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Archaeological and Local History Society

PUBLISHED: 12:38 22 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:44 06 July 2010

On April 14, society member June Nice spoke about the hardships of Victorian life, when her grandmother Emma died young in 1894 leaving three children.

On April 14, society member June Nice spoke about the hardships of Victorian life, when her grandmother Emma died young in 1894 leaving three children. Having lost her first husband, Emma had married a farm-worker but he struggled to find work and the family were frequently on parish support. After her death a Mr James Brown wrote to the George Muller Orphanage, then well known in Bristol, asking the owner to take in the children. Being 12, Thomas had to go out to work, but Kate aged 10 and Alfie, only eight, were found places. George Muller had made an unpromising start, being a thief, but then took on the unlikely career of divinity student. He mended his ways and became a successful Missionary for Jews in London. By 1836 he set up the original orphanage that was to bear his name, starting with about 30 girls in the Ashley Downs area of Bristol. Muller died in 1898 having shaped the lives of over 80,000 young people. All needs of the orphanage were met by donations and gifts in kind of food and supplies. The children had a sound Christian education with strict discipline. Their day began at 6am and an early breakfast ensured they were in classes by 8.30am. The evening meal was at 5.30pm and they were in their dormitories by 9pm. Girls learned sewing, laundry and domestic skills. Boys did saddlery, gardening and carpentry and both sexes, if thought suitable, might have teacher training. Boys could leave at age 14 and girls were sometimes kept on until they were 17. All were sent out in good clothes and with a bible. June's ancestor Kate was to become an assistant housekeeper at Harrow, and later to work for the Rothschild family. Alfie first went as apprentice to a saddler and progressed to the post of stationmaster at Quainton, Bucks. The family held together and June has a remarkable collection of documents and photographs from the orphanage to tell their story. The orphanage closed in the 1950s but there is still a foundation in Bristol providing small homes, and the Muller legacy lives on. The Society now takes a summer break, its next meeting is at South Lowestoft Methodist Church Hall at 7.30pm on Thursday, September 10.

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