English Theatrical Orphanage/School


Figure 1.--A reader tells us about the teatrical orphanage/school he attended. The boys wore a uniform of a Guernsey sweater, knee-length corduroy short trousers, kneesocks, and sandals. The photograph here shows some of the boys in their classroom.

An English reader tells us about the theatrical orphanage/school he attended. The school was a charity run for orphans of theatrical parents where one or both parents had died. I'm not sure just when the orphanage was founded. The school was at first run on strict terms with the boys and girls kept apart but in 1934 a change was made to convert the school to a co-ed boarding school run for 52 weeks. So boys and girls shared playing fields (sports grounds) classrooms (mixed) and other facilities. This was very unusual in UK at that time. Some schools (day schools) did mix genders in the classrom but very few to include boarding. I am not sure, but I suspect that the switch to coeducation was primarily based on financial considerations and not educational philosophy. Our reader tells us, "Us boys wore a uniform of a Guernsey sweater, knee-length corduroy short trousers, kneesocks, and sandals. The photograph here shows some of the boys chatting to each other. The boy holding the book is ME!" Boys wore short trousers to age 16 years. He remembers that, "We were often taken in groups to see theaters, places of historic interest, royal events (the school was close to Windsor Castle) to see newspapers printed, and to London when the city public buildings were lit up for the Jubilee of George V (1935) Christmas was a gala time when leading actresses & actors came down for the day and has a full Christmas dinner with us and the presentation of toy etc to us that were placed around the tree." After World War II began, the school in 1940 was evacuated to the America--New York City. I did not go because of my age. Friends tell me that when older boys went to the local high school the American boys yelled "Where's the other half of your pants?" When they we got back to where they stayed, they asked for long trousers! When the War ended in 1945, many boys were old enough to join the U.S. forces. Others found their way back to UK. Many of the girls and boys that were evacuated became U.S. citizens. The orphanage closed during the War, but was reopned for a time after the War. The charity still does exist.

Theatrical Orphanage

An English reader tells us about the Theatrical Orphanage (AO) he attended. It also had its own school. The AO was a charity run for orphans of theatrical parents where one or both parents had died. At the time, oephanages was one of the primary ways that the needs of children in need were met.

Chronology

The AO orphanage/school was founded 110 years ago by Kittie Carson at Croydonin (1896). The Actors Orphanage Fund was formaly established as a charitable trust to support the Orphanage (1912). Our English contributor tells us that he has photographs from the school dated as early as 1915. The Orphanage during World War I was moved to Langley Hall at Langley (Buckinghamshire at the tine, now in Berkshire). The Orphanage provided both boarding facilities and a school to some 60 children. The children at about age 1517 years sat the School Leaving Certificate of Cambridge University. The Orphanage moved again, this time to Silverlands at Chertsey, Surrey (1938). We arevnot sure what caused these moves. Thenext move we do know about. The orphans during the height of the Blitz were evacuayed to Ameruca (September 1940). They weretaken in by the the Edwin Gould Foundation in New York City. The children attended local NewYork public schools. After the War, some of the children stayed in America, others with relatives in England returned. The Fund reestablished a home at Silverlands, Chertsey. This favility operated for a nother decade before finally closing (1958).

Boarding Facility

The Theatrical Orohanage was a boarding dacikity, thus both a home and a school. Children lived there 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for 52 weeks a year.

Coeducation

The school was at first run on strict terms with the boys and girls kept apart but in 1934 a change was made to convert the school to a co-ed boarding school run for 52 weeks. So boys and girls shared playing fields (sports grounds) classrooms (mixed) and other facilities. This was very unusual in U.K. at that time. Some schools (day schools) did mix genders in the classrom but very few to include boarding. I am not sure, but I suspect that the switch to coeducation was primarily based on financial considerations and not educational philosophy. The education given at the orphange school was excellent - the same as given to a well-run private school - small classes . Pupils sat the University of Cambridge School Certificate - if 10 subjects were taken (and passed) this gave Matriculation to the University. We were fortunate NOT to go to local schools.

