Plaque at 89 The Mount, York YO24 1AX

Saint Stephen’s Orphanage was founded around 1870 by Lady Harriet, wife of Augustus Duncombe, Dean of York Minster (after whom Duncombe Place was named), her two daughters, Mrs Harcourt and Mrs Egerton, together with the Revd James Douglas, curate at Kirby Misperton. It was named after Saint Stephen who was one of the seven deacons charged by the apostles to minister to widows, orphans and the poor.

The orphanage was originally housed in Precentor’s Court and provided shelter for up to 13 female orphans under the supervision of Miss Mathew and Mrs Blencowe. The accommodation proved to be too small so two houses were purchased in Trinity Lane, off Micklegate, in 1872.

Rules of the establishment

  1. The annual payment will be £9. But in urgent cases, a girl from York, or its immediate neighbourhood may be admitted on payment of an entrance fee of £5. Clothing as undermentioned will be required in each case: 2 night gowns, 3 chemises, 3 pairs of coloured fitted stockings, 2 flannel petticoats, 1 pair of slippers, 1 pair of boots (strong), 2 frocks and 6 pinafores (Holland).
  2. Age of admission, from 3 to 10.
  3. No girl afflicted with any such physical or mental infirmity as would be a decided obstacle to placing her out at the end of the term can be admitted.
  4. No girl can be allowed to visit any friends, or be visited by any, except those of whom the Superintendents approve.
  5. Each girl must be provisionally admitted for a month, in order that the Superintendents may decide whether she is likely to profit by the care which would be bestowed upon her throughout her term, so as to become a useful member of the commonwealth; as, otherwise, it is not right to expend upon her the funds of the Institution.
  6. Visiting days will be appointed (as occasion may require) which will be made known to the friends of the girls.
  7. Anyone placing a girl in the Home must promise not to attempt her removal without the full consent of the Superintendents or in any way to encourage disobedience.
  8. In ordinary cases a girl will be retained until after her Confirmation, the time for which will be determined by the Visitor.

It was expected that, under Rule 1, each girl should be paid for at the rate of £9 per annum but payments at this rate were only received for about three out of eight children. In 1872 there were two Visitors to undertake the requirements of Rule 8 when the girls entered into domestic service. The two superintendents moved with them into Trinity Lane but they had to be dismissed for their deception and indulgence in eating and drinking – for their evenings were spent in a manner unbecoming to teachers of sobriety.

Worsley family funding

By 1874 the finances of the home were in difficulty and debts of £409 15s 0d had arisen. The increased number of girls meant extra equipment and alterations were needed for the premises. This put still further pressure on the finances, which meant a possible closure of the home. Fortunately Major William Cayley Worsley of Hovingham, his wife and some of his friends, formed a committee of management which came to the rescue and provided a loan of £125 until a legacy of a further £660 came to fruition. To save money, the number of girls was reduced to 18. The involvement of the Worsley family continued and they served on the Management Committee until shortly before the home was closed.

A new superintendent, Miss Mary Arlidge, was appointed in 1876 and by 1877 the committee believed that the orphanage was now established on a permanent basis, especially as a bazaar held in the Guildhall had raised £815 16s 9d to support the 26 children squeezed into the home. Fortunately, 25 Trinity Lane became vacant and was purchased to provide a laundry, bathroom, larger dormitories and a playground. By the following year there was a further increase in numbers so 27 Trinity Lane was purchased, enabling an additional dining room, dormitory and an isolation room to be added.

By 1879, 31 girls were living in Trinity Lane and, although there was enough room for them, there were insufficient funds available. The number of girls needing a home continued to expand so, in 1881, 21 and 23 Trinity Lane were purchased. By 1885 there were 49 girls in residence of whom 23 paid no fees while the others were supported by an annual fee of £12 each.

Daily dinners

In the 1880s, as well as providing a daily dinner for the girls, other children from all over the city was sent in by subscribers. The meal was provided free as their parents could not afford anything. Some visitors describe the scene at dinner time: ‘We discovered a passage lined with children of all sizes and ages; about 300, we were told, all waiting their turn to go into the dining room, which held about 50 at a time. We were invited to go up and see the children, it really was a sight to gladden one’s heart, in these days of sore distress and want, to see so many happy faces enjoying the basin of good Irish stew, to be followed by a slice of roley pudding.’ The stew was made of 36 lbs of meat and between 112 to 140 lbs of potatoes. Together with other vegetables, this made a sufficient quantity for 200 children at a cost of 21/4d per child. The food was cooked by the girls as part of their training. By 1887 10,255 dinners were being provided each year.

Seaside holidays

A summer holiday home in the country called Wood Knoll was loaned to the orphanage by Sir William C. Worsley from 1881 for his lifetime to help improve the health of the girls. Unfortunately Lady Worsley died in 1883 followed by Sir William’s death in 1897, both having watched over the welfare of St Stephen’s for 18 years. A new holiday home was donated by Lady Londesborough, Scarborough House in Scarborough, and the children went by rail to the seaside for at least one month each year until the outbreak of the war in 1914.

Tragedy struck the orphanage in August 1910 when Miss Arlidge suddenly died at the age of 55 having been its superintendent for 34 years without remuneration. She had devoted her life entirely to the care and welfare of the girls in her charge.

