Beckett Home for Girls / Babies, Meanwood, near Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire

The Beckett Home for Girls was opened by the Waifs and Strays Society in 1887. The home, on a steep hill called Greenwood Mount, at Meanwood, near Leeds, was purpose-bult to a design by architects Messrs Chorley and Connon of Park Row, Leeds. It was named after Miss Beckett who had donated £1,200 towards its cost, with the stipulation that the home be built of stone from Meanwood quarry so as to benefit local workmen. The home was formally opened on August 9th, 1887, by the Bishop of Ripon. It could accommodate 30 girls aged from 7 to 15 who had been 'rescued from immoral surroundings'.

A contemporary report described the building as:

...plain and domestic in character, as befits its charitable purposes, but is picturesque in grouping, and from its elevated position makes a striking feature in the landscape surrounding it. The walls are Meanwood stone, with red brick chimney shafts, red tiled roof, and half-timbered gables, relieved with rough cast panels. The Home will provide accommodation for thirty inmates, all of whom will be drawn from most destitute classes. The ground floor contains a large schoolroom, cloakroom, and dining hall, together with kitchen, scullery, laundry, sewing and matron's rooms, and the storerooms, &c. On the chamber floor are placed three dormitories, a small infirmary for sick inmates, a bedroom for the matron, and one for the nurse. Abundant storage accommodation is placed on this floor, and three bathrooms are provided, so that personal cleanliness may not be difficult ensure. All the dormitories are fitted with permanent lavatories, and with efficient means for ventilation. In the basement are planned larders, coal stores, heating chambers, &c. The sanitary arrangements are of the best type, and efficient escape for sewage has been ensured by a long main drain running the whole length of the site and connected with the Leeds Corporation sewers. When the Home is completed it will placed in the charge of Miss Stansfield, Headingley,

On May 19th, 1887, the home became a Certified Industrial School allowing it to take girls committed there by the courts. Girls at the home were trained for an eventual future in domestic service. The skills they learned included baking and bread making, washing and laundry work, needlework, and basket and hamper making. In 1891, kitchen-gardening was added to the list.

There was a fire in the home's attic in May, 1888, which cause thirty pounds' worth of damage. The home was told to install a fire escape to allow access from the attic in such circumstances. A more serious outbreak occurred in July, 1891, following a telephone wire being struck by lightning. Fortunately, the eldest girl had the presence of mind to quickly douse the flames with a bucket of water. In 1889, an outbreak of scarlet fever at the home led to 19 girls being admitted to the Leeds Fever Hospital.

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1895. © Peter Higginbotham

The daily routine at the home began at 6am with the ringing of a bell for the household to get up, with work upstairs being completed before breakfast at 7.30. After breakfast, prayers wer said in the hall where there was an American organ to accompany singing. Then there was a Bible class, followed by school from 9 until 12. The older girls took turn in staying out of school to do the housework under the direction of a matron. Dinner was at 12, followed by a hymn and a short midday prayer. Then the children went for a walk until 2, when afternoon school began, followed by tea at 5. Afterwards, they went into the garden and then did needlework until prayer-time at 7.30. They then files upstairs to bed, curtseying to the lady superintendent at the foot of the stairs, who wished each child goodnight as she passed. On Saturday, there was no school but the girls spent the morning weeding the garden. After Saturday dinner, the week's conduct marks were read out with applause given to each girl who had not lost any through a breach of discipline.

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1902. © Peter Higginbotham

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1908. © Peter Higginbotham

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1913. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1890, overflow accommodation for the Beckett Home was established in a small 'cottage home' at Mirfield, which became known as the St Agnes' Homes.

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1929. © Peter Higginbotham

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1931. © Peter Higginbotham

The girls at the Beckett Home enjoyed summer holidays by the sea, usually at one of the east cost resorts such as Scarborough, Filey or Bridlington.

Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, c.1930. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1934, the home was converted to provide care for babies, becoming known as the Beckett Home for Babies. In 1940, the home was evacuated to the West Lodge Nursery at Burley in Wharfedale. The nursery returned to Greenwood Mount in 1947 but closed a couple of years later. The site was then acquired by Leeds City Council and re-opened in 1951 as the Beckett Nursery.

The property has now been converted to private residential use.

Former Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

Former Beckett Home for Girls, Meanwood, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

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.