We are indebted to the research undertaken by Shea Lolin for much of what follows in St Nicholas' Industrial School and Chapel, and to the excellent website www.childrenshomes.org.uk - see footnote for details. Much more detail can be obtained from the informative booklet and website, which offers the facility for finding out details of records of children who grew up there.
The Catholic church, in the 1860's began to establish Industrial Schools - residential schools for poor, destitute children - to help provide vocational training (in a variety of trades), shored up by their religious faith. An early example was opened in Shernhall Street, in Walthamstow in 1862.
These premises were soon found to be too small, so the church bought seven acres of Little Ilford land in 1866, including the old Manor House, as a site for an expanded presence, in north-east London.
The school lasted until the 1920's. It was enclosed by a wall, which still stands, around Whitta Road, and has provoked the curiosity of many a visitor to the near adjacent Golden Fleece pub.
|The former Industrial School|
wall, still surrounding the
BUPA care homes, today
Houses in Sheringham, Hampton and Romford Roads as well as in Islington, were used for additional residential/dormitory accommodation for the boys.
Monsignor Searle, who lived in the small house, built as the establishment's lodge, was placed in charge of the institution. The other original staff comprised two schoolmasters, six industrial teachers, a housekeeper, nurse and general servant.
The industrial training included carpentry, shoemaking, knitting and gardening.
An inspection report in 1875 expressed concern about the high mortality rate of boys at the school, with twelve having died the previous year. It was suggested that sickly constitutions often found among the younger boys would benefit from better diet and clothing, and separate wards under supervision.
A year later things had improved with the death rate down to six. In August 1876, Monsignor Searle retired and the management of the house was placed in the hands of the Brothers of Mercy.
The school buildings were gradually extended and enhanced, and a swimming bath was added in 1879. The inspection report the following year showed it had 234 boys, 232 of whom were under "warrants of detention". The report was overwhelmingly positive, as the edited extracts below indicate:
There are very few schools in the country which more thoroughly provide for the necessities of life than this ... The health of the children is carefully watched and protected. ... No deaths in 1889.
The report as to conduct was satisfactory. No insubordination or gross breach of order. Some cases of theft, laziness, disorder, wilful damage, quarrelling, and impertenance. One serious case of stealing keys: a small record of offences for so large a school. Boys well in hand and managed with much tact, special experience and wisdom.
Industrial training: receives very careful attention. The new workshops answer their purpose well and are very much more healthy than the old ones. 39 boys work with the tailors; 47 in the shoemaking; good work was being turned out, 45 in the mat-making department., 21 in the field and garden. A class of juniors knit and darn the socks, and three work in the bakery. There is an excellent laundry and the boys assist in the washing. There is a large and well-cultivated garden, which receives much attention and employs a class of boys.
General remarks - The display of industrial products on this occasion was highly creditable. From every department good specimens had been sent. Much good work is turned out.
Staff: Director, Brother Polycarpo and eight brothers of the Order of Mercy, yard and drill-master, Mr Eade - tailor, shoemaker, mat-maker, gardener, cook and baker.
Average number maintained: 230
Results on cases discharges in the three years: 1886, 1887 and 1888 - of 123 discharged in 1886-8, there were doing well 107, dead, 2, doubtful 1, convicted of crime or re-committed 10, unknown 3.The Brothers of Mercy resigned their charge of the school on 23 October 1899, when Mr and Mrs Westall took up their duties as superintendent and matron.
The school established several auxiliary homes, which provided a half-way house for boys making the transition between institutional care and adult working life. These were located at: 55 Colebrook Row, Islington (open 1894-1900 for 40 boys); Woodgrange House, 607 Romford Road (open 1906-08 for 24 boys. The house has been demolished and the site is now occupied by flats, opposite the Tescos, next to Woodgrange Park station) and 164-166 Sheringham Avenue (opened 1908, for 12 boys - see photo, below).
|164-166 Sheringham Ave today - |
once a hostel for Industrial School boys
A fire broke out on the school's roof on 6 January 1907. The schoolroom was gutted and the roof burned. The only casualty was one of the firemen, who was badly injured by a burning beam.
As well as taking destitute and abandoned Catholic children, the school also took in boys, aged between 7 and 14, who had been convicted by magistrates courts for a variety of offences mainly related to poverty: begging, vagrancy, homelessness and street life.
