Find out if your British ancestor was in the Derby Railway Servants’ Orphanage. Children whose fathers worked for the railway were cared for here and you can find out what their father did, how many siblings were admitted with them and what their employment prospects were in these fascinating records.
Each record contains a transcript of the original register. The amount of information varies but you can find out the following about your ancestor:
Date of birth
Whether they were church (Church of England) or chapel (non-conformist Protestant)
Their signature on arrival at the orphanage
Their father’s occupation
His date of death
His cause of death
The number and ages of children orphaned
Their mother’s address
Their employment prospects
How they behaved in the orphanage
When they left
Their signature when they left
Other comments, which could include where they were sent if they were another religion, ill or disabled, including how much the orphanage paid for their keep and how that money was raised.
The Derby Railway Servants’ Orphanage opened in 1875. The home came about in response to the hundreds of railway employees who died each year in the course of their work. Often the families of these workers would end up in the workhouse.
Initially, the home could accommodate 30 children, but this number grew to 300 as the premises was expanded over the years. Children were admitted from railway companies all over Great Britain and Ireland. The Derby home catered for the north of Britain and there was another home in Woking in Surrey which looked after the south of the country. The home was funded by donations and subscriptions as well as from fundraising events like concerts.
Children were admitted between the ages of 6 and 12 and had to leave at the age of 15. They would be classified as orphans even if their mother was still alive. If there were more applicants than places, then admission would be decided by a ballot of subscribers, although after the 1880s this happened increasingly rarely. In 1881 admission was extended to the children whose fathers had worked for the railways but had died of natural causes. Children in poor health were not admitted but were instead supported at home or at a special school.
The building was split to allow separate accommodation for boys and girls. The girls were expected to help out in the kitchens and laundry. Boys were taught carpentry and shoemaking and each had a patch of ground outside to cultivate. There was also a gymnasium and a sanatorium.
Children were expected to write home once a month. They could receive visits from friends between 10 and 6 on any day except Fridays and Sundays. Visitors were allowed on Saturday between 2 and 6. Each child’s parent or guardian was expected to make arrangements for them to go home for a month in July or August.
Although the orphanage was very well regarded, some children were obviously not happy there. In 1886, having spent three years in the home after their father died in a fall off a railway wagon, sisters Agnes Amy and Sarah Ann Smith ran away with other children. Their mother withdrew them from the home. It was quite usual for children to be withdrawn by their mother; for many the orphanage was a temporary measure. Five years earlier, William Sandford had run away with his younger brother Thomas. Their father, a pointsman with the L& C Railway in Manchester, had been run over by a train in 1876. They later returned to the orphanage, where William stayed until 1881. William and Thomas were the eldest of 7 children according to the orphanage records. The other five children do not appear in the records and it’s possible they stayed with their mother.