Dr. Thomas John Barnardo

Thomas had started his working life as a clerk in a Dublin wine shop. He joined the Plymouth Brethren in 1862. Then In 1866, after a spell of teaching in the Dublin slums, and aged 21, went to London to study medicine. His aim was to become a medical missionary in China. He started his training at the Whitechapel Hospital, London . Whilst in London he went out single-handedly into the back streets selling 30,000 cut price copies of the bible in pubs & lodging houses, often being mobbed, pelted with refuse & attacked.

The London in which Thomas arrived in 1866 was a city struggling to cope with the effects of the industrial revolution. The area was populated with thousands of homeless children, they stole and begged in the streets and died in the streets. It was far worse than Charles Dickens could have written. From the safe distance of their comfortable homes wealthy Victorians had come to believe that pauperism and destitution were the product of character rather than circumstances. But the etchings of Gustave Dor'a and the works of Charles Dickens were slowly making the terrible conditions of the East End of London known to all. Their revelations had stirred the consciences of the wealthy with the result that charitable organisations of all kinds had sprung up, some sadly were for their own ends and the money never reached the poor and destitute. Slowly the giving of charity and the receiving of it had become a recognised part of the Victorian scene on a scale never previously known. The population had dramatically increased and much of this increase was concentrated in the East End, where overcrowding, bad housing, unemployment, poverty and disease were rife. A few months after Thomas came to London an outbreak of cholera swept through the East End killing more than 3,000 people and leaving young families destitute. Thousands of children slept on the streets and many were forced to beg after being maimed in factories.

In 1867 Thomas, while a student at Whitechapel Hospital, opened his own Ragged School with other medical students. They acquire what is said was an old donkey stable at Hope Place, Bull lane, Stepney at 12s. per week, it was in fact a converted Victorian warehouse that had been used as a costermongers donkey stable by the previous tenant. This was his first ragged school recorded as Hope Place, Limehouse E14

Such was the need for the ragged schools that, in 1844, the Ragged School Union was formed to encourage the establishment of new schools. As a result numerous schools throughout the country were founded, and established Band of Hope meetings for the children in the city. One night, a boy called Jim Jarvis begged to be allowed to stay, so he took him home. At midnight he took Thomas Barnardo to show him the hiding places in the dockyards, and under railway arches where hundreds of his friends slept. He soon discovered the plight of homeless children in the city. A powerful orator, he made a speech about the problem at a Missionary Conference in 1867 which was published in the Times. Lord Shaftesbury read about Barnardo and he was so moved by what he read he invited Thomas to dine at his London home, from this he offered Thomas Barnardo help to establish homes for these children. The banker Robert Barclay also agreed to support the cause and on the 2nd March 1868, he had raised enough money to open his first home for destitute children.

He publicised the need of care for these children and received an anonymous donation of £1,000, to set up his first home for neglected children but the condition was that Thomas should stay in East London himself to run it. The anonymous donation had come from The Rt Hon Samuel Smith a Liberal MP a relation of Robert Able Smith who was to sell Goldings to Dr Barnardo's in 1921

On the 8th December 1870 Thomas opened his first home for boys at 18 Stepney Causeway. He regularly went out at night into the slum district to find destitute boys. This continued with the home full every night. In 1971 an 11 years old boy called Carrots was not given a bed for the night because the shelter was full, Thomas had allotted the last five remaining beds. Days later Thomas was informed Carrots had been found  dead in an old barrel from malnutrition and exposure, from then on the home bore the sign No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission. click here to read the true story At the inquest the boy know as Carrots was named as one John Summers

Thomas felt that homeless girls were much rarer than boys and that human hearts were a little more tender where girls were concerned. However, In the winter of 1872 a small, shoeless girl aged eleven called Martha arrived on the doorstep of his first home in Stepney Causeway, and put to the test Thomas's famous slogan, "No destitute child ever refused admission". Of course, the word "child" meant girls as well as boys, and when Martha asked, "Please d'you take in little gels, too?" The Matron drew her into the hall and found her to be in a very bad condition, her feet were cut, bleeding and her frail little body badly bruised, the answer was "yes" and she was given shelter for the night. The next day a temporary home was found for her, until a more permanent one could be found.

