Father Hudson's Homes, Coleshill, Warwickshire

Father George Vincent Hudson was born in 1873 in the parish of Bredon in Worcestershire and was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1898. He then became parish priest at Coleshill, near Birmingham, where he remained for the next 36 years.

A Catholic children's home already existed in Coleshill by this date. The St Paul's Home, located on the High Street, had been set up by the Birmingham Diocese in 1884 to take Catholic boys from the children's cottage homes at Marston Green operated by the Birmingham Board of Guardians. A poor law school also operated at the home.

Father Hudson's concern for deprived and destitute children led to his appointment, in 1902, as Secretary and Administrator of the newly formed Birmingham Diocesan Rescue Society for the Protection of Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children. The Society was soon dealing with hundreds of cases a year, with the children involved ending up in a variety of destinations. Some went to existing Catholic children's homes, including the St Vincent's Working Boys' Home in Birmingham. Others were placed in poor law schools, some were passed to other rescue societies, and some were emigrated to Canada.

Right from the start, the Society had planned to open its own boys' home since the existing homes in the diocese provided fewer places for boys than for girls. Accordingly, in April 1904, the sum of £657 8s. 6d. was expended by Father Hudson on a two-acre site on Coventry Road in Coleshill, opposite to St John's Church. On October 17th, 1905, the foundation stone was laid for the new building, which was to be called St Edward's Home. Designed by Henry Sandy of Stafford, its construction cost £8,665. The home was opened on November 6th, 1906, with Father Hudson appointed as its administrator. The home was run by nuns from the Sisters of Charity of St Paul the Apostle, with Mother Aloysia Marie Fleming as Mother Superior.

St Edward's Home, Coleshill, c.1908. © Peter Higginbotham

St Edward's Home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St Edward's Home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St Edward's Home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St Edward's Home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

In common with many other children's agencies of the time, the Rescue Society saw emigration as an important option for providing a better future for the children that came its way. On October 15th, 1903, Father Hudson took a party of eleven children to Canada — the first of thirty such trips he was to make. Following the formation of the Catholic Emigration Association (CAE) in 1904, Father Hudson became treasurer and then secretary of the organisation, with the emigration of all Catholic children from England and Wales being administered from Coleshill. Children arriving in Canada initially stayed at the St George's reception home on Richmond Road, Ottawa, established in 1896 by the Southwark Catholic Emigration Association. Boys were placed mainly on farms while the girls generally went into domestic service. Catholic emigration to Canada ended in 1932, by which time around 11,000 children had been sent by the CAE.

In 1908, increasing concern about the health of the children at Coleshill, especially tubercular conditions, led to the opening of a temporary infirmary, known as St John's. A permanent establishment, St Gerard's Hospital, was opened in May 1913. It could accommodate 37 children and was open to children from all the Catholic children's homes in the diocese and also Catholic children from workhouse infirmaries. To deal with the large proportion of tubercular cases, an open-air ward was soon added. During the First World War, St Gerard's became a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospital, with soldiers being accommodated in the main building and children in the open-air ward. After the war, St Gerard's developed as a tuberculosis sanatorium and also provided orthopaedic care. The facilities were expanded with the addition of an operating theatre, additional open-air ward, x-ray department and chapel building. In around 1930, a nurses' home, known as St Mary's, was erected between St Edward's and the school building.

St Mary's home for nurses, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's home for nurses, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Up until 1914, the boys from St Edward's attended the school that operated at the St Paul's Home. In October of that year, the St Edward's Elementary School was opened on the main Father Hudson's site. Its four classrooms, each linked to a central hall, could accommodate 160 boys. The school was taken over by the local Education Board in 1925, from which date it admitted local children as well as those from the home.

St Edward's Home elementary school, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St Edward's Home elementary school, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1910, an extension known as Our Lady's Home for Babes, was added to St Edward's to house children between 3 and 5 years in age. In 1923, two cottage homes, named St George's and St James', were erected at the south of the school building, with accommodation for a total of hundred boys aged 5 to 11. Each home was divided into two units, each housing twenty-five boys under the supervision of a Sister. The younger boys were placed in St George's and the older ones in St James'. The boys were expected to help with the household chores, with the older ones helping to dress the younger ones in the morning.

St George's cottage home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

St George's cottage home, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

The layout of the northern part of the Father Hudson's site is shown on the 1955 map below.

