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Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle
A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo’s Babies’ Castle. one of Barnardo’s Orphanages
A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

Those who believe in the good old days and believe that, overall, things are getting worse in society are likely ill-acquainted with what life was like in the great cities of England and America during the late 19th century and early 20th century. With almost no government run social services to fall back on, the poor lived a hard scrabble life.  As usual, those who suffered the most were  the children,  who often represented an impossible burden to an impoverished family. In Victorian England, being a single mother or having a child out of wedlock condemned the woman to shame and ostracism. As a result, many babies were simply abandoned.

Thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were left to fend for themselves in great squalor and poverty.  Few did anything about it.

One man that did care was Dr. Thomas Barnardo, (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) an Irish born British philanthropist. Shocked by the poverty and appalling living conditions of children throughout the British Isles, Barnardo set up a series of homes for orphans and foundlings.

The first of Barnardo’s Orphanages, or “Dr Barnardo’s Homes” as he liked to call them, was opened in 1870 in London and by the time that Barnardo died, in 1905, there were 112 such homes established. It is estimated that during his career, Barnardo saved 60,000 children.  The Barnardo organization still exists in England.

In 1893, the Strand Magazine, which described itself as “An Illustrated Monthly” ran an article about Barnardo and his orphanage. Pictured below is what the article described as Dr. Bernardo’s Babies’ Castle in Hawkurst. At the time of the article, 1893, there were 28 Barnardo’s orphanages.

A Phorotgraph of Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo’s Babies’ Castle

The magazine included an obviously staged photograph of a foundling supposedly dropped off at the front steps of the orphanage.  The caption reads: “To Dr. Barnardo With Care”

An Orphan Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo's Orphanage

An Orphan Baby Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo’s Orphanage. The depiction of the child being left on the doorstep in a basket later became a trope, perhaps started by magazine articles like the one from Strand Magazine, that featured the staged photo above.

The magazine article where this photo first appeared tells a strange story about the girl in the picture. According to Barnardo, who is quoted, the child was found on the doorstep of a church (as the usual cliche goes) and taken to the nearest workhouse. Later the baby was transferred to Dr. Barnardo’s home for children. Eight years later a woman described as “a lady” arrived at the orphanage claiming that her baby daughter had been stolen by a disgruntled servant and she had been looking for her. She could only supply the date of birth and the date that she had disappeared. Dr. Barnardo showed her a photo album of babies that had been taken in around that date, and she the lady recognized her as her daughter. The girl, now eight, was handed over to her “mother” after some inquiries to determine if she was of good character and had the financial means to support a child. In the days before genetic testing, I suspect that the odds were low that this girl was actually the woman’s daughter. Hopefully, this makeshift adoption ended happily and the woman and child both believed they were actually mother and daughter.

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Less obviously staged were the pictures of the inside of the orphanage and the nurses and children who lived there.

In the picture to the left the orphans are depicted praying before bedtime. The Barnardo organization cared about instilling virtues in its young charges. While the Barnardo home offered love and protection to the children, the conditions were still not ideal by today’s standards. Notice the overcrowded communal living. The children are all in beds with metal railings in a single room.

Meals were also communal. In this picture the children are eating heir meals in the large dining hall.  The article describes the portions for the children as abundant, so at least this was not an Oliver Twist style workhouse.

Orphans Eating Dinner

Orphans Eating Dinner

The younger children were given nap time in the afternoon as this picture illustrates:

Nap Time at the Orphanage

Nap Time at the Orphanage Note that the room has big windows and lots of natural sunlight, a rarity in Victorian England.

The orphanage was run by nurses and religious sisters.  Here are some pictures of the staff:

Sister Alice

Here Sister Alice poses with a dog.

A nurse at the orphanage giving a bath.

A nurse at the Barnardo orphanage giving a bath to a baby.


Babues in Chairs at Barnardo's Orphanage

A group of babies pose for the camera at Barnardo’s orphanage. There is something very off about the child sitting on the ground, suggesting some sort of disability.

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo's Home for Children

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo’s Home for Children

The pictures below are interesting in many ways. The children certainly appear well cared for. There is no apparent malnutrition and they are wearing nice clothes. It is also interesting that the pictures depict the faces and identities of the children,  which speaks to the different concepts of privacy that existed back then.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.


Barnardo orphans going on an outing into the countryside and getting fresh air.


The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the orphanage

The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the Barnardo orphanage

And so, like the picture above, it is time to say goodbye to this piece of history. I wonder what became of these children and if they went on to have happy lives.


This article about the Barnardo Orphanages – homes for children – was last updated on April 15, 2021.

Dr Barnardo’s Memorial
children’s charity. Born in Dublin into a Sephardic Jewish family, Thomas Barnardo moved to the East End of London in 1866 where he established a chain

Documentary About Barnardo’s Orphanages

Victor Doppelt

Victor Doppelt

Victor Doppelt explores the world of yesterday through vintage photographs and informative articles.

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