St Vincent's Home for Working Boys, Birmingham, Warwickshire

The St Vincent's Home for Working Boys' Home was founded in 1901 at the initiative of Father George Hudson. After Father Hudson was appointed as the Roman Catholic parish priest at Coleshill in 1898, he soon became involved with the St Paul's Home for Boys, run by the Birmingham Diocese. St Paul's housed Catholic boys boarded out there by the Birmingham Board of Guardians and other poor law authorities. Many of the boys leaving the home obtained employment in Birmingham where they faced what Father Hudson described as a 'fearful danger to faith and morals'. Discovering that homes or hostels for working boys had been set up in many other dioceses by the St Vincent de Paul Society, Father Hudson proposed that a similar scheme be established in Birmingham. Having received the approval of the Bishop of Birmingham, he set about raising money for the venture.

The home was initially based at a house on Whittall Street, Birmingham, where 20 boys could be accommodated. The first of these arrived from the St Paul's Home on December 2nd, 1901. The following October, the home moved to better premises at 102 Moseley Road, housing up to 45 boys. A committee, on the which St Vincent de Paul Society was represented, appointed Father Hudson as manager of the home, with a Mr and Mrs Kavanagh as resident supervisors.

Ongoing funding for the home came various sources. The Boards of Guardians made a weekly payment of four shillings for each boy, until they attained the age of 16. The boys' also made a substantial contribution from their earnings. Finally, money was received from voluntary donations, subscriptions, and various fund-raising events. A major boost to the finances came in 1906 with a bequest of £1,500 from the Poncia family of Edgbaston. The money enabled a major enlargement and refurbishment of the home which was re-opened, now named St Vincent's, on February 27th, 1907, by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham. The role of manager was then taken on by Father Hubert Sandy, with Mr and Mrs H.W. Beck as resident superintendents. Father Sandy was succeeded by Father Arthur Wall, followed by Father James O'Connor. Mr and Mrs Alfred Flynn superintended the home from the end of the First World War until 1964 when they finally retired.

Former St Vincent's Home premises, Birmingham, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Boys staying at St Vincent's were assisted in finding suitable employment, with an emphasis being placed on situations such as jewellery-making or shoe-making where a trade or craft could be learned. Attendance at evening classes was also encouraged.

St Vincent's continued to grow, eventually occupying numbers 102-106 and 110 Moseley Road. Its facilities included a gymnasium, reading room and workshops. Outdoor pursuits organised for the boys included swimming, football and cricket, and camping trips to North Wales. A chapel, dedicated to St John Bosco, was erected at the rear of number 102 at a cost of £1,660.

Despite all these changes, life at St Vincent's was strictly regulated. As at the Diocese's Manresa Hostel for Working Girls, the residents were expected to contribute to the household chores of the establishment. The boys rose at 6am, turned their mattresses, made their beds and washed. They then did a stint of cleaning floors, bathrooms etc. until 7am when a 10-minute service of prayers took place in the home's chapel. After breakfast at 7.10, the boys left for work at 7.30, returning for dinner at 6.15pm. Evening classes were scheduled for 7 til 9pm, with a light supper then bed at 9.15. Lights out was at 10.30 although radio listening could continue until 11pm.

In 1945, a new block, known as St Anthony's Hostel, was opened behind the home to provide temporary accommodation for former St Vincent's boys who had just left the armed forces or who were on leave. Property was also acquired at the rear of the site on Ravenhurst Street where a hall and club were later developed.

In the 1970s, with a fall in the number of boys entering St Vincent's, plans were made to convert the home into three family-group homes, together with boys' and girls' hostels. Instead, however, two homes for the elderly were created, known as Flynn House and Griffin House.

In 2013, the whole site was being redeveloped for other purposes.

Records

Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.

  • The Father Hudson's 'Origins' service can provide access to records relating to children whom the Society placed for adoption or who were in its care, including those who were migrated to Canada or Australia. The establishments for which the Society may hold records are:

    • Francis Way Mother and Baby Home, 124 Four Ashes Road, Bentley Heath, Knowle, Warwickshire.
    • Woodville Mother and Baby Home, 176 Raddlebarn Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham.
    • St Edward's Boys Home, Coventry Road, Coleshill.
    • St George's and St James' Cottage Homes, Coventry Road, Coleshill.
    • St Joan's and the Nursery, Coventry Road, Coleshill.
    • St Paul's, High Street, Coleshill.
    • St Andrew's, Blythe Road, Coleshill.
    • St Vincent's Working Boys Hostel, 102 Moseley Road, Birmingham.
    • Manresa Working Girls Hostel, Vernon Road, Edgbaston.

    They may also have records if the Birmingham Diocesan Rescue Society placed you with:

    • Maryvale Nursery, Old Oscott Hill, Kingstanding, Birmingham.
    • Nazareth House, Rednal, Birmingham
    • Pallotti Hall, Siddington, Nr Macclesfield
    • St Joseph's, Jesson Road, Walsall.

    To make an enquiry/application regarding records, download and complete the relevant application form from the Father Hudson's website. A charge is made for dealing with some types of enquiry.

Bibliography

  • Pinches, Sylvia M. Father Hudson and His Society: A History 1898-1998 (1998, Archdiocese of Birmingham Historical Commission)