The Royal Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institution
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On December 16th 1868 the first move was made to interest the people of Liverpool to the possibility of establishing an Institution where the orphaned children of seamen would be cared for.  The sponsors of the project comprised of a group of ship owners and merchants who, for some time, had been concerned how best to help the widows and families of Merseyside men lost at sea

by drowning, or who had died as the result of an accident or natural causes.  The sponsors included many who, despite the calls of business, found time to give their services in helping the less fortunate, sick and the destitute for whom, at that time, there was no Welfare State to offer help and protection.  They felt that no section of the community was more deserving of help than the widows and fatherless children of seamen, and decided that the time had come for definite action.

At an inaugural meeting the main Resolution read :-

""" That this meeting being deeply impressed with the moral obligation resting upon the ship owners of this great port to provide for the protection and education of the Mercantile Marine orphan children " resolves that an establishment for feeding, clothing and educating the fatherless children of seamen be brought before the merchants, ship owners and general public of Liverpool for support. Let us then be up and doing on behalf of the little ones thus left to our care as a community by those of our fellow citizens through whose lives of hardship and toil we gain so much and they so little - too little, at least, to ensure for them an adequate provision for the hour of their families utmost need. This Appeal is made not only to ship owners and to all those who are directly and indirectly obviously benefited by shipping, but also to the public at large, upon whom surely some responsibility must rest. If but a tithe of those who depend upon the sailor for very many of the necessaries and for still more of the luxuries of life which they enjoy - to say nothing of the great number of persons who owe their entire position in life to his labors and risks - will recognize the moral obligations they are under - Liverpool will not long be without a 'Seamen's Orphan Institution'. Some will yet doubtless say, that existing institutions are very numerous and ill supported, and that they have to struggle for their very life. Be it so. We still ask in confidence of the public to whom we appeal: What, say, what are these among so many? These struggling and most admirable institutions are full to overflowing of rescued innocents, and so are our streets and courts and alleys full to overflowing of perishing innocents! Can any Christian man conscientiously say that whilst so vast and so urgent a work remains to be done, he can fairly shelter himself from any share in it by an appeal to the wholly insufficient efforts of the past? It is proposed, in the first instance, to rent a roomy house in a suitable locality as a temporary Home. 'A Ship owner' of this port has promised £500 towards a 'Building Fund', provided nine others will each contribute a like sum. "A blank form is annexed which you are respectfully urged to fill up and return to Mr. Aspinall. So soon as these forms are returned a meeting will be called and a committee elected from amongst the friends of the Institution.""

We are,

Your Obedient Servants.

One of the original sponsors, ship owner James Beazley, worked untiringly in promoting the need for an Institution. On February 17th 1869, from his home at Fern Hill, Claughton, Birkenhead, he sent a personal letter to the principal ship owners in Liverpool. It read: -

My Dear Sir

I have always found it well in begging to have an excuse for urging a request. To start the subscription for the proposed Seamen's Orphan Asylum I am willing to give the sum of £500; provided nine others will give the same amount each, before June 30th next. This would give £5,000 at once, which I propose should be specially held towards a building fund, and I think if that sum was actually in hand, and a suitable advertisement put out 'To Landowners' we should stand a good chance of having a site presented to us, or we might ask the Dock Board or the Corporation to give us some land. As I particularly wish that my name do not appear before the public as making the foregoing offer let it be forma 'Ship owner'. When you have raised the money, then put my name amongst the others. I don't doubt that you will raise the £5,000 if you set to work with the zeal and enthusiasm you possess on the subject.

Believe me.

Yours faithfully

James Beazley

The response to this letter was as satisfactory as it was immediate. The money raised was supplemented by donations received as the result of a more public appeal. This appeal, after referring to the agreement reached at the public meeting on December 16th to found an Institution went on: -

""" The number of seamen at sea in British merchant vessels in the year 1866 was 196,371. No fewer than 4,866 deaths were recorded during the year - 2,390 of these by drowning." Statistics show us that deceased married sailors leaves on an average three children, and these, with the widow are in the great majority of cases almost destitute, and oftentimes, absolutely so. Surely it can be little less than a reproach to this great port that up to the present time no such special Orphan's Home as the one now in the course of formation has had any existence in our midst. It is but too plain and palpable to us all that the demand for such manifest necessities is very far indeed in excess of the supply, and as a consequence thousands, literally thousands, of 'tender plants' are 'destroyed for lack of knowledge' - are physically, morally, and religiously degenerating and dying down in our street. If this be so - and who can gainsay what is here stated? - may we not safely assert that no class of men contribute more largely to swell the numbers of the 'fatherless children and widows in their affliction' than our gallant sailors - " that go down to sea in ships, that do business in great waters."" "

Within a few months the financial position was such that the General Committee, which had been set up as promised in the Public Appeal, was able to look round for a suitable 'temporary home'.  Such were the beginnings of the 'Seamen's Orphanage' in rented premises in Duke Street Liverpool, accommodating 46 boys and 14 girls. It was clear, however, that people living on Merseyside took a special pride in the Institution and its progress. Practical evidence of this was demonstrated on April 7th 1870 when a meeting of the Liverpool Town Council approved a resolution under which a gift of 7,000 square yards of land at the North East side of Newsham Park, should be given to the Committee to enable them to construct a Seamen's Orphan Institution, which was in due course opened on September 30th 1874, the ceremony being performed by the Duke of Edinburgh, the 'Sailor Prince', the fourth son of Queen Victoria.