They say that behind every Great man there's a great women, in Thomas' case it was Syrie Louise Elmslie who he  married in 1873 the daughter of a city businessman and an enthusiastic supporter of his work. When they were married at the 6,000-seat Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington Causeway, the wedding ceremony developed into a demonstration of support for Barnardoís work! They had seven children, three of whom died young. His daughter, Marjorie, had Down's Syndrome and influenced Thomas to set up homes for children with physical and learning disabilities.

In 1874 Thomas opened a Photographic Department in his Stepney Boys Home. Over the next thirty years every child that entered one of Barnardoís homes had their photograph taken. Children were photographed when they first arrived and again several months later after they had recovered from their experiences of living on the streets. These before and after cards were then sold in packs of twenty for 5 shillings or singly for 6p each. This enabled Barnardo to publicise his work and raise money for his charitable work. Some critics proclaimed that he staged the photographs to make the children look ragged and ill, that the childrenís clothes were ripped to give credence to his claims, and enable him to gain support from the government, charities and the general public. This was most strongly denied by himself and those involved in the care for the children.

By 1878 he had established fifty orphanages in London. This included his Village Home for Girls in Ilford. This was a complete community a Garden City with sixty six cottages, itís own school, a steam laundry and church, with a population of over 1,000 girls. Many people will have memories of Barkingside as it was also used as a reception home from 1945 for boys and girls. The Girls Village home would never be the same as boys were admitted from this date along with a name change The Village Home.

By the time a child left Barnardoís they would be able to make their way in life. Girls were taught domestic skills that permitted them to gain employment and look after a house. Whilst the boys were taught a trade or craft from a simple wood cutter to being an apprenticed Boot maker, Carpenter. Thomas Barnardo believed, most strongly, that a child could be best cared for in a family home environment, and to this end, he established the first fostering scheme when he boarded out children to respectable families in the country. Further, he introduced a scheme for the children of unmarried mothers. The mother would go into service, and her child would be fostered nearby, this way the mother had constant contact with her child during her time off. The boarding out scheme was extended, in 1882, children were also sent to Canada. It was cheaper to send a child to Canada than it was to care for a child in a home in Britain. He also believed that the child would benefit from a fresh start, away from the overcrowded slums of the East End.

In the summer of 1883 Peterborough millionaire George A Cox offered Dr. Thomas Barnardo his choice of various homes he owned in Peterborough to establish a home for the destitute children of England. Having selected Hazelbrae he began preparing the home ready for the children. On July 22nd 1884 the first 150 of the 10,000 children to pass through Hazelbrae home had arrived. The home closed in 1922 and by 1939 was completely torn down. Today a Heritage plaque recognising the home stands on the grounds of the former Hazelbrae Home.

By the time Dr. Thomas Barnardo died on 19th September, 1905, there were nearly 8,000 children in his residential homes, more than 4,000 were boarded out, and 18,000 had been sent to Canada and Australia. A total of 60,000 had passed through the Barnardo portal. Today the work still goes on, please click hear for more information. Today Barnardo's provides services to upwards of 48,000 children and their families. No longer running orphanages, they work with children whose families struggle with poverty; who are disabled, excluded from school, in trouble with the law or who live with violence, which is how it all started in 1866 when Thomas arrived in London. so how did it all begin?

Thomas John Barnardo, the son of a furrier, was born at number four Dame Street in Dublin,  Ireland in 1845 the youngest of 11 children, His mother belonged to an old Quaker family the Drinkwaters who were of English  stock and had settled in Ireland. His father John Michaelis Bernardo who's family was of Spanish origin was born 1800.,,,,,,,,, This information can be found in most books and web sites about Thomas Barnardo and his mother and father, but often they bear little relation to fact, and the Barnardo family history as recorded is not unusual in this respect. We have been given permission to copy any information from the book "Barnardo" by Gillian Wagner, with this and other information we have come up with a more accurate picture on Thomas Barnardo from birth to manhood. click here to view >>>>


Dr. Thomas J Barnardo at his Stepney office

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