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Saint Francis Home Shefford

Saint Francis Home
Saint Francis' Home 1874 [X627/10]

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service holds the archive of Saint Francis' Home in Shefford [X627]. Roman Catholicism had been present in the town since the early 18th century and in 1868 Father William Collis was despatched to the town, by Bishop Amherst of Northampton, as its new priest with additional orders to found there a home for orphan boys, using the buildings in the High Street belonging to Saint George's Roman Catholic Mission.

 William Collis
William Collis [X627/49/6]

Collis had experience, having previously managed a Catholic Industrial School at Walthamstow [Essex] from which he had been removed after falling out with Cardinal Henry Manning, Archbishop of Westminster. The orphanage was founded in 1869, the first boys, named Bell, arriving on 11th April 1870 with Father Collis from Northampton. Slowly property adjoining the church to the east was bought up for the orphanage, including carpenter's, shoemaker's and printer's shops. The orphanage also took in Roman Catholic boys who were destitute and would otherwise go into their local workhouse. The Orphanage was also an industrial school, teaching boys in the crafts represented by the adjoining shops, carpentry, shoemaking and printing. A transcription of the first list of boys compiled is available [ref.X627/1],and later admissions registers can be viewed in our searchroom (subject to 100 year embargo).


Saint Francis Home about 1884

Saint Francis Home about 1884 [X627/10]

The orphanage/industrial school received new buildings between 1879 and 1884, designed by S.J.Nicholl of Kentish Town, who also designed the next door church of Saint Francis which opened in 1884. In 1979 the former Department of Environment listed the former orphanage buildings as Grade II - of special interest. The buildings are of red brick with clay tiled roofs. A three storey block adjoins the church with a two storey block next to it to the east.

 play area at Saint Francis Home about 1884
Play area at Saint Francis Home about 1884 [X627/10]

As soon as the last work was completed on the new buildings the orphanage seems to have undergone a change of policy as it welcomed boys from middle class backgrounds. By the death of Canon Collis in 1893 the former orphanage for the destitute had transmogrified into an "orphanage for Catholic boys of the Middle Class" - no doubt there was more money in it. Father Collis' successor, Henry King stated in his prospectus [X627/49/15] "Saint Francis' Home is intended principally for the reception of boys of the middle class who have lost one or both parents". A good education was promised including instruction in French and Latin. Several boys moved on to seminaries and the priesthood.

 Fire damage at Saint Francis Home 1908
Fire damage at Saint Francis Home 1908 [Z1306/101/13/2]

In 1908 a fire damaged the home. Coincidentally the Inspector of the Local Government Board was recommending the provision of lavatories and bathrooms as well as general repairs if the home was to remain a certified Poor Law School. By 1909 repairs had brought the home up to the required standard. In that year a troop of Boy Scouts, the 61st Bedfordshire Saint Francis' Home Troop was formed. Some of these were among the 25 old boys from the home killed in the Great War.

 Saint Francis Home boys about 1884 - Z1306-101
Saint Francis Home boys about 1884 [Z1306/101/13/4]

In 1927 Shefford was valued under the Rating Valuation Act of 1925; every piece of land and building in the country were inspected to determine the rates to be paid on them. The valuer visiting Saint Francis' Home noted [DV1/C289/49] that the institution was: "Dependent on charity" and had 65 boys, with accommodation for about 70. The Canon in charge [Laurence Youens] had two rooms, Father Alfred Wilson, Youen's assistant also had two, the Housekeeper and Maid shared a room and five nuns shared four other rooms. There were also an Infirmary and an Attendant's Room. The valuer noted: "Large part at back of playground is waste" going on to say: "A valuation room by room or on cost of construction would result in about £400 RV by guess"

 Saint Francis Home dormitory about 1884 - Z1306-101
Saint Francis Home dormitory about 1884 [Z1306/101/13/5]

The next major change at the home came in 1943 when provision was made to accept babies at the home, a thing first mooted as long ago as 1916. A case office was established in London and a limited company, the Northampton Diocesan Catholic Child Protection and Welfare Society was set up. The babies were housed in the former Seminary buildings (this had closed in 1908) and looked after by the Sisters of Bon Secours ["Good Help"] from Beaconsfield [Buckinghamshire]. After two years 28 babies were present and the institution moved to larger premises in Sheringham [Norfolk].

 Saint Francis Home playground about 1884 - Z1306-101
Saint Francis Home playground about 1884 [Z1306/101/13/3]

From 1959 the boys, previously having all their education at the home, began to attend the new Saint Gregory's Roman Catholic Secondary Modern School in Bedford from age 11. Overall numbers of boys had varied over the years rising from 15 in 1870 to 66 in 1875, 87 in 1885, this was evidently too many for comfort and from 1898 to the closure of the home the average number was between 55 and 65.

 Saint Francis Home January 2008
Former Saint Francis' Home January 2008

Saint Francis' Home closed on 17th July 1974 as a result of the Children's Act of 1969, which ordered children to be sent back to the Local Authority area from which they had been sent, and lack of money. The last two boys were taken on that Friday evening to the Bedfordshire County Council children's home at Kempston Lodge.