The first world war brought problems, loss of income as a result of no revenue from the vessels which were requisitioned or lost by enemy action, and a big falling off in passenger traffic on the North Atlantic and an inevitable increase in the number of children to a maximum of over 1,000 orphans assisted during the year 1918. Royal appreciation of the work was shown from time to time by personal visits to the Orphanage, as follows:-

1886 Her Majesty Queen Victoria, The Duke of Connaught and Princess Beatrice.

1892 The Duke of Connaught.

1921 Her Majesty Queen Mary and The Princess Royal. Following this visit, HM. the King was pleased to bestow upon the Institution the title 'Royal' and also to grant it a Royal Charter of Incorporation.

1937 H. M. King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth.

The years were marked by continuing and steady progress as recorded in the Annual Reports and at the Annual Meetings which continued to be held in the Town Hall, presided over by the Lord Mayor then in office. Throughout, priority was given to ensuring that the education of the children matched up to the educational standards of the time. During the 2nd world war it was necessary to evacuate the children to the comparative safety offered by Mr. E. B. Royden, a very good friend and Committee Member of the Institution, at his home at Hill Bark, Frankby, Wirral, where they flourished in the more open country atmosphere. Many varied difficulties were overcome to ensure that education did not suffer and it is a tribute to the then Committee that everything was done to ensure that the wartime stay was made as comfortable as possible for the children.

The end of the war also brought problems relating to the return of the children to Newsham Park which had suffered considerable bomb damage. Under the new 1944 Education Act it was no longer permissible for children under 11 years of age, and children over that age, to attend the same school. Also following the new Social Services Benefit Scheme, there was unmistakable signs that surviving parents were less responsive to the suggestion that there was room in the Orphanage for their offspring, this attitude was understandable as it was frequently only as a last resort that the majority of mothers would agree to such a parting. Although well endowed, financial difficulties were increasing and there seemed little prospect of bridging the widening gap between income and expenditure.

Taking all the various problems and difficulties into consideration, and after lengthy deliberations, it was decided with great reluctance to close the Orphanage at Newsham Park while continuing to implement the objectives of the founders in providing means, for the education and maintenance of the children of deceased British Merchant Navy Seamen. The Orphanage building closed in July 1949, and places in various schools were found for those then being housed and educated there. The majority were transferred to the Royal Merchant Navy School at Bearwood, the cost of fees etc. being borne by the Orphanage. The sale of the premises at Newsham Park to the Ministry of Health for use as a hospital realized £125,000 in 1951, the proceeds being forwarded to the Charity Commissioners for investment.

The Committee's continued concern was to ensure that the necessary help was given to orphaned seamen's children, according to need. That good education was encouraged and fostered, that all the children were adequately clothed and that money was made available to the mothers to supplement their State Widow's Allowances, for the general well being of the children. It was true that under the country's post war social structure, that complete destitution was a thing of the past. But by reason of its very size and complexity the State System was, to a great extent, very impersonal. A buff form duly completed, and however sympathetically considered, is no real substitute for personal visits and compassion. Obviously Ministries, or for that matter local officials, cannot become too closely involved in the day to day problems facing a widow left with a young family and who found it impracticable to seek even part time employment, or the

mother of a clever boy or girl for whom the prospect of a University entrance was eclipsed by the family's reduced financial circumstances, and the subsequent need to leave school to find work. In the solution of such very domestic problems, of immense importance to the families concerned, was to lay the work of the Royal Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institution. It was not a new departure. It was in fact a continuation of what had always been done. No turning aside from the aims of the Founders was involved, but merely their adaptation to meet the changing conditions of life in the post war years with, so far as the children were concerned, special emphasis on education, in particular ensuring that they would be able to participate fully in the ever widening opportunities now available for further education.

Over the years, many children have been assisted and the levels of various grants are regularly increased. Although the main financial assistance is in the form of grants to the mother's for the children's monthly maintenance, clothing, holidays etc. considerable emphasis has been placed on encouraging good educational standards and a close personal liaison with the families by way of visits from the Secretary.


Tel/fax:  0151 227 3417