|The Dining Room at the Asylum|
from Ackermann's The Microcosm of London (1808-10)
The Asylum was a refuge for female orphans established by Sir John Fielding, a philanthropic magistrate, in 1758, and incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1800.
Its aim was to house and educate orphaned girls. Orphans were the responsibility of the parish where their parents had resided. If this parish or settlement could not be established, they theoretically became the responsibility of the parish in which they lived. In the case of orphans of soldiers, sailors and other indigent persons, the settlement of their parents could often not be found, and the orphans could be left destitute and far away from any relations. The charity aimed to relieve this suffering and protect young girls who might otherwise be drawn into prostitution.
|The Asylum for Female Orphans 1823 from The History|
and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
Where was the Asylum?
The Asylum was situated south of the River Thames in St George’s Fields, Lambeth, 'directly opposite the road which leads from Westminster Bridge to Vauxhall.'1
The charity took out a lease on the premises of the Hercules Inn from the Corporation of the City of London in 1754 at a rent of £8 10s a year. When the lease expired in around 1823, they bought the freehold for about £16,000 and demolished the old building, with the exception of the chapel and the residences for the officers and matron. They replaced it with a neat, low building with wings on the design of Mr Lloyd.
|The New Asylum for Female Orphans 1826 from The History|
and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth by T Allen (1827)
How was it run?
Her Majesty Queen Charlotte was the patroness of the Asylum and Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, was President. The charity was governed by a committee of 19 gentlemen, elected annually, who met at the Asylum every Thursday at 11 o’clock in the morning.
The Asylum received an income from stocks and consols and was supported by annual subscriptions amounting to about £500 a year and by collections taken at the chapel doors each Sunday amounting to some £2,000 a year more.2
A gentleman could become an annual guardian of the charity by subscribing at least three guineas a year. Alternatively, he could become a perpetual guardian by a donation of thirty guineas or more, or by being the first named executor on a legacy of £100 or more. A guardian could recommend a girl for admission when a vacancy arose.
According to Allen in The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827): 'Ladies subscribing certain specified sums are entitled to vote by proxy.'3
The charity employed various staff to run the asylum and chapel. In 1827, their annual salaries were as follows:
Chaplain and secretary £200Alternate morning preachers £100 eachEvening preacher £126Organist £63Writing master £50Apothecary (including supply of medicine) £70Messenger £52Matron £60Assistant matron £20First school-mistress £40Two assistant mistresses £15 15s eachNurse £20Chapel clerk £21Four chapel keepers £12 each4
Life in the Asylum
Girls were admitted between the ages of nine and twelve, housed and educated, and then apprenticed as a domestic servant or into a trade from the age of about fifteen.
The Microcosm of London described the education of the girls:
Carefully instructed in the principles of religion; in reading, writing, needlework, and household business, they are trained to habits of industry and regularity, by which means there is a supply of diligent and sober domestics for the use of that public, which, by its contributions, has so nobly acquired a right to their services.5
The girls were required
... to make and mend their own linen; make shirts, shifts, and table-linen; to do all kinds of plain needle-work, and to perform the business of the house and kitchen; to which latter twelve are appointed weekly, according to their age and abilities, to assist the cook, to wash, iron, and get up all the linen. They are likewise taught to read the Bible, write a legible hand, and understand the first four rules in arithmetic.6
The girls helped support the Asylum with their work:
All kinds of plain needle-work are taken in at the Asylum, and performed by the children at certain rates, which are regulated by the committee.7
Visits by gentlewomen
According to The Microcosm of London, the guardians
... earnestly solicit the ladies, who are particularly qualified for that purpose, frequently to visit the charity, inspect the management of the house, and particularly the employment of the children; also to see that they are properly instructed in housewifery, so as to be qualified for useful domestic servants; and from time to time communicate to the committee, by letter or otherwise, such observations as they shall deem proper to make.8
A very neat chapel is included in the plan, in which some respectable minister officiates as preacher on Sundays. The girls also sing, accompanied by a good organ.
A number of the nobility and gentry frequent this place of worship, and at the same time become contributors to a noble charity, which preserves from probable destruction a great number of indigent female orphans, and makes them at the same time a comfort to their remaining relations, and a benefit to the community.9
What happened to the girls?
When the girls were about fifteen years of age, they were apprenticed:
They are to be bound apprentices for seven years, at the age of fifteen, or sooner, as domestic servants to reputable families in Great Britain.10
When a girl was old enough to be apprenticed, the guardian who presented her was asked if he had a placement for her in mind. If this was not the case, the girl could be sent to any respectable person who applied for an apprentice, once the committee had approved their character.
If a girl completed her apprenticeship and their master or mistress vouched for their good behaviour, she was given five guineas by the committee.
If the committee deemed that the girl was unfit for domestic service, they could apprentice her into any trade they thought proper. The maximum they would pay to secure this apprenticeship was £10.
The success of the Asylum
According to The Microcosm of London:
Two hundred deserted females are daily sheltered and protected from vice and want, supplied with food and raiment, and taught what-ever can render them useful in their situation, or comfortable and happy in themselves.11
Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian Regency era romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.Find out more about Rachel's books and sign up for her newsletter here.
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(1) From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809).
(2) These amounts are taken from Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827).
(3) From Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827).
(5) From Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(9) Allen op cit.
(10) Ackermann op cit.(11) Ibid.
Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 1 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Lambeth (1827)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)