16 December 2010

Memories of Louise House

The Open Day at Louise House on Saturday 18t September was a real success with all our tours fully booked The highlight was meeting Ethel Roberts, whose mother and aunt had lived at Louise House in the very early twentieth century. Ethel accompanied by her husband, Ted, and her son, Stephen, was visiting the building for the first time and for her it was a deeply moving experience. She very kindly shares her highly personal impressions.

Florence King
Louise House has been a place of curiosity for me for most of my life and at nearly 85 years of age, it was high time my curiosity was satisfied.

The ‘Open House’ day offered me the chance to visit a place I had first heard about as a child. It was known to me and my brothers and sisters - six of us in all - as ‘the orphanage’ and it was our Mother and Aunt, Florence (left) and Eleanor King (below), who had been in ‘the orphanage.’ They were around ten and fourteen years old when they arrived there.

My Mother rarely mentioned her time at Louise House. On the rare occasions she did, it was clear to me, even as a child, that the memory was an unhappy one. My Aunt, who went on to become a headmistress and to receive an MBE from the Queen (see below) avoided the subject altogether and never told even her lifelong friends about her time there.

However, there was one particular conversation which sticks in my mind. I was about 14 years old and I was sitting in our kitchen with my Mother eating a boiled egg for breakfast. She told me that at Louse House the girls were given an egg for their meal as a special treat on their birthday! I thought even then that if an egg was a special treat, what must the meals have been like the rest of the time? She went on to explain that, when this rare treat happened, you would let your best friend dip her bread in your egg and she would let you do the same when it was her birthday.

My first impression of Louise House when I visited in September was that it was much smaller than I had imagined. The other overwhelming impression was that despite the passage of time, the building still had an air of sadness about it and I could only think of my Mother, Aunt and all those other young children living there, separated from their families. How many lonely tears were shed night after night? What made them happy? It doesn’t bear too much thinking about. After my visit and for the rest of the day I felt quite down and my consolation was that despite the unhappy start, my Mother had a large, loving family in later life who remember her with love to this day. Although my Aunt never married, she had a rewarding life and was loved by her family and those whose lives she helped in the years that followed.

Miss Eleanor Martha King, MBE was born in 1897 as one of six children. She was orphaned around the age of 10 years old and was sent to Louise House with her sister Florence. It is likely she had a much better education at Louise House than she would have had if her parents had lived.

Eleanor went into domestic service and on to study at Birmingham University from where she obtained a degree. She travelled and was, according to her niece, Ethel Roberts, “a confident lady, with a strong conviction that she had a job to do.”

She became the progressive headmistress of the Rosemary Street School in Bristol. The school was unusual for its time in allowing the parents to be involved, arranging camping holidays in the countryside for children and their parents. She also ran one of the first multi-cultural nurseries at a time when society was much less tolerant.

In 1953 Eleanor was awarded the MBE by the Queen in recognition of her outstanding service to the City of Bristol.  Miss King died in 1968 and in 1990 the City of Bristol erected a plaque in her honour on the Old Quaker Friars building in the

If you have personal information about Louise House, Stephen Roberts, grandson and great nephew of Florence and Eleanor King, would like to hear from you at stephenfroberts@gmail.com.

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