Tracing an ancestor from overseas:

Brentwood Orphanages  

(including St Charles School, St Joseph's Orphanage, St Helen's Orphanage)


We get a number of enquiries from people from overseas endeavouring to trace a family history that occurred, at least in part, in the UK. While the internet has no doubt made it somewhat easier in some ways, the problems of not being able to make a phone call easily or pop into a local archive still remain. I am sure many of you will share Bill’s frustrations. Bill, in New Zealand, takes up the story: “My Great Grandfather, William Church is recorded, in the England Census 1881, as a boarder at an orphanage at South Weald in Essex. In looking for information about this orphanage I have followed a number of leads without too much success.


The whole objective in my research was to try and find if there were any records in any archive that would provide genealogical information about William Church from his date of birth, the circumstances that led to his being a boarder in the orphanage and the time he left the orphanage. The details I am looking for would, hopefully, provide the names of his parents. Seeking this information has been a long hard frustrating journey in research. Researching from some 18,000 kilometres away is quite difficult. The information I am looking for is:


When did William Church first become a boarder at the Orphanage?

What were the circumstances in which he was orphaned?

The names of his parents

When he left the Orphanage

Any other relevant information”  


Sound familiar? These are the sorts of questions that many of us are trying to find answers to – some of us from closer to home than others. Bill has carried out hours of internet research and written many emails – some of which have, unfortunately, never been answered.  Bill has contacted: 

The Essex Record Office

The Sisters of Mercy

Brentwood School

The London Metropolitan Archives

Brentwood Borough Council

The Diocese of Brentwood

The Daughters of Charity

The Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul
The Sisters of Charity of St Paul 


He has had a mixture of responses and has been picking up bits and pieces of the story over quite a long period. Through his research, Bill has made a few really useful discoveries about Brentwood Orphanage: 


  •       It was based at 100 Herongate Road  which is now Ingrave Road
  •       The census states that the orphanage was run by the Sisters of Charity
  •       In 1871 the Superintendent was Sister Kate Berry
  •       The census records an additional three Sisters of Charity, and a teacher at the orphanage  

We are trying to help Bill in his hunt for the records.  


The hunt for records is complicated because, although we know that this was a Roman Catholic orphanage, there is no central hub of information about Catholic institutions and no set place to approach to request records. Some orphanages were run directly by the diocese while others were run by a particular order, such as the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, for example. This has an impact on where any surviving records might be. The diocese under which a particular orphanage was might also have changed over time. The Brentwood Diocese was only created in 1917, for example. So it is likely that the orphanage was under the archdiocese of Westminster.


A further complication is that there were so many orphanages and the orders running them were often similarly named  - such as the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of Charity of St Paul.


Each agency that Bill and I have written to have suggested another, and we have gone around and around in circles with no definitive information about who ran the orphanage or where any records might be. This is despite each organisation holding its own archives and having an active archivist in post.


The Diocese of Brentwood archivist suggested that the Brentwood Orphanage was set up by a Father Kyne and was run by the Sisters of Charity of St Paul (now based in Birmingham). The archivist of the Sisters of Charity of St Paul say that they did not run the orphanage and do not know who did but suggested the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters of Mercy archivist said that they did not run the orphanage. However, they did say that an orphanage nearby that they ran was set up by Father Kyne. Round and round in circles we go!


We have managed to piece together a small amount about these Brentwood orphanages:



St Helen's Orphanage for Boys
We don't know when this opened but it closed in 1871. It was run by the parish priest until 1871 and took in children from London workhouses.



St Joseph's Orphanage

The Sisters of Mercy founded a convent in Sawyers Hall Lane in 1872 (an offshoot of St Joseph's Convent in Chelsea) - at the invitation of Father John Kyne. The Sisters of Mercy took on a girls' orphanage in the 1880s and a boys' orphanage in 1910.


In 1893, the Westminster Diocesan Census shows some boys living in an orphanage on Shenfield Common not far from the convent. This could be some kind of continuation of the one that had closed in 1871 or one begun from an endowment left in a will in 1888 (the responsibility for this being given to the Rector of the Brentwood Mission).


St Charles' School Orphanage
St Charles orphanage was established in 1884 and conducted by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul on behalf of the Westminster Diocesan Education Fund. It opened for boys over 9 years old initially. It would seem that this was run at different times by The Daughters (or Sisters) of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and the Christian Brothers, the home closed in 1954 when the building was sold to the Home Office.


The Old Egbertian Association has a great description of the school written in the 1920s/30s. It is Word document which can dfound on the lefthand side of their website page here.






If anyone can help offer Bill any further information about Brentwood Orphanage in Herongate Road, or if you have any information about St Charles School or can help untangle which orphanage in Brentwood was which, we'd be very grateful. Please email thank you.