Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa

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Arethusa at the Shaftesbury Young People centre on the River Medway

The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa ( now Shaftesbury Young People) is one of the United Kingdom's oldest charities that deal with children. It has been active since 1843.[1] Its aim, written in its current mission statement, is to support young people in care and need to find their voice, to be healthy, to learn, develop and achieve and to gain an independent and positive place in society.[2]

The charity moved from promoting the ragged schools to providing night refuges then providing residential nautical training. It operated many large children's homes, and currently supports adolescents leaving care. At each stage it changed its name to reflect its new role. In 2006 it became Shaftesbury Young People.


The organisation dates back to 1843 when solicitors clerk William Williams, who encountered a group of cold, dirty and rowdy London boys chained together and being transported to Australia. As a personal response to his horror, he opened a ragged school in the St Giles rookery. His school was in a hayloft in Streatham Street, the following year 1844, a group of London ragged schools banded together to form the Ragged School Union. Lord Ashley, who later inherited the title of Lord Shaftesbury became the president- and thus got to know Williams.[3]

Ragged school[edit]

Ragged schools taught the boys Christian beliefs, reading, writing and arithmetic and attempted to teach them a trade. In 1849 Streatham Street taught 314 boys and 18 of the scholar were seen at suitable to be awarded a free passage to Australia. It merged with two neighbouring schools in 1851 forming the St Giles and St George, Bloomsbury Ragged Schools. They also provided a night school and a Sunday school for girls with sewing classes. The next venture was to buy a permanent building on the corner of Broad Street and George Street. The temporary premises they vacated were converted into night refuges for homeless boys. As providing accommodation became more important they renamed themselves as St Giles and St George, Bloomsbury Refuge for Destitute Children Ragged and Industrial Schools. More premises were rented to create a refuge for boys in Arthur Street, while the girls remained for a time at Broad Street. In May 1860, forty girls were moved to Acton- and eventually to a home in Ealing. This house did all the other establishments laundry.[4]

The 1870 Education Act reduced the need for ragged schools and to reflect this the society changed its name again; this time to The National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children and 'Chichester' Training Ship. It closed the last of its ragged schools in 1891.


In June 1848, Lord Ashley made a speech in parliament proposing funds should be made available to assist suitable boys from ragged schools to emigrate to the colonies where they could easily find employment. This suggestion was enthusiastically supported by Williams and the Homes. Twenty two scholars were selected to be in the first group that left for New South Wales. Each was given a new suit of clothes and a Bible. In 1857 ten girls were escorted to Canada- and looked after till they were settled with a job. This led to the society renting a house in Hamilton, Ontario to act as a reception centre for the scholars. The society was involved with accompanied emigration until the 1920s[5]

Training Ships[edit]

Upnor remembers

In January 1866, the Pall Mall Gazette revealed the dire conditions suffered by boys in the causal ward of the Lambeth Workhouse. Lord Shaftesbury became patron to the society, and he launched an initiative to take boys off the streets and give them maritime training. They were resident on board the Chichester, a redundant frigate that was moored off Greenhithe which could house 250 boys at a time. This succeeded and by 1874, 1300 boys had graduated. A second frigate was obtained thanks to a ₤5000 donation from Lady Burdett-Coutts: this was the Arethusa and she was moored alongside the Chichester.[6] In 1919 the society renamed itself as Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa and the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII became president. The move to Upnor occurred in 1933, when the Arethusa was broken up and replaced a steel-hulled nitrates clipper, the Peking. It was renamed the Arethusa, and was refitted in Chatham Dockyard. The Arethusa II was moored across the river, in Lower Upnor. The figurehead from the wooden warship was preserved and displayed by Arethusa Pier in Upnor.[7] Shore side accommodation and a swimming pool was built, and this continues today (2017) as the Arethusa Venture Centre. An Ocean going steam yacht, the Glen Strathallan was donated to the society in 1955.[8] In 1975, there was less call for seamen, and the training school closed. The Peking was needing much maintenance work and was sold to the South Street Seaport museum. A third smaller 71 feet (22 m) ketch was bought in 1971 and renamed the Arethusa. It had a different role and was replaced by another vessel in 1982.[7]

Children's Homes[edit]

The focus of the society changed and it sought to provide refuges outside London for London children. In 1868 the society purchased a farm in Bisley, Surrey. The first building, the Farm school was operational by 1871 and the second, Shaftesbury House, in 1873. The schools merged as a result of the 1918 Education Act. Surrey Education Committee took over the educational aspects in 1921, and the schools status changed from 'Elementary School' to 'Central School' in 1930. From 1944 until its closure in 1958 the school became a 'secondary school'.[9]

A further boys home was opened at Fortescue House, Twickenham. A home for girls was opened at Sudbury Hall, Wembley. The society experienced financial pressures during both of the world wars. The Curtis report and the 1948 Children's Act changed the direction of child care: adoption became the preferred option followed by fostering and the large children's homes that the society had been running were deprecated. It was recommended that children's homes should have no more than 12 residents.[8]

The larger homes were disposed of and the society moved to providing support for adolescents leaving care. Two adolescent hostels were opened Putney in 1975, and the long-standing premises in Esher House, East Molesley became a teenage mother and baby hostel. A support centre for parents having difficulty with their children was opened in Clapham.

In 2006, the charity renamed itself Shaftesbury Young People.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Training Ship Arethusa". Frindsbury Extra Parish Council. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  2. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa".
  3. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa Origins".
  4. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa- permanent home".
  5. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa- Emigration". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  6. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa- Chichester and Arethusa". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  7. ^ a b Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - Training Ships 'Chichester' and 'Arethusa', Greenhithe / Upnor, Kent". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  8. ^ a b Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa -Post War". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  9. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - Bisley Farm School, Bisley, Surrey". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  10. ^ Higginbotham, Peter. "The Children's Homes website - The Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa- Today". Retrieved 22 January 2017.

External links[edit]