The railway that built an orphanage

THE Southern Railway Servants’ Orphanage in Woking was reliant on voluntary contributions to run it and a number of ingenious fundraising schemes were employed.

In addition to a few pennies a week contributions from railwaymen, there were dogs and their masters on station platforms with collecting boxes, proceeds from a railway newspaper and also from miniature train rides.

HOME FOR ORPHANS: the Woking home soon after it opened in 1909

Originally known as The London & South Western Railway Servant’s Orphanage, it was founded by the Rev Canon Allen Edwards (the railway chaplain of the large locomotive depot at Nine Elms in London) as a home for “fatherless girls” in Clapham in 1886.

Later expanded to accommodate boys, these were children whose railwaymen fathers had been killed or injured at work.

However, by the 1900s the home at Clapham was not big enough. A new site was sought to build a home and land was purchased in Woking adjacent to the old Oriental Institute by the London & South Western Railway from the London Necropolis Company.

It was opened in 1909 and expanded in the 1930s, by which time it could accommodate 200 children – all from railway workers’ families.

The name of the home changed in 1923 to the Southern Railway Servants’ Orphanage. The picture postcard seen here featuring a rather fine miniature steam locomotive dates to about that time or the early 1930s. The caption would suggest it was used to raise funds for the orphanage.

STEAMING: a postcard of a fine miniature loco used to raise funds for the Woking railway orphanage

However, the location may well not be Woking. A man named F. Russell Hutchinson built a miniature steam loco that he ran and gave rides to people along the seafront at Hove in the 1930s. For more than 30 years he donated proceeds from the fares to the railway orphanage in Woking.

On the internet there is a film clip dating from 1926 of him driving a steam loco at what looks like a fete or fair. https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-miniature-railway-1926-online

Unfortunately, it is a different loco to the one seen here. Perhaps he built more than one engine, or the picture here was owned by another miniature train enthusiast?

When a home for retired railwaymen was built near the Woking orphanage in 1947, it was called the Southern Railwaymen’s Home for Children in association with the Southern Railway Home for Old People.

In 1982 the name changed again to Woking Homes and since then the site, off Oriental Road, has been much redeveloped. Although the last children left in 1989, it continues to offer accommodation for older people, many whom worked on the railways.

And a word about one of those dogs who collected funds for the orphanage. He was called London Jack and was owned by a train driver by the name of Farley.

His master spent time when not working with his trusty pal on the platforms at London Waterloo station collecting donations for the Woking railway orphanage. It’s said that from 1923 until he retired in 1930, London Jack raised more than £4,500.

London Jack’s fundraising did not stop after he went to the “big dogs’ home in the sky”. He was stuffed and continued to collect money for the orphanage on the platform at Bournemouth railway station up until 1967. Today he resides at the heritage Bluebell Railway in Sussex and continues to help raise funds for today’s Woking Homes!

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

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