Sheltering Home for Destitute Children, Liverpool, Lancashire
Liverpool's Sheltering Home for Destitute Children was inspired by the work of Annie Macpherson, the proprietor of a Home of Industry in East London and promoter of child emigration to Canada. In 1872, increasing concern at the numbers of destitute and orphaned children led Liverpool shipowners Alexander Balfour, Stephen Williamson and John Houghton, to ask Miss Macpherson to give a lecture in Liverpool. Due to Macpherson's commitments in London, her sister and colleague, Mrs Louisa Birt, took up the invitation and in November 1872, at a public meeting in the Law Association Rooms in Cook Street, described their work. The meeting resolved to establish a similar home in Liverpool, with Louisa Birt as its head, and overseen by a committee of fourteen gentlemen with Stephen Williamson as its President. Liverpool MP Samuel Smith also gave his support to the venture. Fund-raising began to finance the establishment which would take in destitute, abandoned or neglected children, with the aim of preparing them for emigration.
The home's first premises, in the former Byrom Hall Baptist Chapel on Byrom Street, were opened on May 1st 1873, with Mrs Birt as resident superintendent. The 1881 census records the home being on the adjacent Circus Street, with Catherine Fox as matron. In 1883, a home for girls was opened at 1 Sugnall Street, initially rented but then purchased along with a neighbouring property on Myrtle Street, in 1888. A large purpose-built home for 120 children was then erected on the site, opening in on November 16th, 1889. An 1894 directory described the premises as being:
As well as running the Liverpool home, Louisa Birt accompanied parties of children being emigrated to Canada. Initially, a Colonel J.W. Laurie in Nova Scotia assisted with the distribution and supervision of the children, an arrangement which was subsidised by the province's government which was eager to attract settlers. In 1877, following concerns being raised about Laurie's involvement in the scheme, Birt took over the reception home Knowlton, Quebec, which her sister had set up a few years earlier. For the next quarter of a century, two parties of Sheltering Home children were taken to Canada each year.
Louisa Birt remained as superintendent of the home until her death at the age of 74 on 7th May 1915, although she had ceased active work several years before. During her lifetime, around 6,000 children from the home had emigrated to Canada. Following her death, Louisa's daughter Lillian Birt, continued the work although the home was closed during the years of the First World War. When it resumed in 1919, the Marchmont home in Quebec, established by Annie Macpherson in 1882, became the Sheltering Home's Canadian base.
A number of former Sheltering Home children served in the war as part of the Canadian forces in Europe. Two plaques at the entrance to the building record the names of those who lost their lives during the war.
An inspection of the home in the early 1900s noted that:
In 1925, the home was taken over Dr Barnardo's who continued its operation although it now only took boys of working age due to changes in Canadian immigration regulations. With the takeover, Lilian Birt retired but remained involved in an advisory role. The home finally closed in 1935 and was sold to Liverpool Corporation for use as a Juvenile Employment Centre.
The building later housed the F.L. Calder School of Domestic Science. It is now occupied by part of Liverpool's John Moores University.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Records for the Liverpool Sheltering Homes were inherited by Barnardo's (see below). These include: Registers (1872-1925); Committee minutes (1873-1933); Annual reports (1873-1907); Miscellaneous items (1903-73).
- Barnardo's Family History Service deals with enquiries regarding records of individual children — various services are available costing from £25 upwards.
Making Connections — a service for those wishing to access their Barnardo's adoption records.
- Barnardo's historical administrative records are now deposited with Liverpool University's Social Welfare Archives with stringent restrictions on their access.
- Library and Archives Canda, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario. Holdings: Correspondence to and from Louisa Birt and the staff of the Liverpool Sheltering Home from England and Canada.
- Lowe, Clara M.S God's Answers: A Record of Miss Annie Macpherson's Work at the Home of Industry, Spitalfields, London, and in Canada (1882, James Nisbet)
- Bagnell, Kenneth The Little Immigrants: The Orphans Who Came to Canada (2001, Dundurn)
- Birt, Lilian M The Children's Home-Finder: the story of Annie Macpherson and Louisa Birt (1913, J. Nisbet)
- Corbett, Gail H Nation Builders: Barnardo Children in Canada (2002, Dundurn)
- Kershaw, Roger and Sacks, Janet New Lives for Old: The Story of Britain's child migrants: The Story of Britain's Home Children (2008, The National Archives)
- Kohli, Marjorie The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada 1833-1939 (2003, Natural Heritage Books)
- McEvoy, Frederick J 'These Treasures of the Church of God': Catholic Child Immigration to Canada (in CCHA, Historical Studies, 65 (1999), 50-70)
- Parker, Roy Uprooted: The Shipment of Poor Children to Canada, 1867-1917 (2010, Policy Press)
- Barnardo, Syrie Louise, and Marchant, James Memoirs of the Late Dr Barnardo (Hodder & Stoughton, 1907)
- Batt, J.H. Dr. Barnardo: The Foster-Father of "Nobody's Children" (S.W. Partridge, 1904)
- Bready, J. Wesley Doctor Barnardo (Allen & Unwin, 1930)
- Rose, June For the Sake of the Children: Inside Dr. Barnardo's: 120 years of caring for children (Hodder & Stoughton, 1987)
- Wagner, Gillian Barnardo (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1979)
- The Barnardo's website.
- British Home Children in Canada.
- National Library and Archives Canada especial the Home Children section.
- Young Immigrants to Canada.
- British Home Child Group International - has database of over 23,000 Canadian British Home Children
- British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) - has several indexes of the names of children brought to Canada by various organizations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- National Archives of Australia — Immigration Records.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.