Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 27, 2017.
Webpage updated: June 27, 2017




The founder of the Hospital of Orphans' Aid was Mr William Laurence, a merchant living at 'Foxhole', now Vauxhall Street.  In his will dated December 3rd 1612 he bequeathed to Thomas and Nicholas Sherwill, notable local merchants, a hundred pounds, to be paid at the return of his ship "Jonathan".

Within seven years of his death, the Sherwills were to use the money to erect almshouses in Plymouth for poor people and to educate and bring up poor children or orphans within the Borough.  In addition, he bequeathed to the Mayor and Commonalty (the Corporation) a sum of four pounds annually out of his lands and tenements at Tor and 20 for the 'stocke to sett ye poor to worke'.

No time was lost by the Sherwills in putting Mr Laurence's wishes into action.  On March 7th 1615 the first entry was made in the accounts books and Mr Robert Trelawny gave 18 10s as half the cost of redeeming the lease that Mr Matthews had on a property in Catherine Street that had been selected as the site for the Orphans' Aid.

A new lease was granted by the Corporation to the Sherwills on April 14th 1615 for a fee farm rent of 1 2s per annum and the Hospital was to be managed by the Corporation as if they had founded it.  The foundation deed poll, in the names olf Mr Thomas Sherwill and Mr Nicholas Sherwill, was dated June 17th 1617.  The year 1615 was carved over the main entrance, as shown in the photograph above.

A precedent had to be found for the deed of incorporation and the one used for Doctor White's Temple Hospital in Bristol was eventually used.

The last Mayor of Plymouth was to be the Governor of the Hospital, assisted by four of the Aldermen and two of the Councillors as Wardens.  Once the original benefactors has passed away the Mayor and Corporation were to have the sole right to direct the running of the Hospital, to be its official visitors and to place and displace the orphans.

It is said that the cost of 'building erecting founding & incorporating the sayd Hospital with the dyet apparell & other necessaries of the orphans' up until December 24th 1620 was 833 7s 5d.

Although the original intention was to house poor female children, as illustrated by the inclusion of three females on the seal, pictured left, it did in fact house only boys.

A poster printed by Messrs Haviland and Creagh, printers, of 74 Whimple Street, issued on November 17th 1818 advertised for 'A Steady, Careful, Middle-aged Woman to Superintend the Boys, maintained and educated on the Charity of the Hospital of Orphans' Aid, within the Borough of Plymouth.  A Widow Woman would be preferred, but a Married Woman, without Children, will not be objected to'.

In addition to the general duties of a Matron she was expected 'to find Provisions for the Boys, according to a Scale of Diet, to be paid for by Weekly Payments, at per Head'.

At the time of the 1851 census, the Matron was Mrs Mary Ann Hayes, a 49-years-old widow from Ugborough in South Devon.  There were eight boys in residence: William J Jimmot; William T Oxford; Charles P Tatherly; John L T Charters, who was the eldest, at 11-years of age; John A Horn; John T Kiarly; John W Looseman and Samuel Nolling.

A document dated 13th March 1855, being the 'Terms and Conditions offered by the Charitable Trustees of the Borough of Plymouth to the Persons about to be elected the Female and Male Superintendents of the Charity called the Orphan's Aid' gives us some idea of the meals that were provided out of the three shillings per week per boy from the Charity.

Breakfast, and also Supper, were to consist of 'A half Pint of Milk made into Milk Broth so as to produce a Pint for each Boy and half Pound of Bread for each Boy.'

Dinner on Sundays and Thursdays was to be of 'Half a Pound of Beef or Mutton either Roasted or Boiled with One Pound of Potatoes.'    On Mondays and Fridays Dinner was to be 'a Pint of Peas Soup with two Ounces of Pork or Bacon therein' while on Tuesdays and Saturdays the meal was 'A Pint of Ox Cheek or other good Soup.'  On Wednesdays only Dinner consisted of 'Half a Pound of Flour with Suet made into a Pudding.'

The Terms and Conditions also reveal that the Superintendents were to reside and sleep in the house, free from any payment of rent or taxes, and that while the female was to devote the whole of her time and attention to the establishment, the male Superintendent was only part-time.  Presumably this was so that he could earn a living elsewhere and save the Charity having to support the Superintendents as well as the children.

Prayers were to be said every morning and evening and the children had to be taken to Church twice every Sunday.

By this time their accommodation and education was being paid for out of an endowment of houses and land that was yielding 200 per year and the boys were receiving their education at the Public Free School in Cobourg Street.