Evelyn’s lectures

Dr William A. Evelyn became involved when he married and moved to 24 (now 61) Micklegate in 1885. In 1910 he was asked to review the fire appliances, following which he worked for the home for the next 22 years, becoming its medical officer in 1920 and vice-chairman of the management committee in 1926. In order to raise funds, he prepared a series of five lectures with lantern slides given in St Mary’s Hall, Marygate, between 1 and 29 November 1911, entitled ‘Walks through Old York’ which would be of interest to those who were keen on preserving York’s buildings. Although the hall was not full, £104 was collected for the orphanage. These lectures continued and in 1917 took £115. In 1919 the lectures were held in the larger Tempest Anderson Hall where admission was five shillings and £166 was raised. In 1921 it was £104 and in 1923 was £170.

Move to The Mount

89 The Mount, once the home of St Stephen’s Orphanage. Now Hotel du Vin

At a management meeting at the end of 1919 it was reported that the state of the buildings in Trinity Lane had deteriorated in recent years and were no longer suited to the care of young children. It was proposed that a house which was for sale at 89 The Mount, on the corner of Scarcroft Road, be investigated as a possible home. Within two weeks the house had been purchased for £4,500. The cost of converting the house was £429 and the move to the new home began. Whilst this was being done the children were sent away to a holiday home at Filey. As the committee now carried a debt of £5,000, it sought ways to increase its revenue. It calculated that the annual cost of keeping a child was approaching £40 a year and decided to ask ladies who supported individual children financially to increase their contribution to £35.

By early 1922 the number of girls had fallen to 28 but Ministry of Health recognition was achieved in the same year, a classification which authorised the home to receive children from Boards of Guardians. Unfortunately this did not lead to an increase in the number of residents which remained fairly constant for the next two years, so it was agreed to offer places to York City Council when corporation children’s homes were full. Four years later requests for places were received from Boards of Guardians at Leeds and South Shields, a development which again did not lead to any significant increase in numbers. Occasionally children were now being sent out from the home for adoption, a measure which further depleted numbers.

Grants and donations

The expenses of running the home in 1922 were £1,752, but the income was only £1,620 which resulted in a loss, and this continued in the following year until Lord Grimthorpe offered to cover the deficit. The home continued to run at a loss for a number of years and was supported by grants and donations from a number of organisations. In 1926 Dr Evelyn was elected as vice-chairman and Mrs Frank Terry was invited to join the committee. Half the Trinity Lane houses were sold in 1927 to the Ideal Laundry next door for £1,000 and, gradually over the following years, the deficit was reduced to £735 by 1931. Throughout the 1930s many support groups were active in raising funds by various means.

Unfortunately Lady Susan Worsley died in 1933, having served the home generously for over twenty years. Dr Evelyn died in 1935, having helped run the home for more than 25 years when he was active as a committee member, a fundraiser and the medical officer. In 1936 Sir William Henry Worsley died. They were succeeded by Sir William Arthur Worsley, and it was Lady Joyce Worsley who took over the chairmanship when Sir William left for military service in 1939. 1935 was the Diamond Jubilee of the move of the home from Trinity Lane, which coincided with the Silver Jubilee of King George V. It was a time of financial crisis for the institution, so they decided to sell, for building purposes, the paddock that belonged to the home, which raised £1,600.

Wartime measures

At the time of the Munich crisis in the autumn of 1938, trenches were dug in the garden as an air-raid precaution but these were filled in again two months later. Sir William Worsley offered a house at Hovingham if evacuation of the home became necessary. He also made a successful radio appeal which raised £227 and attracted a lot of publicity and support. When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 the children were evacuated to the home of Mrs Stapleton at Myton-on-Swale. There the hostess was paid five shillings per week for each child and member of staff. For several months the children enjoyed a different lifestyle in country surroundings where they attended the village school and were able to watch milking, butter churning and shoeing at the blacksmiths. In the meantime the potting shed at the home was converted into an air-raid shelter and bunks were fitted with anti-splinter netting applied to the windows. Soon after this was completed the girls returned to York and, when enemy bombs fell on the nearby Bar Convent, the girls sang hymns in the area shelter.

Post-war decline

After the war ended, things gradually returned to normal. Fundraising was still an issue; the age for leaving was raised to 16; Miss Govan, a new matron, was appointed and she served for 22 years; the Sunday services moved from St Clement’s in Scarcroft Road to Holy Trinity in Micklegate; the National Spastic Society agreed to use a vacant wing of the home; a hostel at Rawcliffe Holt was set up for older girls to live under supervision; in the 1950’s children were inoculated against poliomyelitis; in 1957 there were 15 girls and 10 boys; Miss Katherine Worsley took an active interest in the home, before she married HRH the Duke of Kent in 1961.

In the 1960s there was a steady decline in numbers and liaison meetings with Blue and Grey Coat Schools led to their amalgamation with St Stephens on 14 August 1969 and the formation of York Children’s Trust. Thus ended the life of the home after almost 100 years, providing a caring home life for orphans in the early days of the venture, and for children with difficult home circumstances latterly. The building was sold to Shepherd Building Group in 1976 and in more recent times became the Hotel du Vin.



Hugh Murray Doctor Evelyn’s York (York, 1983, published by William Sessions in association with YAYAS}

W.B. Taylor Blue Coat Boys and Grey Coat Girls: The Blue and Grey Coat Schools and St Stephen’s Home of York 1705-1983 (York, 1997, published by the William Sessions Book Trust)


© Geoffrey Geddes and Helen Hale

photo: Rachel Semlyen