St Benet's Home For Boys, Caversham, Berkshire

St Benet's 'Gardening Home' For Boys was established by the Waifs and Strays Society in 1903 at 11 Kidmore End Road, Emmer Green, Caversham, near Reading, Berkshire. The building and furnishing of the property had been funded by Mr C.M. Powell. The home was officially opened on May 27th, 1903, by Edward Rudolph, the founder of the Society.

The location of the home is shown on the 1936 map below.

St Benet's Home For Boys site, Reading, c.1936.

St Benet's Home For Boys from the north-east, Caversham, c.1903. © Peter Higginbotham

St Benet's Home For Boys from the north-east, Caversham, c.1906. © Peter Higginbotham

St Benet's Home For Boys from the south, Caversham, c.1903. © Peter Higginbotham

St Benet's Home For Boys, Caversham, c.1903. © Peter Higginbotham

St Benet's Home For Boys from the north-west, Caversham, c.1921. © Peter Higginbotham

Initially, like the Society's establishment at Standon, St Benet's was used as an industrial training home for 25 boys, aged 13 or over, most of whom would be destined for emigration to Canada. The boys were mainly trained in gardening and agricultural work, for which the home's 6.5 acres of land provided plenty of scope. Classes in craft skills such as carpentry, tailoring and shoemaking were also provided.

Emigration party leaving St Benet's, Caversham, April 1909. © Peter Higginbotham

Boys selected for emigration from St Benet's, Caversham, 1910. © Peter Higginbotham

Boys packing prior to emigration from St Benet's, Caversham, 1911. © Peter Higginbotham

Emigration party in front of St Benet's, Caversham, 1913. © Peter Higginbotham

On May 6th, 1912, St Benet's was accredited as a Certified School, allowing it to receive boys boarded out by the workhouse authorities.

In 1921, St Benet's became an ordinary residential care home, though remained boys-only until 1973.

Boys at St Benet's, Caversham, c.1921. © Peter Higginbotham

Boys at St Benet's, Caversham, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Boot cleaning at St Benet's, Caversham, c.1931. © Peter Higginbotham

The home continued operating during the Second World War but had a near escape when, early one morning, the Master heard a single enemy plane circling. He got the boys into shelter just in time before two bombs landed in the garden, one just by the gymnasium. The house was badly damaged but no injuries were suffered.

The home was closed in 1980. The building no longer survives and the site is now occupied by modern housing.

Records

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

Bibliography

  • Bowder, Bill Children First: a photo-history of England's children in need (1980, Mowbray)
  • Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society [Rudolfe, Edward de Montjoie] The First Forty Years: a chronicle of the Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society 1881-1920 (1922, Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society / S.P.C.K.)
  • Rudolf, Mildred de Montjoie Everybody's Children: the story of the Church of England Children's Society 1921-1948 (1950, OUP)
  • Stroud, John Thirteen Penny Stamps: the story of the Church of England Children's Society (Waifs and Strays) from 1881 to the 1970s (1971, Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Morris, Lester The Violets Are Mine: Tales of an Unwanted Orphan (2011, Xlibris Corporation) — memoir of a boy growing up in several of the Society's homes (Princes Risborough, Ashdon, Hunstanton, Leicester) in the 1940s and 50s.