The Canada Training Farm (Mr Fegan's), Goudhurst, Kent

Beginning in Deptford in 1870, James Fegan set up a number of homes for orphan and destitute boys. Like many child 'rescuers' of his day, Fegan believed that emigration to countries such as Canada was a valuable way of giving his boys a better future. From 1884 onwards, he sent groups to Canada each year and established a Distributing Home in Toronto.

The most common destination for the boys being emigrated was in employment on Canadian farms. In 1911, Fegan had the idea of setting up a 'Canada Training Farm' to prepare the boys for such work and increase their employability. On hearing about the scheme, a City merchant met with Fegan and commissioned him to buy fifty acres of suitable land with the promise of £3,00 to start the venture. The site he selected for the 'farm colony' was at Great Hordern, near Goudhurst, in Kent. Within a few months of its purchase, fifty boys had been installed, farm implements ordered from Canada, and the building of extensive premises begun. A cottage on the property was converted for use by Mr and Mrs Fegan.

Entrance to the Goudhurst Farm Home, c.1920s. © Peter Higginbotham

A wide variety of crops were grown, but hops — used in the production of beer — were outlawed, even the farm stood in the midst of a major hop-growing area. Fegan was initially persuaded to spare one field where some previously planted hops were already flourishing but when he engaged an old man to dry them, the old man overdid it and the crop was useless. On September 18th, 191, Fegan received a presentation of 1,700 apple and plum trees and 4,000 blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes. These were planted, in placed of the hops, on the slope of a hill that became known as Fegan's Orchard.

Major additions were made to the farm in 1920, taking its area to 344 acres and making extensive additions to the buildings.

James Fegan died at the farm on December 9th, 1925. His widow, Mary, continued his work until her death at the farm cottage during a German air raid on October 7th, 1943.

In 1954, the site was opened as the Blantyre House Senior Youth Detention Centre, incorporating the former Training Farm buildings. The establishment was redesignated as an adult prison in 1991.

Other homes run by Fegan were situated at Deptford, Greenwich, Southwark, Ramsgate, Westminster and Stony Stratford.

Records

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Bibliography