Crowthrown Ophanage Bolton

In 1872 Edgeworth Children's Home was the first National Children's Home (NCH) to be established outside London. 

Today it is about to be sold as an entire village. Karen Stephen visited the moorside residence that once gave hundreds of deprived youngsters a place to call home. 

IT'S the silence. The silence is deafening. No more the sound of children laughing and running along the corridors, bouncing on beds, squabbling over toys in the playrooms and arguing who has the last piece of cake in the kitchens. 

Today the place is deserted, save for the odd bits and pieces left by the last residents of Crowthorn School. 

But its history is almost tangible. 

The original children's home was founded in 1872 and became Crowthorn School in 1952, a school for children with special educational needs. Crowthorn finally closed its doors on July 27, 2002 due to increasing financial and staffing pressures. 

The original home's founder was Rev Dr Thomas Bowman Stephenson whose vision was a place in the countryside that would provide the children who lived there with fresh air, a healthy lifestyle and -- perhaps most importantly in the Victorian era -- a stable home and sound education. 

The home became a self-contained village with its own butcher's shop, bakery, herd of cattle, stonemason, hospital, chapel -- even its very own quarry. The youngsters lived in surrounding houses -- all built with money donated by local benefactors. 

The first children arrived at the moorland site with nothing but their admission papers. Many of these files are still housed in the office of the main school building, Wheatsheaf -- originally an inn used for cockfighting and Sunday drinking. 

Penny Dickinson, the housekeeper at Crowthorn for 10 years, had the job of clearing all 19 buildings. 

"Some of the things we have found have been incredible," says Penny. "We've discovered building plans from the 1920s, old photos and the children's personal files -- many dating from the very first intake." 

And those early files reveal the pathetic existence of the children before they arrived at their new home. 

One boy arrived at just 15 months old -- records showed he had already been in the workhouse for the first seven months of his life -- because his mother had died in childbirth and his father, who lived on one room, couldn't look after him and his brothers and sisters. 

Tracing his progress through his file, we discover he thrives at the moorside home and eventually, in his teens, lands a job as an office clerk in Hull. He kept in touch with the home by letter for some years. 

A considerable number of the children emigrated to Canada between 1873 and 1931 where the NCH had a home in Hamilton, Ontario. But for those children who remained at Edgworth, especially the first intakes, their main task -- for the older ones of course -- was to build their school. 

Together with the first governor, Alfred Mager and his wife, who was matron, they drained the land, quarried stone and prepared the site for the addition of further buildings. All without machinery. 

Other activities the children learned included clog-making, baking and dairying. Many of these skills served them well in later life. 

Both wars had a massive effect on the school with the post war years seeing an increase in intakes -- fathers had been killed in action, mothers had died and children, including babies, were left at the workhouses. In 1952, the children's home became Crowthorn School and provided education for children with special needs. 

The school continued to provide the same kind of lifestyle as the the children's home always had -- the children lived on site and the "village" was self sufficient. 

New classrooms were constructed -- metalwork, woodwork and art rooms, there were rooms for domestic science and a swimming pool was added in 1971. A sports hall came soon after. 

The children were encouraged to take part in a wide variety of outdoor sports , which for the majority would be their first taste of being able to run free amid rolling hills instead of smog-ridden inner city housing estates. 

In 2002, Crowthorn finally closed its doors. Financial and staffing difficulties were growing, and the remaining children were relocated to similar establishments around the country. 

Today, in the kitchen of Howarth residence, once home to a dozen or so youngsters, mugs, plates and glasses sit on the draining board. 

The cupboards are empty but were left full of food when the children left en masse one day in July last year. The playroom's pool table is home to a host of abandoned toys, perhaps once much-loved and cuddled by tiny hands and a walk upstairs to the bedrooms reveals the artwork of the last residents -- a childish scribble on the wall, just above the Coca Cola border. 

A couple of football posters adorn one wall, a tiny t-shirt thrown in the corner of the room -- forgotten by its owner.


Below are my own pictures of Crowthrown:

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