In creating the following transcript of the following ILN article I have used ABBYY OCR software, corrected scanning errors (generally mistaking “e” as “o”), and added paragraphing and subheadings for easier reading. In addition to its details about the donor, his plans, and the building housing the orphanage, the article also contains interesting information about endowing such charitable trusts — namely, that the donor must live a full year before his or her gift becomesa legal charitable trust. Another interesting point: here as early as 1869 steam throughout the building provides both heating and warm water for cleaning laundry. — George P. Landow.

Town Hall, Birmingham

The Erdington Orphnage, near Birmingham, the Gift of Mr. Josiah Mason. Click on image to enlarge it.

The gift of a building which cost £60,000, and an estate of real property worth more than £200,000, for the benefit of poor orphan children and poor aged women, is an event worthy of our notice. The Erdington Orphanage and Almshouses, with the name of Mr. Josiah Mason, the Birmingham manufacturer, as their modest and munificent founder, became suddenly famous a few weeks ago. A view of the Orphanage building and a portrait of Mr. Mason are engraved in this number of our Journal. They will afford our readers the same gratification that we have enjoyed in thus bearing testimony to one of the most princely deeds of charity ever done by a private person. Mr. Peabody and Miss Burdett Coutts have now a companion in popular gratitude. We must here relate the particulars of Mr. Mason’s beneficent institution, having in another page given a brief account of his life.

About ten or eleven years ago Mr. Mason established, in the village of Erdington, four miles from Birmingham, an Orphanage for the reception of thirty, and afterwards of fifty, children, maintained entirely at his own cost. Being very prosperous in trade, a few years later he resolved to extend the Orphanage on its original site. By degrees, however, this plan was expanded into a much more important scheme. Mr. Mason finally determined, without any limit of cost, to erect a new Orphanage in another part of Erdington, for the reception of 300 children, two thirds of these being girls and one third boys. The original Orphanage, in Sheep-street, Erdington, he decided upon converting into almshouses for twenty-six widows or unmarried women of deserving character, and not under fifty years of age. The building of the new Orphanage, which is situated in Bell-lane, Erdington, was commenced in 1860, two years before Mr. Peabody announced his first donation, and was completed about eighteen months ago, when Mr. Mason began to receive children into it. Owing, however, to the endowment consisting of land, it was necessary that, in order to validate the gift, the donor should live twelve months after the deed had been registered, and therefore no public announcement was made in reference to the charity. The statutory period expired at the end of July; and then, without ceremony of any kind, Mr. Mason handed his magnificent gift of £260,000 to the appointed trustees, thus divesting himself of all control over the property and devoting it formally to public uses. In the same spirit of generous simplicity a letter was written by the donor to the Town Council of Birmingham, asking them to accept a share in the trust, and to nominate one half the trustees after the founder’s death. The trust, it need scarcely be said, was readily accepted.

The endowments of the Orphanage

The endowments of the Orphanage consist of about 1032 acres of freehold land. Of this about 220 acres, almost all the building and land (including Mr. Mason’s own house and grounds), are in the village of Erdington; and the rest is in the parishes of Northfield, Bickenhill, Feckenham, Sutton Coldfield, and other places in the counties of Warwick and Worcester. About two acres and a half consist of building land in the heart of the town of Birmingham, mostly covered with buildings, and of increasing value. One of these properties, recently erected, is let at £1600 a vear, and the total rental of the orphanage estates cannot be much less than £10,000 a year. In a very fow years this amount will probably be doubled by the increasing value of the endowments, and in view of this contingency the trustees aro directed to apply any surplus funds, when these aro sufficient, to the erection of other Orphanages, in accordance with the general scope of the trust deed.

The trustees for the management of the Orphanage and Almshouses, and of the estates comprised in the endowment, must always be laymen and Protestants, and residents within ten miles of Erdington; any trustee who becomes a bankrupt or commits any grave moral impropriety is to be dismissed by his colleagues; and anyone who fails to attend three successive meetings of the trustees is liable to forfeiture of his post as trustee. The chairman (styled the bailiff) will be a salaried officer, and there will be a paid secretary. The founder, during his lifetime, will act as visitor of the charity, and may preside over the trustees; he also reserves to himself the right of removing any of the trustees, or dismissing any officers of the trust, or varying its regulations, besides the sole power of expelling any inmate of the almshouses for misconduct. The present number of trustees is fixed at seven—namely, Mr. Frederick Allen, jeweller; Mr. William Bach, mercer; Mr. William Fothergill Batho, engineer; Mr. James Gibbs Blake, doctor of medicine; Mr. Isaac Horton, provision merchant; Mr. Thomas Francis Shaw, bank manager, all of Birmingham; and Mr. John Christopher Yeomans, of Erdington, gentleman. These, with the founder, constitute the first and present board of management. After the death of the founder, the number of trustees is to be never less than ten nor more than fourteen, of whom seven are always to be nominated by the Town Council of Birmingham; these may be either members of the council or may be chosen from persons outside that body. The council are always to keep up this number of seven trustees by election as vacancies arise, and any vacancies occurring in the other or ordinary trustees are to be filled up by the existing trustees as they may think fit. It is intended to apply for the incorporation of the trust by a Royal charter or by Act of Parliament.

