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The Children’s Orphanage

As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded Canadian Pacific Project, we are researching and exploring the social history of the railway covering a wide range of topics. We will be sharing such stories that focus on the human side of the railway and locomotive. This story from Dr Becky Peacock, the Project’s Outreach and Interpretation Officer, provides a short history on the Southern Railway Orphanage at Woking.

The orphanage was opened in 1885 by Canon Allen Edwards the Railway Chaplain of Nine Elms. Its original purpose was to house ‘fatherless girls’ – those who had no fathers and whose mothers found it difficult to care for them. In 1886 the first girl entered the home and she was soon followed by nine others. The orphanage quickly grew in size.

The orphanage was set up as a charity and it could possibly be the oldest in the country. The charity was partly funded by ‘pay bill deductions’ from the railway workers from the L.S.W.R who had to subscribe to the Children’s Home by donating a set sum each pay day. At first this was one penny but it quickly increased. The railwaymen were happy to do this as they had a great affection for the orphanage.

The Home later became known as ‘The London and South Western Railway Servants’ Orphanage. It was run by a Board of Management consisting of railway officials, under the patronage of Canon Edwards. The Chairman was a senior member of the Railway so there was always a railway connection from the beginning. The word ‘servant’ was added to the name to show that it was run by the workers and not members of the aristocracy. During this time most charitable organisations were run by the aristocracy.

In 1895 The General Manager of the London and South Western Railway Company, Sir Charles Scotter, donated £500 in memory of his wife who had taken an interest in the work at the orphanage. This money bought the building next door for ‘fatherless boys’ and twenty-six boys took up residence.

It was not long before the number of orphans- both boys and girls- had increased so much that new premises needed to be found. It was felt that the children should be removed from the smog of London and a new location sourced in the country. In 1907, seven and a quarter acres of land in Woking was bought for £2,900 with a legacy donated by Mr Thomas Parker Harvey of Clapham. The building was built to accommodate one hundred and fifty children and completed in 1909, and the first child entered the same year.

In 1923 the name was shortened to ‘The Southern Railway Servants Orphanage’ as the London and South Western Railway had become part of the Southern Railway. Later the words ‘servant’ and ‘orphanage’ were dropped because children from broken homes as well as orphans were admitted. When the children left the institution at the school leaving age of fourteen, many of the girls went into service while the boys worked on the railway. However, during World War II girls from the home were employed in Eastleigh Works in various roles.

The home was eventually closed in 1988, although the last child officially left in 1989.

Odd Fact:

One interesting way the orphanage raised money was to use dogs. Dogs with collection boxes strapped to their backs, led by handlers, were paraded around the stations and even walked along the corridors of trains. Both dogs and handlers were paid a wage, and at the end of each year, each dog received a medal. When they died, the dogs were stuffed and placed in a glass case at a station where they continued to collect money for the home.

History of Woking Home taken from Marion Fields book; ‘A History of Woking Homes’. This book and photographs were provided by Roy Smith and the Bishopstoke History Society.

Please help us complete the overhaul of Canadian Pacific by donating - click here to support our work.  If you have any experiences or family links to the orphanage, please email outreach.mhr@hotmail.com to share them with us.

Photo gallery

  • The Railway Servants Orphanage

  • Jack the Railway Dog

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