Mr. J. W. C. Fegan, Born April 27th 1852. This is a record of a ‘Knight Errant of the Gospel’. ‘Mr Fegan’s Homes’ are his enduring legacy. He was born to a very religious family and it is this belief which steered his path to the founding of his homes.
Walking through town, he befriended a group of urchins and started a ‘ragged school on a Sunday’. But he became convinced he should be doing more, to which end he rented a cottage. Here the boys were given shelter every evening, and were taught, continuing their street occupations during the day.
It soon became evident that this was not enough and, with small donations from friends, it was decided to open an Industrial Home, in the heart of the neediest district in Bradford. The house had been previously used for wandering wax works exhibitions. The date being May Day 1872 – he was just 20yrs old.
It soon became so popular, that further Homes were opened.
On coming of age, he knew he had to follow his conviction to help the boys. He became an evangelical priest, well known for his open air sermons. But he never lost touch with his boys, still spending evenings searching for homeless boys and forming a friendly rivalry with Barnado.
In the early days, Mr Fegan would bring in, sometimes, between 12-15 boys. But as he had never been in the best of health, he again became ill , and it became clear he could not continue with the nightly excursions. But his fame had spread, and soon, the local police would recommend boys to his care .
For thirty years his work continued, but now, boys came to him .
A new home in Westminster was set up for one hundred and fifty boys. Here, they remained, taught trades which fitted them for life as adults.
Mr Fegan lived then in Southwark. Here he met and married Miss Mary Pope on August 23rd 1889. She became his loyal wife and helper for 23yrs. Their thoughts were only of “the boys” – giving them love and support.
Owing to the success of his venture, several more homes were opened. It became evident that a home in the country would be beneficial to the health of the boys and a search began. A member of the council brought forward plans for some buildings in Stony Stratford. Designed as a school for the sons of gentlemen, the buildings were almost luxurious and of the highest quality, but the high cost of £40,000 was not viable. However, the premises were derelict – “why not offer a tenth of the cost?” An offer of £4,500 was made and instantly accepted, the purchase being completed on 25th June 1900.
The problem of trying to get the money seemed almost impossible, and prayer meetings and letters asking for donations were sent.
Mr Fegan said “at first our faith was tried very several. After making our cause the matter of a special prayer, responses began to filter in and after a week, by Monday, we were just short of £9.00. At a meeting of the local poor people, I explained our plight and one of the congregation – a poor man living in an alms house – gave us the £9.00. What a marvelous thing.”
Soon the Greenwich boys were moved to Stratford. Visitors were escorted through the large airy dormitories, where 150 bright boys were housed. The kitchens and bathrooms were very fine and a play area was constructed in the grounds, with kitchen gardens where the boys could grow vegetables. The beautiful Chapel was used for prayer meetings, and the fine Coronation hall was used for Sunday School and Mothers Meetings and other such. Several homes were opened after the one at Stony Stratford and Mr. Fegan’s life’s work continued, even after his death in 1925. And although the homes have closed, his work has continued and has changed from helping the boys into help for the families – giving aid and support.
The photograph below shows The Stony Stratford Orphanage, showing the high regard given to the detail of the buildings. Visitors were escorted through the dormitories, where 150 boys were housed. The kitchens and bathrooms were very fine, the play area for the boys, and the gardens where the boys were able to grow vegetables, were met with approval.
The boys were later integrated into the local schools. I attended New Bradwell school in the 40;s and 50s and met, and became friend with, several of the boys. Some I remember – there were Raymond and David Smith. David?Felthan who sometimes came for tea. David Kay who returned to Chatham when he left here and hoped to join the Merchant Navy. My memories of The Home are of attending services on Sunday’s and the annual bonfire night with hot chocolate and baked potatoes.
All the “Boys “would be in their 70’s now, but any memories would be appreciated.