Location

Our reader tells us, "Our school was located in Windsor." The children evacuated to America lived in Pelham.

Uniform

Our reader tells us, "Us boys wore a uniform of a Guernsey sweater, knee-length corduroy short trousers, kneesocks, and sandals. Corduroy was considered very serviceable for schoolwear. The stocking tops were different from the socks, they were not of one colour - more of a pattern knit. We did not always have the proper socks. Here one boy has socks with colored bands (figure 1). The girls wore gym slips, anthore populat style at the time. All this was paid for by the charity. Another photograph of some of the older boys and girls chatting to each other shows us in the school uniform on the school grounds. The boy holding the book is ME!" Boys wore short trousers through age 16 years." [Williams]

Special Events

Our reader remembers that, "We were often taken in groups to see theaters, places of historic interest, royal events (the school was close to Windsor Castle) to see newspapers printed, and to London when the city public buildings were lit up for the Jubilee of George V (1935) Christmas was a gala time when leading actresses & actors came down for the day and has a full Christmas dinner with us and the presentation of toy etc to us that were placed around the tree." [Williams]

Theatrical Performances

Ourvreader writes, "We had a full stage theatre at the school and we put on pantomines at Christmas - not only locally but for one week at a well known theatre in London. I have a programme of the school appearing at a Command Performance before the King and Queen - after the show the two Princesses came backstage and gave us each a small box of chocs--Elizabeth (present QWueen) and her sister Margaret. The King was George VI the Queen was Mary. My name is on the programme." In New York City a performance called "Gratefully Yours" was given at a Broadway Theatre -- Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward introduced the show. The boys/girls put on skits of what they understood was American life. The skit of a shoe-shine boy in the Bronx brought the house down.

Assessment

The now grown children that were cared for by the orphanage have varying opinions about their experience and care. Oir reader writes, "Schools in U.K. 1900- 70 were not the pleasant places they are today, I'm glad to say. Some boys and girls have unhappy memories. I know of some boys and girls who had some problems and hope never to hear about it and don't want to be involved in any kind of reunions. I've been told of some things that certainly would not be tolerated in this day and age. Yet for some their experiences were very positive. I know of one boy who worked for CBS all his working life - married - had children and he wrote a summary of his life in Britain and America called A Lucky Orphan. It is a story to be told. There are several books about evacuated children (including the school I was in) that are kept at the Imperial War Museum in London, England and are used by researchers interested in those times and especially concerning those sent to America and Canada.

World War II (1939-45)

After World War II broke out, the school was evacuated to America. Our readervtells us, "The older students, however, stayed in Britain. Thus I was in London during the Blitz."

Evacuation to New York City

After World War II began, the orphanage in 1940 was evacuated to the America--New York City. When the War began (September 1939) Most British children in the cities were evacated to the country side. Boarding schools located along the southern coast were evacuated north. For a time after the fall of France (June 1940), it looked like Britain would be the next country to fall. Quite a number of wealthy people sent their children overseas, especially to Canada and America. This was criticized because it looked like the rich were getting special privliges. So the idea to send some orphange children was welcomed and our orphanage was chosen (some 40 odd in all). Subsequently German U-boats sunk the City of Benares which carried quite a number of evacuee children. After that the Government banned further evacuations. By the time the immediate danger of a NAZI invasion had past. The establishment in New York City was a home for approximately 45 persons --- all the children attended the local schools. Friends tell me that when older boys went to the local high school the American boys yelled "Where's the other half of your pants?" When they we got back to where they stayed, they asked for long trousers! When the War ended in 1945, many boys were old enough to join the U.S. forces. While some of the children had lost both parents, others still had one parent as well as other familiy members. Ourreader writes, "Thus there were varying ties to Brotain. Many of the girls and boys that were evacuated became U.S. citizens. Others were quite anxious to return home and found their way back to Britain. Some children were adopted by American families and these were lucky to attend US University--the ones I knew became US citizens and have not returned (except to visit) the UK." [Staber]

The Blitz (September-December 1940)

Our reader tells us, "I did not go with the evacuees because of my age. I thus lived in London during the Blitz. In July 1940 I left UK school - and that was when the crucial battles of the Batle of Britain were fought and the UK carried on for over year before America entered the war. I well remember incidents during the Blitz. On PBS there was a very good program of the 'worst night of the blitz' - I remember it well -- it was when incendery bombs were used - lots of them - before high explosive ones -- and most damage was done to the inner city area notably arround St.Paul Cathedral, December 29, 1940."

