The birthplace of Barnardo’s

PUBLISHED: 10:51 29 November 2010 | UPDATED: 15:11 20 February 2013

Banardos memorial

Banardos memorial

More than 100 years on, the work first inspired by Dr Barnardo still thrives. Sara Wrightman explains how Barkingside was home to a social revolution

FOR the children's charity Barnardo's, Barkingside is not simply home to its head office, it is also the birthplace of this worthwhile work and a former refuge to more than 1,000 girls and boys.

Mark Gill, who was helped by Barnardo's as a child, now works for the charity taking tourists and school children around the original 'village', explaining how they lived during this pioneering social revolution.

'People will say they feel sorry for me - and I have to tell them I was very lucky. Life at Barnardo's was a privilege. We used to celebrate Christmas as if it was going out of fashion,' says Mark.

Now, Mark works in Barnardo's national headquarters which sits on the land where he remembers running and picking apples in the orchard. 'When I first started working here it was very moving - it was like coming home,' he explains.
The cottage where Mark spent his childhood still stands and is now used to house Barnardo's staff.

It is just one of the Barnardo's cottages that has been preserved surrounding the greens where the children were raised according to the ideologies of Dr Thomas Barnardo.

Each child lived in a home with a 'mother' and their daily routines were no different to other children - except there would be up to 20 boys and girls sharing the home, and many more with whom to play outside safely in the evenings. 'The homes that Dr Barnardo set up were unique. There will never be another man like him,' says Mark.

The story of Dr Barnardo began in 1866 when he arrived in London from Dublin to study medicine. But, he was so appalled by the poverty and deprivation experienced by the East End children that he set up Ragged School in Stepney to become home to boys who had previously been living on the streets or in large impoverished families.

It was the extraordinary gift of a home in Barkingside for himself and his wife, Syrie, as a wedding present that set the scene for the 60-acre Barnardo's village that became home to hundreds of children, and is now the nerve-centre for the charity's inspirational work.

From his own family home on Cranbrook Road, his vision was to create a way of life for the Barnardo's children that resembled village life. Dr Barnardo started out with just one cottage, but by requesting funds and maintaining his mission to create family lives for the children of East London, his dream became a reality by 1900 when the children's village in Barkingside was in its heyday.

The village was made up of cottages overlooking greens where the children could play when they had finished their rotas of daily chores and homework. The self-contained community had a hospital, the children's church (which still holds regular services), a swimming pool, laundries, schools and training centres.

With the onset of the war came the evacuation of the entire Barnardo's village from Barkingside to homes in East Anglia. This period marked a change both in the lives of families of the post-war generation and, hand-in-hand with the Children's Act in 1948, saw a shift in the work of Barnardo's to attempt to keep families together, or place children for adoption and fostering.

Dorothy Howes, who has worked for Barnardo's for 40 years, remembers when the head office first moved to Barkingside from Stepney Causeway. 'There were still boys and girls living in the homes,' says Dorathy. 'People are still interested in the history of Barnardo's.'

Today more than 115,000 children are cared for by Barnardo's in the UK and many more children placed for adoption and with foster parents.

But the vision of Dr Barnardo lives on with its current work building positive lives for children. Some of this work includes its residential schools, respite care, training centres, after school provision and working with children who have been sexually exploited or abused.

Local school children regularly visit the village to discover how children lived more than 100 years ago. A typical tour consists of a film screening held in the children's church and a tour of the museum cottage.

Mark tells stories of his own childhood within the village to make this a once-in-a-lifetime history lesson.

Book a Barnardo's Tour
If you are interested in trying out the Barnardo's esperience tours can be pre-booked for both school parties or smaller groups at a cost of £5 per adult and £1 per child.

For details email or call 020 8550 8822

For more information on Barnardo's visit the website by clicking here

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