. The operations of
the Orphanage became much less self-sufficient and looked to integrate
to a much greater extent within the community.
the 1950s, smaller family-style homes replaced the larger 'orphanage'
setup that prevailed throughout the first half-century of operations. In keeping with this approach, the orphanage's name was changed at this time to Princess Alice Drive.
In the time leading up to its centenary, Princess Alice Drive acquired a College and for a period, a Nursery School. At
its time of closure, the home cared for sixty children from infants to
adolescents and catered for the specialist needs of children in a
changing society. The impression that the
Princess Alice Orphanage made, both in the hearts and minds of the many
Boys and Girls that came into its care and in the wider community,
reflects the dedication of the Sisters and staff who worked so
diligently there and is a credit to the history of NCH.