The Regulations of the Orphanage

The regulations of the Orphanage provide that there shall always be twice as many girls as boys. The number is not restricted to 300, and the building is large enough for 600, on the scale laid down by the Committee of Privy Council. The children must, when admitted, be under the age of nine years, and may be retained, boys until the age of fourteen, and girls until eighteen, exceptions being made in special cases indicated by the deed. The only other conditions are that the children shall be destitute, that both parents shall be dead, and that the parents shall have been married. Beyond this there is no restriction whatever, whether of locality, class, nationality, or religious belief. In all these respects the orphanage is absolutely free, and, from the moment at which they enter the institution until that at which they leave it, the whole charge and care of the children are undertaken by the charity, no contributions being received even from the friends of inmates, who, however, are permitted to visit the children at stated intervals, and to give them toys and other presents not incompatible with the rules.

The scheme of instruction is plain and simple. Great stress is laid by the founder upon the physical and industrial training of the children, in order to make them good servants. With this view is laid by the founder upon the physical and industrial training of the children, in order to make them good servants. With this view it is provided by the deed that the girls especially shall be instructed in “sewing, baking, cooking, washing, and all ordinary household and domestic duties.” The boys will eventually be taught handicraft trades. The school teaching is to be confined to “reading, writing, spelling, English grammar, arithmetic, geography, and history,” and Mr. Mason directs that “no instruction in any language or grammar other than the English language and grammar” shall be given in the Orphanage. The children are to be “carefully instructed in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, according to the authorised English version,” but it is especially directed that “no catechisms, formularies, or articles of faith, whether of the Established Church or of any other body of professing Christians, shall be taught to the children.” The trustees are further directed to cause the inmates to be assembled in the chapel for Divine worship, “having regard, as far as practicable, to the earnest desire of the founder that the children may be trained up as simple and sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, without reference to sectarian distinctions and prejudices.” The Wesleyan Methodist form is at present used in the chapel; there is a gallery for the public to attend worship. When the inmates leave the Orphanage each of them is to receive a Bible and an outfit of clothing, and the trustees may pay apprentice fees when necessary.

The Orphanage building designed by J. R. Botham

The Orphanage building, a view of which appears on our front page, was designed by Mr. J. R. Botham, architect, of Birmingham: but Mr. Mason himself superintended its construction and planned all its internal arrangements. It stands fronting Bell-lane, a little way behind the Birmingham and Lichfield turnpike road, at Erdington. It occupies, with playgrounds, plantations, garden ground, and fields, about thirteen acres of land, lying high, on a gravelly soil, well open on all sides, and commanding line views of the surrounding country, from which its great central tower, 200 ft. high, may be seen for many miles. The building, which is bold and massive in general form, is of the Lombardic style, varied so as to suit modern requirements. The plan is that of an irregular oblong, presenting a length of 207 ft. at the north-west or entrance front in Bell-lane, 190 ft. to the north-east or playground front, 300 ft. to the east or garden side, and 270 ft. to the west side, where the out-offices are placed.

This vast mass, divided into three stories, well marked out, is pierced by lines of semi-circular-headed windows, with enriched columns or shafts and heads, each window being flanked by shallow buttresses, and each front being finished with carved mouldings or string-courses in stone. The gabled ends of the building project slightly, and the sunk arches, pierced with enriched rose windows, are treated with excellent effect. Each gable is finished with a colossal figure of an angel standing with folded wings, as if watching over the happiness of the children below. These figures and the other carved enrichments, symbolical of charity or infancy, are admirably executed. The long lines of roof are picturesquely broken by dormer windows, gabled, and of large size, to give light to the sleeping-rooms; and over the roofs three boldly-designed towers rise to irregular heights. The principal tower, near the centre of the building, is 200 ft. high, divided into three stages, and surmounted with a high pitched roof, crested with an open metal railing, and bearing a lofty flagstaff. The inclosed centre of this structure is used as a shaft to carry off the heated air from the building, but, by a series of staircases, provision is made for ascending to the gallery at the top. Over the entrance in Bell-lane is another tower, about 120 ft. high, covered in with a high-pitched roof; and a third tower, 110ft. high, serves as a chimney-shaft, into which all the smoke flues of the building are made to discharge their contents; there being neither a fire-place nor a chimney otherwise throughout the edifice. Two features of the elevation require to be noticed. One is an exquisite little porch, leading to an arcade, through which access is obtained to the main entrance corridor. The other is a massive, rusticated arcade supporting the playground front, and itself forming a covered playground 174 ft. long by 25 ft. wide. The interior contains the usual rooms to be found in institutions of its class—large school-rooms, dining-rooms, dormitories, baths, a chapel, and all other appliances for habitation and instruction. The domestic offices are on an unusually complete scale.

All the cooking and laundry work is done by steam, and the whole building is warmed by hot water, on a system devised by Mr. Mason, who has a high degree of mechanical skill. All the arrangements required for the comfort, health, and recreation of the children have been most carefully devised: indeed, the whole building bespeaks a degree of thoughtfulness which could have been bestowed only by a man deeply penetrated with a love of children and a knowledge of their wants and ways. In the present case this is the more remarkable, as, although married, Mr. Mason has no children of his own. At present there are 160 inmates of the orphanage — 110 girls and forty boys. By degrees, as proper candidates offer themselves, this number will be raised to 300. The staff of instructors consists of a matron, sub-matron, school and drill master, sowing mistress, outdoor mistress, and other teachers, the elder children taking part in the school-work, and also doing the house-work. Miss Stockwin is appointed matron, assisted by Miss Ann Stockwin, her sister. Two homoeopathic physicians are appointed to the medical care of the inmates. [262]

Related Material


“The Erdington Orphange and Almshouses.” Illustrated London News 55 (11 September 1869): 261-22.

Last modified 10 June 2021