Ancestry UK

Devon and Cornwall Female Orphan Asylum, Plymouth, Devon

The Devon and Cornwall Female Orphan Asylum was established at a meeting in Plymouth on February 13th, 1834. Its object was to adopt female orphans and train them for domestic service. Within a short time, a property was taken at the Octagon, Plymouth, and a matron and sub-matron engaged to run it. In April, 1837, there were 39 children in residence.

Applicants for admission were selected by a periodic ballot of the Asylum's donors and subscribers, although a number of the inmates were directly maintained by the Seamen and Marines' Female Orphan Fund, an auxiliary charity founded in Plymouth in January, 1836. Those applying for admission were required to provide certificates of baptism, their parents' marriage, and a medical certificate as to their being in good health and having passed the diseases common to children. In addition to the home itself, the Asylum also operated a registry for domestic servants in need of a situation.

In October, 1839, a rift between the charity's supporters in Plymouth and Devonport over the siting of a permanent building for the establishment led the latter to found their own institution which became known as the British Female Orphan Asylum and catered primarily for the orphans of navy and military personnel.

The Devon and Cornwall Asylum's committee subsequently proceeded to purchase a site at Lockyer Street, Plymouth. On May 11th, 1841, the foundation stone of a new building at Lockyer Street was laid by Sir Ralph Lopes, one of the charity's vice-presidents. When completed, in June 1842, the premises could accommodate about 100 girls, aged from 5 to 13 years at their date of admission.

Originally, the Asylum inmates were taught on the premises by its own teaching staff. Later, however, the girls attended the nearby St Andrew's School.

At the start of the Second World War, the girls at the Asylum were evacuated to Teignmouth. The Lockyer Street building was destroyed by enemy action in 1941. Two years later, the tiny number of girls seeking admission to the institution led to its formal closure. The charity's assets eventually passed to the Devon and Cornwall Aid for Girls Trust, which still provides financial help to orphan and other girls aged 16 to 23 and living in one of the counties.

The former Asylum site is now occupied by the Hoe Court flats.


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