Few of these Industrial Schools achieved high standards, and were often seen simply as repositories for unwanted and forgotten children. St Nicholas' seems to have been an exception, with a good reputation, and saw only a 4% "re-offending" rate amongst its residents - suggesting a good track record for giving their charges a decent restart in life, in its 54 years of existence.
An estimated 24,000 boys went through the school in its time, including around 900, who in one of the most controversial aspects of late nineteenth/early twentieth century child care provision, were sent to Canada.
This was usually without reference to their parents. They were sent in order to start a new life in Hintonburg, Ontario, as farmers and service personnel. A useful website giving details of British children forceably removed to Canada can be found here.
So, Manor Park, as it was now known, developed rapidly from the 1830's, as a result of the construction of some major social projects: a prison, two cemeteries and the Industrial School, together with much low cost housing for rent by potential commuters.
Although much of the land in the area had been purchased by the Eastern Counties Railway for their construction of their London - Romford line, the Little Ilford area, itself, was not directly served by the company, at first. Local residents had to trek the mile or so to Forest Gate or East Ham stations, to get commuter transport into the city.
They lobbied the railway company to rectify matters, so it built its first station in the area in 1872 and named it Manor Park and Little Ilford, after the house they had formerly owned and the local area. It cost £1,117 to construct. It was later replaced it with a larger station in 1893 (see 1909 photo, below), and had its name shortened simply to Manor Park.
|Manor Park railway station, 1909|
The Little Ilford School Board was established in 1887 and built three elementary schools, before merging with the East Ham School Board in 1900.
These were: Fourth Avenue School, in 1890 (bombed during World War 11 - see photograph, below), Essex Road School, in 1898 (subsequently, completely rebuilt), and Manor Park Board School in 1893, which later had its name changed to Salisbury School (see photo), which still survives.
|Bomb damage to Avenue Road School, 1941|
|Ex Little Ilford school board, Manor|
Park Board school, built 1895,
today, Salisbury school
Reflecting on the rapid changes that the area had undergone over the previous half century, Katherine Fry - sister of Elizabeth - had this to say in her 1888 brief history of East Ham and West Ham:
During the last ten years the parish of East Ham has almost entirely lost its rural character; while a few years ago it was still looked upon as a village of market gardens for the production of cabbages and onions, it is fast becoming a manufacturing, residential town. ... Nowhere, perhaps is this rapid growth more noticeable than in ... Manor Park, a rising locality situated to the north of Ilford (now Romford) Road, with a station on the Great Eastern railway. The wide area of the arable lands, over which the plough passed not so many years ago, has gradually been converted into streets of crowded dwellings, almost entirely inhabited by artisans and the humble city clerks, who are attracted by the low rents of the houses.At the start of the twentieth century the district was badly hit by floods, in 1903, when the River Roding burst its banks, and many people were left homeless. Conditions were so bad that boats had to be hired to rescue the stranded, in the area now occupied by Grantham, Alverstone and Waltham Roads (see photo, below).
|1903 floods in Grantham Road|
|Opening of Manor Park library, 1904|
|The Carnegie bust,|
outside the library
The Co-op used the buildings - including the former Manor House - as an administrative centre and its "Industrial Colony". This turned out mainly to be its dairy, which ultimately was capable of producing 1,000 gallons of milk an hour. It also developed workshops for carpenters, joiners, wheelwrights, upholsterers, boot repairers and an educational department. At its peak it employed over 600 people.
|The Manor House, centre of the|
Co-op's Industrial Colony, 1930's
This would have cost £12,000, which the Co-op refused to consider, so they gradually began to withdraw from the site.
The Manor House received its English Heritage Grade 11 listing in 1973 and the citation described it as a:
Substantial house 1810-27, probably with earlier origins. Stucco rendering slates. Two storeys and attic. Five sash windows in architrave surrounds. Central doorway with console bricketed cornice. Rusticated end pilasters. Cornice above first floor windows across front missing. Square headed sash windows retaining glazing bars. Hipped slate roof. Central C 19 timber clock and bell turret with squared dome (clock missing). Interior has some old features.The house was eventually sold to an Irish property developer, and survives today, as 10 flats (see a recent photo, below). BUPA Care Homes bought most of the rest of the grounds and employ around 120 staff, catering for the 120 residents in the four units they have built on the site. The Co-op still has a presence on part of the lands, from where they run their Funeral Care service, servicing many of the local cemeteries.
|The flats, today, together with St Nicholas church|
Our thanks also go to the incredibly detailed and useful website giving details of all UK children's homes: www.childrenshomes.org.uk