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St Mary's orphanage, near Heathrow airport

St Mary's orphanage for boys was established in 1847 at Southall lane, North Hyde, Southall. The buildings were part of former barracks used during the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) [1]. The object of the home was to 'receive boys chargeable to the poor rates within the metropolitan district and other pauper boys by agreement, and train them for trades, etc." In other words it was of a number of such institutions set up to remove Catholic children from workhouses, where it was feared, they would be likely to lose their faith. Boys entering the orphanage were aged between 7 and 14 years, with a certificate of health required and an agreed annual payment according to each individual's circumstances. Inmates remained until the age of 16. By 1890 the number in residence was 625. The school site is shown below - left the (1805) right now (2022)

The Brothers of Mercy ran the orphanage - they were a religious order from Belgium. Around the turn of the century the brothers left and on 8th September 1914, St Mary's was certified as an industrial school was run by nuns who did the teaching side but there were also men employed. They took only boys and not all were orphans. Some came from families who simply could not look after them. There was a resident priest.  In 1929 the orphanage gave up its status as an industrial school and continued ton operated as an institution for Catholic boys from what was the Public Assistance Scheme under the inspection of the Ministry of Health, In 1935 it had places for 300 boys aged from 3 to 14. [2]

In the 1920s and 1930s they had a very good band apparently and quite a strong sports element. The nuns were very strict and used the cane a lot. I think they were allowed family visits on occasion.

The orphanage, or school as it was then known, closed in the late 1930s - about 1938 I think, but the buildings remained and were used as offices for some years until the early 1950s. Until then they had a memorial service every year which took place around the memorial which stood at the gates and old boys used to go back for that. I don't think there is any connection with Heathrow Airport although I believe that at one time it was being considered as an additional runway site and British European Airways used the buildings as offices.

There is now a golf course and modern industrial buildings on the site!  I don't know if this is the only way it happened but children would be put into the care of the Board of Guardians of the Poor Law Unions. This would normally be where they lived or, if they hadn't lived there long enough to qualify for residence, it would be the Union to which their father had residence. Many of the London Union records are at the London Metropolitan Archives and are online with Ancestry. I couldn't find Willesden, so it may have been too far out geographically and may come under another county. The Union would have arranged for the children to go to establishments such as St Mary's. In many cases, siblings were split up, especially where there were brothers and sisters and they lost touch or didn't even know they had siblings.

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Mystery hangs over the whereabouts of a large war memorial, once the focus of a large open air Mass each Remembrance Sunday. Two old residents of St Mary's school, a Catholic orphanage in North Hyde, Middlesex,  launched an appeal find the monument commemorating many of their fallen comrades. More than 14 feet high, with a life-size cross, and figures of a soldier and sailor above a stone inscribed with more than 80 names, the memorial stood for many years on the roadside at the front of St Mary's School, Southall Lane, Middlesex. [3]


The school was run by Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Jesus and supported by the Crusade of Rescue (now the Catholic Children's Society). Although the regime was spartan, the school was quite progressive for its time, with a swimming pool, a farm with livestock and a choir and band who were sometimes recruited to play for special occasions at Westminster cathedral and Spanish Place. The school Band gained for itself a great reputation. With a uniform of dark green, black braided knicker-bocker suit with bush hats. Under Bandmaster Dunn they were very much in demand in Southall, playing in the park, at Southall Football Ground and at parades. Mr Dunn had three sons who were bandmasters, one being the Head Bandmaster of the Royal Marines. This North Hyde Band also finished with the closure of the school. [4]

Remembering the grounds in front of the school, ex-pupil Walter Adams said: "They were beautiful. There was a statue of the Sacred Heart and the war memorial looked like something you would see in Rome. A real work of art. Two of the names had the Military Medal and one had the Legion of Honour." "Some things in life are printed in your memory forever," said another St Mary's old boy, Arthur Gaubert, 80, who attended the school from 1924-1933. During the inter-war years, each Remembrance Day, 600 boys, staff and local parishioners would assemble on the lawn in front of the monument, for a memorial service. "The school band would play, the choir sang hymns and then there was the last post," said Arthur. "By that point the atmosphere was electric. Many of the nuns would be weeping." Casualties from St Mary's were high. Several young men died during the Boer War and during the First World War many more were killed or went missing in action. In November 1917, the Mother Superior, Reverend Mother Attracta wrote: "I wish it would all end because our losses have been grievous. We've already lost 48 boys."

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Classroom at St Mary's

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Cyril eplained that this was the reading and billiard room.

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1923 team - before Cyril and Vic attended

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WW1 war memorial - now vanished.

It was last seen in 1936 when the orphanage was closed

Many more boys from the school were to give up their lives during World War Two. Arthur and Walter became lifelong friends. During the Second World War they ended up on the same beach at Dunkirk on 28 May 1940. "The boat I was on, the Queen of the Channel, was sunk during the evacuation," recalls Arthur. I can still see the Junkers circling round overhead shooting at us." Both Mr Gaubert and Mr Adams got married and started families after the war. Mr Gaubert moved to Essex and ended up as a school headmaster. Mr Adams became a bandleader working on cruiseliners. He now lives in Cambridgeshire. In the years just after World War Two, together with other St Mary's old boys, they would visit the school to reminisce and pay their respects at the monument. However, in 1953, the building was demolished, and the memorial disappeared. Its whereabouts is a mystery. During the war, the building had been requisitioned by the Air Ministry. Afterwards, for a few years, BOAC had offices at the school, while the grounds were being considered as a site for the new Heathrow airport. When the building was pulled down, Mr Gaubert, Mr Adams and a number of other friends made extensive efforts to trace the memorial. Ex-pupil Patrick MacManus, grandfather of singer Elvis Costello, spent several years trying to find it. After leaving the school MacManus was a bandleader and worker on the SS Olympia, sister ship to the Titanic. But he never forgot his old school. His son, the bandleader Ros MacManus (who worked with Joe Loss) said: "My father kept in touch with everyone and he never gave up his search for the monument. It is as if it had vanished into thin air." Mr MacManus died in 1963, but his son Patrick would still love to know what happened to the memorial. This year Mr Adams and Mr Gaubert decided to redouble their efforts to find the missing monument. "Those boys were already dealt a very bad hand ending in an orphanage," said Mr Adams. "They ended up losing their lives in the trenches of the First World War before they had a chance. Most of them were under 20. I feel it is the least we can do for them."


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster, Hounslow Council, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary and the War Graves Commissions were all contacted. None had any record of the memorial, although they would like to know any information that is discovered. "We don't know who made it, who paid for it, or where it is now," said Mr Adams. But the information must be somewhere. It can't have just disappeared." The War Graves Commission has told ICN they would be very interested to learn any information about the monument as they are just beginning to compile a directory of war memorials and have funding available for restoration. If you have any information about the St Mary's war memorial, please contact ICN or Jim Richards, director of the Catholic Children's Society at 73 St Charles Square, London W10 6EJ tel: 020 8969 5305.

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