Posted by Bryony Partridge on April 5, 2016 in Guest Bloggers

The below is a guest post from Kath Shawcross, Borough Archivist & Local Studies Manager at the London Borough of Sutton about the Royal Female Orphanage List of Children, 1890-1913. To explore this collection, head to 

The Royal Female Orphanage in Beddington, originally known as the ‘Asylum or House of Refuge for Orphans and other Deserted Girls of the Poor’, was founded in 1758 by Sir John Fielding. Fielding, despite being blind from birth became a skilled lawyer and famous Bow Street Magistrate. With support from the Duchess of Somerset and others, a committee was set up to establish and run the first orphanage which was located in the Royal Society of Arts. It opened its doors on the 5 July 1758; the first establishment of its kind in the world.

Royal Female Orphanage, London Borough of Sutton Archives
Royal Female Orphanage, London Borough of Sutton Archives

Right from the beginning the orphanage differentiated itself by taking girls who weren’t strictly orphans. Almost all of the girls were being brought up by a widowed mother. In a small number of cases both parents were dead. Single parents at that time found it very difficult to manage, so the orphanage offered accommodation, education and training for the girls to go out into service. Admission was by application. Girls must be aged between seven and 10, be mentally and physically fit nor be a Negro or Mulatto and be baptised in the Church of England. They had to be nominated by two respectable householders – often a local vicar.

Royal Female Orphanage, London Borough of Sutton Archives
Royal Female Orphanage, London Borough of Sutton Archives

The orphanage soon grew out of the Royal Society of Arts space. Its first proper home was established at St George’s Fields in Lambeth in the former Hercules Pillars Inn. In time, this building was outgrown by the number of children seeking admission and in 1824/25 a purpose built orphanage was erected opposite the junction of Kennington and Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth.

By 1848 it was apparent that the new purpose built orphanage was inadequate. It no longer found itself amongst fields and fresh air; 19th century suburbs were encroaching. It was not until 1864 that Beddington Park House (Carew Manor) was finally acquired. The orphanage remained here until the outbreak of WW2 when they decamped to Cornwall. After a brief stay there, the orphanage moved to High Wycombe where it remained until its closure in 1968.

Royal Female Orphanage, London Borough of Sutton

The records digitised here are significant in that they include details of where the girls were placed once training was complete. The orphanage made every effort to stay in touch with the girls and in some cases this lasted for over 25 years. Girls still in service after two to three years received a reward of £2.2s and a certificate of good conduct for faithful service.

An interesting entry is Edith Vera Simpson, born 15/11/1877. We don’t know when she entered the orphanage but she was placed out in service in March 1894. The entry goes on to list seven different places of work and the fact that she travelled to South Africa for a few months. The orphanage lost touch in 1924.

Discover more records from the Sutton collection on

Bryony Partridge

Bryony is the International PR Manager for Ancestry where she implements strategic communications and social media programs that bring increased media awareness for the company.


  1. Ellen Trainor

    It makes me wonder why two branches on my tree end so soon. Information just stops. Loved this article, as maybe someone in my tree was orphaned.

  2. Jane Griffiths

    Interesting article. My mother (now 92) and two of her sisters were at the RFO in the 1930s and she and her younger sister were among those evacuated to Camborne during the war. My mother left in 1939 but she and her sisters went to annual reunions at High Wycombe (we have some group photos of these) during the 1940s.

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