Father Hudson's site (north), Coleshill, c.1955.

In 1931, a new educational facility, St Philomena's School of Social, Domestic and Commercial Science, was opened in conjunction with St Gerard's hospital. The following year, two Sisters who had trained at Guy's Hospital, London, opened a school of massage in the premises of the former St Paul's Home.

The first accommodation for girls appeared in 1931 when the St Joan's Home, again based on small units, was erected at the southern end of main site. From the age of 11, the girls attended what was now the Catholic Central School at the St Paul's school site. They could also participate in the St Philomena's School training courses which included the study of household management, cookery, needlework, dressmaking, the care of linen and clothing, laundry work, first aid, home nursing and hygiene.

St Joan's home, Coleshill, 1930s. © Peter Higginbotham

The southern part of the Father Hudson's site is shown on the 1955 map below.

Father Hudson's Homes site (south), Coleshill, c.1955.

Here is an aerial view of the entire site, perhaps dating from the late 1940s.

Father Hudson's Homes, Coleshill, date unknown. © Peter Higginbotham

Father Hudson died in 1936. His grave is located near to the St Edward's Home.

The homes continued in operation during the Second World War. St Edward's suffered some damage from bombing in December 1940 but otherwise escape and serious harm. In 1940, St Mary's House in the St Joan's Home was converted into a nursery for 40 children aged three or under. Another nursery, St Theresa's, was opened in 1945, initially in temporary accommodation, then moving into the St James' cottage home.

After the war, there was a brief resurrection of interest in emigration, this time to Australia. By the time all emigration from Catholic homes ceased in 1956, a total of 133 children from Father Hudson's Homes had gone to Australia.

In 1947, an additional five acres of land was purchased at the east of the homes to provide new playing fields. An outdoor swimming pool was also built there.

A new residence, known as the St Andrew's Home, was opened in 1949 on Blythe Road, Coleshill. It accommodated 25 of the older boys with the aim of giving them some experience of family-style life.

When the time came for boys to leave one of the Coleshill homes, those who had found work in Birmingham were generally housed in the Rescue Society's St Vincent's Working Boys' Home. In 1945, for those more inclined towards agricultural work, the Society bought Priory Farm at Studley, Worcestershire. Its 250 acres were farmed by ten boys who learned the skills of cereal growing, dairying, poultry keeping, and market gardening. The Priory farmhouse provided them with hostel-style accommodation under the supervision of a resident warden. In 1948, the Manresa hostel in Edgbaston was opened to provide a supervised hostel for girls leaving the Society's care and entering the employment market.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a growing emphasis on fostering, adoption and family support led to a fall in demand for residential places and a gradual closure of the homes. St Paul's School closed in 1970, with the newer buildings being demolished. The original St Paul's Home was converted for use as a mother and baby home but closed in 1985 and the property sold. The cottage homes closed in February 1980 although during the winter of 1981-2 provided a temporary home to forty Vietnamese refugees. St Edward's closed in December 1981, with the remaining boys being transferred to the St Andrew's Home. In 1986, the St Michael's and St Catherine's wings of St Joan's were adapted to house sixteen young people with physical and learning difficulties. However, St Joan's was finally closed in March 1989 and the buildings were demolished around 1997. St Gerard's Hospital closed in 1998.

Since the late 1990s, the St Edward's Home, St Gerard's Hospital, St Mary's nurses' home and a number of other old structures have been standing empty. Some of the other buildings are occupied by the Birmingham Diocese. The home's former administration and receiving block is now occupied by the Diocesan Schools Commission Offices.

Father Hudson's former administration/receiving block, Coleshill, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1998, Father Eric Taylor, who worked at the St Edward's Home betwen 1957 and 1965, was found guilty of 16 offences of indecent assault and buggery on the boys in his care. It was later estimated that the Father Hudson's Society had paid more than £500,000 in out-of-court settlements relating to these and related offences. Father Taylor was formally removed from the priesthood in 2001 and died in prison in the same year. In 2004, the charity issued a public apology to Taylor's victims.

In August 2013, the local council agreed that the derelict buildings could be demolished and the area redeveloped.

The organization was renamed the Father Hudson's Society in 1984, then in 2015 became Father Hudson's Care. It is now a broadly based social care agency and still has its headquarters in Coleshill.

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)