Industry Support

The Theatrical Orphanage and the children there was supported by many in the theatrical industry, including some of the biggest names. They contributed both theur time and financial support. Some served as presidents of the orphanage. Some of the bigest names were Sir Gerald du Maurier, Noel Coward, Laurence Olivier, and the present president Lord Richard Attenborough. Neil Coward was especially active. He was a major movie star in the 1930s and early-40s, popular in both America and Britain. He helped with the Orphanage both in England and after the children were evacuated to America during the Blitz.

Closing (1940)

The orphanage was closed during the War when the "orphans" were evacuated to America. The older children remained in Britain. The children who were evacuated by the end of the War were mostly teengers. They were allowed to chose whether to stay in America or return to Britain.

Reopening (1947)

While the orphanage closed durng the War, the charity continued to exist and reopened the Orphanage after the War. It was reopened during 1947 in Chertsey Surrey at Silverlands. [Saber] Our contributor tells us, "I visited the AO in Chertsey. I learned it was no longer a SCHOOL - the older boys were sent to various private schools (some quite good scchools) and the older girls were sent to the William Perkins School - a private school in Chertsey - of some note. The younger children went to the local STATE schools in Chertsey." [Williams] Our contributor adds, "just a note to clear-up some misunderstanding re AO after the war was over the AO as a SCHOOL was not re-opened but it was opened as a residence (1949). Older boys were sent to various private schools, older girls went to The William Perkins School in Chertsey - a private school of some note. Junior children went to the local state primary school." [Williams]

Final Closing (1959)

Silverlands at Chertsey was finally closed as a residence in 1959. The older former pupils finished at their private schools. The AO became the ACTORS CHARITABLE TRUST (TACT) and still exists - helping among others children from theatrical families who needed specific aid. Tghey now increasingly focus on the needs of elderly actors who need assistance. Lord Attenborough became resident. So today there is no Actors Orphange and much more attention from the Trust is given to providing aid to elderly and ill persons.

Old Boys and Girls

"I kept in touch with many former pals and in 1978 and 85 - organized reunions in U.K. After the War when I was visiting the UK, I organized reunions for the pre-1945 A0 helped by, The Langley College where the OA was situated until 1938 and the A0 moved to Silverlands at Chertsey (never Windsor - but not that far away)." [Staber]

Image

Our readertells us, "A word about the orphanage. We didn't like the word used and if we told anyone we were educated at an orphanage our chances of getting a job was not very good. I was 50 yrs old before I told anyone that I had lived and was educated in an orphanage. Even some of my best friends I had made after I left the school would not have wanted me in their circle. Again - in all my talk with former boys/girls - we all feel we had a very superior education - probably because the theatrical people running the school wanted us to be well taught. Really our orphanage was the elite of orphanages. [Williams]

Publications

One boy only has written a book and had it published (selling very well). others have written papers for research purposes and these are at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. The Museum has made a special exhibition about evacuated children during the war 1939-45. The IWM has given some attention to British children and how they were affected by the War.

Sources

Staber, Judy. E-mail message, May 28, 2008. Judy was at Silverlands from 1947 until 1959 and her mother was to die at Denville Hall, the retirement home in 1999. She is in the process of writing a book about her childhood.

Williams, Roy. E-mail messages, March 3, 2006 and May 29 anf June 24, 2008.







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Created: 1:04 AM 3/3/2006
Last update: 5:32 PM 8/25/2010