The May Meeting 2018
Richard Gardner - A Life Well Led
Dr Christopher French
President David Richardson introduced Chris who described how his researches were based on a chance visit from a lady who walked into the Twickenham Museum with a small suitcase of papers which she thought might be of interest. These concerned the life of Richard Gardner who had been headmaster of The Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage in Twickenham and were his handwritten journals and diaries kept throughout his life and passed down through members of the family.
Born in October 1842 in Mortlake, he lived with his family, his father being a brewer’s servant. The Journals were begun when Richard was 16 years old and were partly written in French. He was by this time a student teacher and studied many subjects, including religion, and was very critical of his academic achievements. He liked working in the garden and playing cricket and also attending church and singing with Barnes Choral Society. By 1863, aged 21 years, he was attending Highbury College and was a competitive, conscientious and hard- working student. It was about this time that he met his future wife Maria (May) Maddox while visiting Oxford and she came from humble origins as did Richard.
In 1864 he was offered the post of headmaster to take charge of a school to be established in Hong Kong and in 1865 he and his wife set sail. The venture only lasted a few weeks however as Miss Baxter, who had founded the school died and the school could not survive without her.
There followed a series of teaching posts starting with St. Thomas Boys’ School in Somerset and then the National School at Tonbridge, Kent. An offer of a post as Principal of a college in Ceylon was rejected because of the increasing size of his family and the poor health of his wife. He was kept busy at this time by representing his profession at various conferences and national debates and by further study. In 1880 he successfully applied to the Court Of Governors meeting in Scotland Yard for the headmastership of the Metropolitan and City Police Orphanage in Twickenham based in Fortescue House. He moved with his large family into a house opposite the Orphanage in Trafalgar Road, Twickenham.
The Orphanage was originally opened in 1870, in Fortescue House, its driving force being Sir Edmund Henderson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan and City Police Force. Larger premises were needed as the number of orphans increased and the Orphanage moved to Wellesley House on Hampton Road, Twickenham, in 1874 while Fortescue House was taken over by The National Refuges for Homeless and Destitute Children. Even these larger premises could not accommodate the number of orphans who needed support and in 1883 an allowance was given to those families whose children could not be accommodated in the orphanage.
When Richard arrived at the orphanage in 1880 it was very well established, had its own substantial grounds and a number of rich and powerful supporters.
The mission of the Orphanage was influenced by compassion and enlightened thinking and its objective was to provide relief to the destitute orphans of the members of the Metropolitan and City of London Police Forces. It set out to provide the orphans with clothing, maintenance and education. In doing so it increased the prospect of the orphans gaining good employment later on. Given his personal qualities Richard was a very good choice for the appointment as the Orphanage’s new headmaster and he held the appointment from 1880 until he retired in 1905.
He also encouraged entertainment and band practice for the boys and sewing for the girls and sporting activity such as cricket matches against various other organisations. The school was so successful that in 1882 new buildings for the girls and for infants were opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Institution could now maintain and educate 150 boys and 100 girls and separate them into classes for boys and girls. Other facilities added to the school over the years included a swimming pool and a gymnasium. The academic year was divided into three terms with some spending the holidays with their mothers or relations and others going on holiday or staying at the Orphanage.
Richard continued to be involved with major activities outside the school by attending meetings of the Thames Valley Teachers’ Association and other schools and organisations and in 1883 the Industrial Schools at Feltham. At about this time he was admitted to the office of Lay Reader by the Bishop of London.
The census of 1891 showed there were 155 boys and 95 girls supported by a staff of 15. Prize Day at the Orphanage in 1896 was marked by the presence of The Duke and Duchess of York. One of many other highlights, including outings, was the presentation of a Leaving Certificate to the pupils at the end of their schooling.
By this time May had given birth to seventeen children of which only ten had survived and Richard was accustomed to taking holidays on his own and particularly liked travelling the coastal waters around Britain. He was also a keen gardener and won prizes at local horticultural shows. The family lived in a large house within the grounds of the Orphanage but as RG approached his 50th birthday he began to suffer from regular bouts of ill-health including headaches and at times was not able to leave his house.
Ten or so years later in 1904 the teaching methods of the Orphanage were bought into question along with the inspection system under which it had been operating. New regimes were adopted which increased the strain on both Richard and Mrs Evans, the Headmistress, who both resigned in 1904 but the normal work of the Orphanage continued.
Losing his family home he went house hunting and settled on ‘Briarly’ a house in Nightingale Road, Hampton and was soon at work preparing the new house and organizing the garden. On his retirement he received a marble clock and some bronze figures and a small pension. He also received much credit for the work and support he had given to the Orphanage during his 25 years of service. He lived for another 13 years, dying at the age of 75 years.
The Journals ended in 1916 and indicate that Richard Gardner was a typical Victorian who embodied the values of hard work, ambition, morality and the importance of family life. He made many friends. The Orphanage closed in 1937 and the building was renamed Fortescue House School for Boys before being demolished in 1971
Paul Kershaw warmly thanked Dr. Christopher French for having given such an interesting and well received talk.
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