This guide was last updated in 2012
Institutional homes for children who were orphaned, abandoned, or otherwise in need of care date back as far as the 17th century, as Peter Higginbotham explores.
Children featured prominently amongst the inmates of early workhouses, while London’s Foundling Hospital, opened in 1741, took in thousands of unwanted illegitimate babies.
The Victorian period saw a huge growth in the provision of children’s residential care, again led by the workhouse system. Inspired by the efforts of pioneers such as Thomas Barnardo, large numbers of charitably funded children’s homes and orphanages also sprang up around the country. Some were one-off local institutions, while others were set up by national bodies such as the Church of England’s Waifs and Strays Society.
Orphanages were also set up by members of occupations such as the police, seafarers and railway workers. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of homes were in operation, housing tens of thousands of children – Samantha Womack’s great grandmother Beatrice and her brother Anthony among them….