A blue plaque has been installed to mark Dr Thomas Barnardo’s former East End home, 150 years after he first came to London.
English Heritage, which is marking its own 150th anniversary this year, installed the monument on Wednesday, October 19 at 32 Bow Road in Tower Hamlets.
Barnardo and his wife, Syrie lived there between 1875 and 1879 as they set up homes for needy youngsters and laid the foundations of what is now the UK’s largest children’s charity. Their philosophy was that no child should ever be turned away.
Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “It’s an honour to have the incredibly forward-thinking work of our founder, Dr Thomas Barnardo, recognised through this permanent tribute by English Heritage during our shared 150th anniversary year.
“The strong foundations they laid continue to be the bedrock on which we build support for children, young people and families in the UK today.”
Here are seven facts you might not know about the pioneer of fostering.
1) He was amazingly strong-minded even as a teenager.
Born in Dublin to John Barnardo and Abigail in 1845, at the age of 16 he converted to Protestant evangelicalism and just before his 17th birthday decided to become a medical missionary in China so set out for London to train as a doctor at the London Hospital in Whitechapel.
2) He gave up on his own dream to help those in need
In 1867 he set up a Ragged School in the East End, where poor children could get a basic education. One evening a boy Jim Jarvis, took him around the East End showing him children sleeping on roofs and in gutters. The encounter so affected him he decided to give up on going to China, instead dedicating himself to helping destitute children.
3) He swapped gin for coffee
In 1872 he purchased the lease of The Edinburgh Castle, a gin palace and music hall in Limehouse, and converted it into a coffee house and mission church. This bold gesture brought him the support of wealthy and influential evangelicals who backed his work with children.
4) He was wrongly named a Jack the Ripper suspect
At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area were suspected, including Barnardo. However, the theory has, unsurprisingly, been widely discredited.
5) He donated his wedding present to help children
In 1873 he married Syrie Louise Elmslie and they were gifted a 15 year lease on Mossford Lodge, Barkingside. He opened a home for girls on the 60 acre site and after buying the lease developed it into a village that by 1920’s would house 1,500 girls.
6) He had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome
Thomas and wife Syrie had seven children, including Marjorie who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Dr Barnardo was devoted to Marjorie and his experience of caring for her influenced his work and very early on Barnardo set up several specialist homes for children with disabilities.
7) His legacy has increased twentyfold since his death
By the time Barnardo died aged 60 in 1905 the charity had opened 96 homes caring for more than 8,500 children, and placed more than 4,000 children in foster care. Last year 248,000 children, young people, parents and carers across the UK were supported by Barnardo’s.
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