Friday, November 4, 2011

The Adult Orphan Institution

In my reading recently, I came across mention of the Adult Orphan Institution, also known as the Adult Orphan Asylum. I could not imagine what was meant by this title, and so, research was called for!

The Adult Orphan Institution was established in 1818 in Someries House, a building designed free of charge by John Nash in association with his redevelopment of the area surrounding Regent's Park. It was located on the north of St. Andrew's Place, near Park Square.

A map of 1833 with the location of the Adult Orphan Asylum in red.
The location was salubrious with the greenery of the Park, and opportunities for fresh air and exercise close by. The entire area was one large building site but, it must have been interesting for the inmates of the Asylum, though no doubt noisy and somewhat dirty. Nash's great terraces were rising to the north, Cambridge, Chester and Cumberland, in all their neoclassical glory.

The Adult Orphan Asylum was
"founded for the relief and education of the friendless and orphan daughters of clergymen of the established church, and of military and naval officers..."
It accepted young women aged 14 to 17 to be educated as governesses, "the instructions being of a superior description". The institution was entirely privately funded by donation. Early information is sketchy but in 1831, it was under the patronage of the King and the Princess Augusta. By 1842, the patron was Queen Victoria.

I have recounted the world of the Regency governess in another post. It was not an easy life. The Adult Orphan Institution educated governesses throughout the Victorian era, some 330 by 1861. A writer of the 1860's remarks on the life of the governess:
" is usually one of much monotony,--of wearisome exertion, but rarely violent affliction,--with many mortifications..."
This painting of 1844 by Richard Redgrave illustrates the dreary life with the governess sitting in shadow and solitude while the young ladies of the household celebrate the joys of summer together.

Graduates of the Asylum were assured, at least in public literature, of being "provided with situations as governesses in families of the highest respectability". It is to be hoped that the Adult Orphan Institution held to its advertised tenets. The market for governesses, in the mid-19th century, was dominated by 'governess agencies' who were neither as honest nor as reliable as they might have been. One publication says
"...these spurious agencies abound in the central and fashionable parts of London; they are mostly kept by women...mostly governesses who have themselves failed in their profession...but that fact cannot be accepted as an excuse for their dishonesty and greed. Their poverty does not give them a right to take money on false pretences from struggling creatures, who equally poor, or perhaps poorer than themselves, are yet striving to be honest."

A governess, circa 1845 by De Mersseman

I hope that the young women educated by the Adult Orphan Institution found comfortable, safe employment.

Institutions are always open to misuse and venality. Looking back from a great distance at an establishment we know little of, we can only hope that the girls who were forced by circumstance to seek out the Asylum were well-treated, and benefited from the promises of the charity.

'Til next time,



Anne Gallagher said...

Thank you again, for another fascinating post. Governesses in my mind, were not servants, yet not family, and were treated like ghosts, half in/half out of society. It must have been a miserable existance.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

It truly must have been a difficult life. Which makes them great material for fiction writers! It is such fun to improve their lot :)