The Waifs and Strays Story

The Founding of the Society

In 1880, two small boys who had been regular attendees at the Sunday School abruptly stopped coming. It transpired that after the death of their father, their hard-pressed mother had been struggling to keep going rather than resort to the workhouse. After much searching to find the boys a home that did not require payment, they had eventually been taken by an 'Undenominational Home' — Barnardo's, in fact. The homes run by Thomas Barnardo gave their inmates an avowedly Protestant upbringing, but he aligned himself with no particular denomination or religious creed, something which caused suspicion among churchmen such as Edward Rudolf. More specifically, he felt he had betrayed the principle of the Guild of St Alban to educate the young in the doctrines of the Church of England, to which they would now be lost. It was clearly time for him to act.

Over the next year or so, Rudolf aired his ideas for establishing a 'Central Home for Waifs' to be run by the Anglican Church. Reactions were varied. Some described the scheme as 'crack-brained'. Others questioned the need for yet another society running homes in addition to those already provided by the Poor Law authorities, Dr Barnardo, the Methodist Children's Home, and hundreds of smaller charities. Maria Rye, a promoter of children's emigration to Canada, felt that girls should be the focus of any new home, as they faced particular problems and dangers. Many, however, unreservedly welcomed the idea and offered financial support. An important supporter of the scheme was a prosperous vinegar manufacturer named Mark Beaufoy. As well as making a donation of fifty pounds, Beaufoy offered the use of his imposing house for the formative meeting at Caron Place, South Lambeth, where on March 21st, 1881, the Church of England Children's Society was born.

The initial meeting formed a committee and agreed 'to establish a Central Home in connection with the Church of England for the reception of destitute children.' The Church of England in fact already operated a number of children's homes around the country, but these were not intended to provide emergency accommodation. The aim of the envisaged Central Home (or rather Homes, one for boys and one for girls) was to receive and hold children until arrangements could be made for their placement and maintenance at one of the existing homes.

At their next meeting, the committee resolved that any homes that they set up should, as far as possible, provide children with a family environment rather than an institutional one. This is something that would distinguish the homes from the grand edifices established by many other organisations. It was also agreed that the patronage of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Archibald Tait, should be sought. A deputation met the Archbishop on June 27th 1881 and two months later, after careful consideration of the matter, he gave his support to the new Society. In the meantime, on July 6th, 1881, Edward Rudolf and Emma Bulmer had celebrated their marriage.