Dr Barnardo (KS2): Everything You Need To Know

Young boy sat down reading a book, learning about Dr Barnardo.
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The Victorian era is a significant topic in KS2 history, and Dr Barnardo is a prominent figure.

An Irishman who loved to see children happy and enjoying a good quality of life, Dr Barnardo made it his life's commitment to help as many children as he could. He wanted them to access quality living, free teaching and skills to live better and more safely.

Who Was Dr Barnardo?

Dr Barnardo, Thomas Barnardo or Thomas John Barnardo was an Irish doctor who was passionate about helping poor children in London through his work. As a result, he ended up establishing what is now a charity called Barnardo's, to help them have a better quality of life through the provision of housing and free education.

Dr Barnardo is famous for his philanthropy and positive impact on tens of thousands of children from the Victorian era to the present day. Barnardo's has helped change the lives of many children in Britain, allowing them access to better futures.

Dr Barnardo's Life

Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin, Ireland on 4 July 1845.  With the dream of becoming a Protestant medical missionary in China from age 16, Bernardo moved to London to commence his medical studies. While studying at the London Hospital, he became aware of the poor conditions that people were living in during the Victorian era and their overwhelming effects: people living on the streets, people living in extremely overcrowded conditions, unemployed, and people dying from diseases such as cholera.

Before long, he was consumed by and devoted to a new cause. The aim was no longer to serve in China, but the poor in England's capital instead. In 1867 Barnardo set up the 'Ragged School' in the East End for poor orphans to receive education and care.

Barnardo's efforts only intensified following a walk with Jim Jarvis, a pupil of his at the Ragged School. Walking along the East End exposed Barnardo to several children in poverty, without homes, sleeping rough. The year 1870 saw the establishment of Barnardo's home for boys located in Stepney Causeway, East London. He was committed to never turning a homeless boy away from the home if he was in need. There was even a sign which read 'No destitute child ever refused admission'.

Further east, Barnardo also set up a home for girls, the Girls' Village Home in Barkingside. At one point, 1,500 girls lived in the village's cottages. Barnardo kept creating accommodation like these to help as many poor children as he could.

Black and white photo of children standing outside Dr Barnardo's home.
Image © Isaac Erb. Library and Archives Canada

Dr Barnardo's Achievements

Dr Barnardo was a pioneer: in Victorian London, the common perception was that poor people had brought their poverty upon themselves, so many were reluctant to help. What's more, the impoverished were classified into deserving and undeserving of charity.

In his lifetime, Dr Barnardo helped over 80,000 poor children, caring for and educating them. Three hundred-thousand children attended Ragged Schools between the years 1844 and 1881, and in addition to free schools and accommodation for children, Dr Barnardo also set up an employment agency to help older children and impoverished adults find work. He also set up a mission church. The Girls' Village Home, located in Mossford Lodge was vast; sixty acres in size, the site had 65 cottages, a church, free school and hospital by the year 1900.

Will all of his philanthropical endeavours, Dr Barnardo decided to detail them in the 192 books he wrote: accounting his experiences with the charity work to which he dedicated his life.

Dr Barnardo's Legacy

Dr Barnardo died in London on 19 September 1905 of a heart condition. By Barnardo's death on 19 September 1905, there were 96 of his homes for children in existence, and he had helped over 8,500 children. Following his death, a National Memorial Fund of £250, 000 was set up, to ensure the running of all of the buildings that he used to help children.

Now a charity by the name Barnardo's, it is the largest non-profit adoption and fostering agency in the UK. Barnardo's helps children, young people and families in different circumstances, giving them the support they need.

The Ragged School Museum in East London is on the site of the original free school. It aims to recreate a Victorian school for a traditional experience for visitors.

Black and white photograph of young boys outside a boys' Dr Barnardo's home.
Image © Wikimedia Commons

Facts About Dr Barnardo (KS2)

Here are some fantastic Dr Barnardo facts for kids that might surprise you. Learn more about Dr Barnardo's work, teaching and support for children.

-Dr Barnardo wasn't actually a doctor - he never completed his medical studies.

-Barnardo's homes for boys and girls used to have a limit, but when a boy turned away froze to death days later, Dr Barnardo committed to never turning another child away again.

-Barnardo's schools trained boys in metalworking, shoemaking and carpentry. With these skills, they were able to find work and improve their lives.

-The children Dr Barnardo came across weren't only impoverished, some were also orphaned because of the cholera outbreak occurring at the time.

-Younger children and infants in Barnardo's care would be sent to countryside areas to be protected from pollution.

-Though Dr Barnardo let go of his initial pursuit of becoming a Protestant medical missionary in China, he ended up establishing a juvenile mission in his boys' homes.

-It is said that Thomas John Barnardo was raised by his half-sister named Sophie.

-Dr Barnardo once wrote that he considered himself quite selfish as a child, always wanting what he didn't have. As he grew older, this was replaced with a genuine care for the welfare of children.

-Dr Barnardo and his wife Sara 'Syrie' Louise Elmslie, had seven children. They were given a lease for Mossford Lodge as a wedding gift and ended up buying the land on which their girls' home was built.

-Dr Barnardo's daughter Marjorie had Down's Syndrome. Caring for her enlightened Barnardo, to the extent that he later developed homes specially-made for children with disabilities.

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