Somewhere to Call ‘Home’ – A History of the Children’s Home at Galsworthy Road
Before the private housing development Blenheim Gardens, Galsworthy Road was the site of Kingston’s Barnardo’s Home, the place to call ‘home’ for up to 150 young boys in the borough. It was an imposing building dating from 1875, and closed August 1968 with the first of the present houses completed in June 1970.
Metropolitan Convalescent Institution, 1875
The imposing, 13th century, ‘Gothic’ style building originally opened in 1875 as the Metropolitan Convalescent Institution for poor children recovering from serious illness. The Institution had been founded in 1840 in Mitcham, with a later home at Hendon (from 1866). By 1875, 50,000 ‘inmates’ had been admitted, of whom 35,000 were cured, normally within 3 weeks.
Kingston’s home was designed by Mr H Saxon Snell, at a £10,000 cost, of which £2,000 was provided by anonymous donation. The site alone cost £1,500 and furniture was an additional cost. It was 3 storeys high with a T-shaped plan. It had lofty, well ventilated rooms, and a central 90ft tower on which was originally stored 3000 gallons of water in case of fire. The ground floor had an entrance hall, two large day rooms (one for boys and one for girls), a dining room, matron and servants’ rooms, kitchen and offices. Other floors were filled with large dormitories and nurses’ offices, designed so that three wards could be supervised by one nurse in order to save money. An infectious ward was built should it be needed and isolated from the rest of the building. Invalids had to pay for their transport, but otherwise their rehabilitation was free, and it was intended for 180 children.
The building was constructed without all of the funding in place to pay for it, and opened on Monday 12th July 1875 by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VI) and his ‘amiable and beloved wife’. They accepted a collection of 17 purses from assembled ladies towards the charity’s costs, which according the Comet, were temporarily misplaced after the event. The royal couple arrived at 16:40 and left shortly after 5pm when they retired to Mr Sim’s residence at Coombe Wood House. The occasion of the opening led to local upset as the Borough Council who felt they had been excluded by the Institution’s Committee but wished to present their appreciation to the Royals. Arrangements were hurriedly made and “thereout grew no little dissatisfaction and heartburning”, i.e. it was a great success. An arch was ‘thrown’ over Gloucester Road and very prettily decorated with flags, shields, coloured bunting and young trees, the later provided free by Veitch & Sons nursery. Four hundred schoolchildren occupied the corner piece of ground at the junction with Gloucester road and the main road; thousands gave a hearty and loyal welcome, as businesses were invited to close at 2pm to allow local residents to line the streets; All Saint’s bells rang; 120 men of the 12th Surrey Regiment Volunteers paraded as a guard of honour but arrived too late due to a mix up on times and felt they were a laughing stock of the town (which reading over 140 years later still feels quite heart breaking!).
Princess Louise Home, 1892
In April 1892, the building was bought by National Society for the Protection of Young Girls, and opened by Princess Louise who gave her name to it. The intention of the Home was to prevent vulnerable girls from falling into a life of prostitution, “to educate, train, feed, clothe and prepare them for future usefulness as domestic servants, to procure situations for them, provide them with an outfit and generally watch over, advise and counsel them”. These children might be orphans, abandoned or neglected and were aged between 11 and 15. Princess Louise took an active role in supporting the charity, attending the AGM and prize giving. One such event took place in 1903, when a “a tiny dot, the youngest inhabitant of the House” presented the Princess with a bouquet. An outbreak of Scarlet Fever in 1902 had prevented the previous meeting.
1903 was the first year that the charity ended in deficit. A quote from 1908 tried to rouse additional subscriptions: “It was to institutions like this that the nation must look to see that its most valuable assets, the girls of the country, were fit to join the battalion of Imperial matronhood upon which this Empire must depend in the future”, at the time 143 girls were being supported there. The Home ran a successful laundry service for the local area in an attempt to generate their own income.
Eventually, the Home was closed in September 1929 when it lost its Ministry of Health certification as an industrial and training school after a poor inspection.
Dr Barnardo’s Home, 1933
The Home was purchased in August 1932 by Lady Daziel of Wooler and presented to Dr Barnardo’s charity for use to house 150 boys which opened the following year. Dr Barnardo had himself lived in St Leonard’s Lodge, Surbiton from 1897 until his death in 1905 and helped thousands of homeless and destitute children. For a rather creepy video from the first year, see Christmas time, 1933.
One resident of the Barnardo’s Home was Leslie Thomas, author and former Evening News writer who reflected on his experiences in a Surrey Comet article of 1975. Residents were apparently called ‘Dickie’s Boys’ (one reason given for this was that apparently Lady Daziel’s nickname was Dickie). Thomas’s book ‘This Time Next Week’ (1964) was about his time there. He was orphaned at age 12 after his father drowned in a torpedo attack in 1943 and his mother died of cancer shortly afterwards. He described a “dozen rather grizzled spinsters [who] were in charge of dormitories”. Some parts of life at the home must have been fun, and one example has been recorded in this video: Model Railway 1954.
Kingston’s Home closed in August 1968, and Barnardo’s stopped running homes and orphanages in the 1970s.
Thomas, after reflecting on his life (he was very successful, being paid around £100,000 for 3 novels in 1975), said ‘as for the rest, I just want to be happy’. I think this is a very powerful and important message, and am personally very proud of the history of each of these institutions which were at least trying to improve the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable people in society.
- Butters, S (2013) That Famous Place: A History of Kingston upon Thames Kingston University Press
- Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (2016) Building Control Database Available here: http://www6.kingston.gov.uk/propertyServices/Building/Search
- Sampson, J (1997) Kingston Past London: Historical Publications Ltd
- Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd
- Surrey Comet: 16th June 1875, p.3; 10th July 1875, p.1 & 4; 17th July 1875, p.4; 13th June 1903, p.7; 18th July 1908; 20th August 1932, p.7; 18th January 1975, p.10