Beddington Royal Female Orphanage

Carew Manor, Wikipedia

Through my recent volunteer work for Honeywood Museum I’ve had the chance to do some research into the history of the Sutton area during the nineteenth century. This has thrown up many interesting stories related to the industry of the area (being based of the river Wandle, there were many mills), and also the many institutions created to assist the unfortunate. One of these institutions was the Royal Female Orphanage in Beddington.

The Royal Female Orphanage was established in 1762 in the historic Carew Manor, in the beautiful setting of Beddington Park. Carew Manor was built in the 1500’s for the Carew family, a well-connected family who reportedly often had visits from Tudor royalty; however by the second half of the 18th century the family had moved out of the manor and the house was put to a different purpose. This purpose was to house, school and train girls with no parents or, more frequently, without a father or with parents who were unable to look them. They were schooled and trained to work in domestic service and once at a suitable age (normally about between 14 and 16 years old) they were sent out to work.

The Sutton Archives has many of the records related to the orphanage, and I’ve had the joy of looking through the log of girls who had reached that suitable age. This holds a wealth of information in terms of social history and demonstrates the relationship these children must have developed with the orphanage. To encourage the girls to stay in domestic service and as a reward for their efforts, they were given a prize of £2 2s after two years of successful service. This was a continuation of many prize giving events that took place turning their time at Carew Manor, where prizes were given for good behaviour as well as merit in their schooling.

The Great Hall at the Royal Female Orphanage, The Carew Manor Project

The location and size of house the girls were sent to work in could vary greatly; some stayed locally to Carlshalton and Sutton however I found one girl, Florence Louisa Crago, who was sent to work for Lady Walpole at Hampton Court Palace. Domestic service wasn’t the only option for the girls, it is evident that some girls were ‘not strong enough for service’. Annie Elliot Bowe was sent into an apprenticeship as a dressmaker, and though this meant she was not eligible for the reward money, from orphanage’s records, she went on to have a successful career as a dressmaker.

I was amazed at the length of time the orphanage kept in contact with the girls after they had left, sending out regular letters, they attempted to maintain this almost paternal relationship with the girls. This is demonstrated in Annie Elliot Bowe’s records; it notes that having taken up the position of Assistant Dressmaker in Devonshire in April 1893, in June 1896 she was ‘still at same place and doing well’. The writer of this note almost comes over as proud of Annie’s achievement. For many the contact ended once they got married or after a move, but it is clear that for others a strong relationship had been developed with the institution that brought them up. Alice Maria Robinson was born in 1874 and at the age of 16 went into service with Lady Margaret Lashington in Lyndhurst. Two years later she received her £2 2s reward and went into service for Lady Rothschild. In July 1898 Alice came back to the Beddington Orphanage to attend the Prize Distribution event for the girls at the orphanage, and had married Mr Charles Pratt. The fact that this is recorded shows the perceived importance of this by the orphanage, obviously Alice would have given the resident girls something to aspire to, but also embodied the orphanage’s pride and achievement. The final entry for Alice is for sometime later and of a sadder note, it reads ‘July 1920, Died of heart failure’, ending her long relationship with the Beddington Royal Female Orphanage.

Links:

For more information on Carew Manor see the Carew Manor Project: http://www.carewmanorproject.co.uk

For more information on Sutton’s local history and archives, see the council’s website: http://www.sutton.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=930

For Honeywood Museum also look on the council’s website: http://www.sutton.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1253 and the Honeywoode Friends website: http://www.friendsofhoneywood.co.uk/

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