St Vincent's Home for Roman Catholic Boys, Hammersmith / Harrow Road, London

St Vincent's Home for Destitute Boys was established in December, 1859, at Brook Green Lane (now Shepherd's Bush Road), Hammersmith. It was managed by some members of the St Vincent de Paul Society, acting as an independent committee, and laying the foundations of an organisation that in 1899 evolved into Westminster Diocese's 'Crusade of Rescue'.

The Home received Roman Catholic boys who were orphans and who were either destitute or in danger to their faith or morals. A charge of 4s. week, or £10 8s. a year, was made, although this fell short of the actual cost of about £13 a year, the difference being made up through donations to the Home. Initially, the Home could accommodate twenty boys but as demand grew, this was first increased to thirty and then, by building an additional wing, to forty.

The Home was superintended by a retired army sergeant and his wife. For schooling, the boys attended a nearby institution known as Blythe House, on Blythe Lane, Brook Green. Later, they attended St Mary's Practising School, Brook Green, for which a grey uniform was worn.

In the early 1860s, a need for additional space led the home to move to new premises at 49 Queen Street (now Queen Caroline Street), Hammersmith, adjoining the Convent of the Good Shepherd. At Around this time, the Jesuit Fathers established a society for the rescue of destitute Catholic children, called 'The Immaculate Conception Charity.' A large and highly successful bazaar organised in its aid at St James's Hall raised £8,000, of which part was given to the St Vincent's Home. As a result, the home moved to a still larger house in North End Road, Fulham (sometimes listed as West Kensington) whose freehold was subsequently purchased. By 1871, 60 boys were in residence at the Home.

In 1874, Father Lord Archibald Douglas took over management of the Home. Under his charge, priority for admission was given to the more destitute boys. Parents were expected to contribute towards the support of their children, according to their circumstances. Payments — when made — were generally set between 1s. and 2s. 6d. a week, although most boys were received free.

In 1876, after the North End Road site was acquired, with compensation, by the West London Railway, another move was forced upon the Home. New premises were found in two adjacent houses at 337-339 Harrow Road, Paddington, later extending to include 333-339 Harrow. Douglas used his own private means to help purchase, extend and run the Home.

Father Douglas with St Vincent's boys, c.1880. © Peter Higginbotham

Douglas was anxious that boys leaving the home should have employable skills and instituted a printing workshop (the St Vincent's Press) and a bakery to provide work for the boys. He was also an energetic fund-raiser and launched a successful campaign under the slogan 'Save the Boy'. Adjacent to the Home, Douglas was responsible for the building of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, which was opened in 1882.

St Vincent's boys, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Another of Douglas's initiatives was the emigration of the boys to Canada. Apart from the perceived opportunities that were offered by Canada, the growth in emigration was partly as a response to the cost of looking after children in residential homes and the finite number of places they could offer for new applicants. It is calculated that of about 50,000 children emigrated from English institutions up to the 1920s, 5,000 were Catholic.

Father Douglas relinquished charge of St Vincent's on July 9th, 1886. He was succeeded by Father Douglas Hope, who had been his assistant for a few months prior to that date. Hope made some material improvements to the buildings including the building of a new refectory, the provision of an additional dormitory, and the laying down of a large asphalted playground. The sanitary facilities were also updated, and the rooms all cleaned and redecorated. Father Hope's tenure was to be short, however, and he died from rheumatic fever on May 9th, 1889. Father Hope was succeeded by Father William Barry who, in 1887, had been commissioned by Cardinal Manning to open a home for boys in Stepney. After Father Barry's death in 1894, his work was continued by Father Emmanuel Bans, who had been working alongside him for several years.

The Home closed in 1912. The old buildings were demolished in 1970. In May 1973, the foundation stone for a large modern church on the western part of the site was laid by Cardinal Heenan, with the first Mass in the unfinished building being held on 13 May 1975.

Records

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

Census

Bibliography

  • Waugh, N These, My Little Ones (1911, Sands & Co.)
  • Hyland, Jim Changing Times Changing Needs: A History of the Catholic Children's Society (Westminster) (2009)
  • None noted at present.