19 Church Hill: Change of Use

This article originally appeared in Belbroughton Parish Magazine in October 2013.

19 Church Hill (Waifs House) © D. Roberts

In the late 1800s, 19 Church Hill went through a substantial change when it was converted from a doctor’s consulting room and family home to an institution run by a national charity.

Following Dr Hobbes’s death in 1863 his widow sold the property.  After a gap in the records of nearly 20 years it is known that by 1880 the eastern end of the house was occupied by Charles Hough and his family, trading as drapers, and known as Victoria House.   A few years later, in1889, the remaining part of the house was taken over by the Church of England Children’s Society, and became a “Home for Waifs and Strays”.  Early in the 20th century the name was changed to “All Saints Home for Girls”.

The Home initially provided shelter for fifteen girls, aged between six and fourteen years.  They were described in a local newspaper as being “….rescued from vicious surroundings”, and were brought to Belbroughton from all over the country: London – Bath – Gravesend – Dollgellau.  In 1910 the Home was transferred to Clent.  Such establishments were seen as examples of a caring and benevolent society and the Belbroughton Home was described as such in the local press.  Little is known about the inmates of the Home for Waifs and Strays. The girls attended the village school, and some went into service at some of the larger households in the area.  Did any of them settle permanently in the village or return in later years?  We do not know.  However some brief details are recorded in the case histories of the children, held by The Children’s Society, and two of these are included here.

Case 3326, 6 year-old girl, born 1886 M’s father died of pleurisy in August 1892 leaving a wife and 11 children. He was a weaver, as was his eldest daughter, aged 16. A 14 year old daughter worked in the spinning mill, and a 12 year old also worked. Despite this income and the deceased father’s membership of two “benefits clubs”, his widow did not have enough money to keep her large family. M. went to live at the Belbroughton Girls’ Home near Stourbridge in October 1892. In December 1898 her mother’s circumstances improved and M. returned to her.

Case 5505, 7 year-old girl, born 1889 M, seven and her sister C, ten, are jointly covered by this file.   They also had three brothers. Their mother died of influenza in 1892 and their father remarried and had two more children with their stepmother. The stepmother ill treated the five children that were not her own. In July 1896 she was sentenced to six weeks hard labour for cruelty. A newspaper report of the court case is on the file. The girls went to live at St Faith’s Home in Torquay, Devon in August 1896. In April 1900 C was transferred to the Belbroughton Home in Worcestershire because she was badly behaved. She went into service in April 1901. In 1905 M also went into service.

It seems from these records that efforts were made to unite families when possible, and it is interesting to reflect and to compare the contrasting lifestyles between the affluent Dr Hobbes in the mid 1800s, and the impoverished residents at the end of the century, dependent on the charity of the Victorian age.