Ancestry UK

Fortescue House, Twickenham, Middlesex

In 1878, The National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children (later known as the Shaftesbury Homes) established a new home for boys in a property on London Road, Twickenham, known as Fortescue House. Fortescue House was part of the Society's moves towards accommodating its children out of London and replaced the existing Boys' Refuge on Great Queen Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Fortescue House was built in 1740. In the early 1800s, it had housed a commercial boarding school run by a Miss Dutton, with its pupils said to have included Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Then, up until about 1874, it had been occupied for several years by the Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage.

The premises consisted of a large mansion house, with a large school-room and dining-hall, a large playground, numerous outbuildings, and three acres of land. On top of the purchase price of £6,300, about £1,300 was spent on an alterations and additions. The Home was officially opened on October 25th, 1878, by the Earl of Shaftesbury. It could accommodate 150 homeless and destitute boys, aged from 9 to 12 years at their date of admission, and who had not been convicted of any crime.

The London Road site is shown on the 1935 map below.

Fortescue House site, London Road, Twickenham, c.1935.

Fortescue House, London Road, Twickenham © Peter Higginbotham

In July, 1882, a Bazaar at the Home was opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales — the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. Five Hundred children were present, representing the Society's various Homes. Their singing was said to greatly delighted their royal visitors, who specially requested the singing of 'The Fire Brigade'. As well as opening the Bazaar, which was designed to represent a Swiss village, the Prince and Princess also visited the interior of the home, including the boys' dormitories. Another royal visit was made in May, 1893, when Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, opened a Three Days' Bazaar and Summer Fete.

A new wing was added to the building in 1899. The extension was formally opened by The Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George V and Queen Mary.

Fortescue House, London Road, Twickenham, classroom, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Fortescue House, London Road, Twickenham, dining room, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

Fortescue House, London Road, Twickenham, taiors' shop, early 1900s. © Peter Higginbotham

By 1937, the future of the Home was under debate by Society's Committee. The buildings needing extending, the existing playing field facilities were inadequate, and the road in front of the Home was to be widened, which would mean a loss of a large portion of its frontage. Fortuitously, it was discovered that the Police Orphanage, which had moved from Fortescue House in 1874 to a site on Hampton Road, Twickenham, was closing down. Its premises had accommodation for 240 children together with engineering and carpentry workshops, a swimming bath, and extensive playing fields. Accordingly, the Police Orphanage site was purchased and the boys were transferred to their new home in the Autumn of 1937. They were joined by the boys from the Newport Market Army Bands School, which had been taken over by the Society in 1928. The new establishment the rather cumbersome official name of 'Fortescue House (incorporating the New Market Army Bands School)'.

The Hampton Road site (still occupied by the Police Orphanage) is shown on the 1934 map below.

Fortescue House site, Hampton Road, Twickenham, c.1935.

Fortescue House, London Road, Twickenham, 1930s. © Peter Higginbotham

Singing was always a special feature of Fortescue House and the boys' performances of The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, The Gondoliers and Merrie England received much public praise. As well as a pleasant means of training the boys' voices, the performances provided funds for summer camping holidays.

Fortescue House singers, 1930s. © Peter Higginbotham

During the Second World War, a long passage just below ground level was fitted out as a night-time shelter and fitted out with bunk beds for the boys. Some of the boys made small lathe-turned parts for use by the forces. To help cope with the restrictions on many foodstuffs, whatever was available was made to go further by consuming it in sandwich form between thick slices of bread. On one occasion, the boys received a rare treat in the shape of fresh pineapple slices, as part of a meal provided by the US army based nearby at Bushey Park.

In 1942, the Cadet Corps were affiliated to the Home Guard and Territorial Army. The boys were trained in the throwing of hand-grenades, unarmed combat, the dismantling and re-assembly of a Lewis gun, and elementary field tactics. In 1944, a flying bomb fell on the playing field and destroyed the cricket pavilion. Another landed in daytime while the boys' weekly bath routine was taking place. The breaking of the unshuttered windows showered glass fragments on the boys sitting in their baths. After a brief period with nights being spent in the shelters of a nearby school they were evacuated, some to South Wales, the others to a nissen hut camp at Bucklesham in Suffolk. The boys were all later transferred to Pontefract in Yorkshire.

After the war, changes were required to comply with the 1944 Education Act, under which primary and secondary education was to be provided at separate schools. Fortescue House would be a primary school for those aged 7 to 11, with the Society's establishment at Bisley turned into a secondary school for boys aged 11 and over. Following the closure of Bisley in 1958, its boys were transferred to Fortescue House which was reorganised and expanded to create separate junior and senior schools on the same site.

As part of a major strategic review of the Society's operations, Fortescue House was closed in 1975. The remaining boys were transferred to a smaller property, The Old Rectory at Park Road, Hanworth, Middlesex. The establishment adopted the slightly amended name of Fortesque House and operated as a children's home rather than a school. The home was closed in 1983.

Neither of the Fortescue House buildings in Twickenham still exists. The Hanworth home is now a listed building, with various schemes having been proposed for its redevelopment in recent years.


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  • Bailey, Marion Chance of a Lifetime - the Story of the Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa (1996, Dianthus Publishing)
  • Cuthbert, V Where Dreams Come True: A Record of 95 Years (1937, London: Shaftesbury Homes and "Arethusa" Training Ship)
  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Hodder, Edwin The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, K.G. (1886, Cassell)