It all started as an act of kindness for, prior to 1870, the city of Liverpool, one of the major ports in England, had no institution for the care and education for orphaned children of British seamen. A seafaring life was a tough one in those days; there was no pension or life insurance for the families of those who never came home. And so a group of merchant seaman and ship owners set forth to establish an institution that would help the widows of sailors in the struggle to raise their children.
Two fine English gents, Bryce Allan and Ralph Brocklebank, presented this idea to the general public on December 16, 1868, at a meeting held at the Mercantile Marine Service Association Rooms. The proposal was accepted and a decision was made to build an orphanage.
A committee was formed with the goal of funding and running such an establishment, and other ship owners and philanthropists came together to provide the needed funds. The fund soon had enough money to provide a temporary home for the orphans. On August 9, 1869, the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphans Institution opened in a rented building on Duke street. Within a few months, it housed more than 40 boys and around 14 girls.
One year later, on April 7, Liverpool Town Council gifted this institution with a plot of land, almost 1.5 acres, within Newsham Park so that they can build an orphanage. The cornerstone was officially laid on September 11, 1871 by Mr Ralph Brocklebank, who was also the first president of this new institution.
A number of children in the care of the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphans Institution attended the placing of the foundation stone of the chapel by Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, on August 1, 1873. The Liverpool Mercury reported that “their clean and healthy appearance bore testimony to the care taken of them.”
By the turn of the century, the orphanage had implemented schools for both boys (1892) and girls (1898), and was already home for well over 300 children, as well offering support to 500 more who unfortunately were still living on the streets. The orphanage did everything it could to help these children by giving them food and clothing.
All children were treated equally with a little exception to those orphans whose parents were once part of the Port of Liverpool. At the start of the 20th century, the orphanage received yet another extension – the swimming baths.
But the new century also brought the First World War and this is where things veered off. The institution now took care of around 1,000 children. Given the importance of this institution, King George V gave it the title of ‘Royal’ which further helped with running the orphanage.
During the period of peace between the two world wars, things moved smoothly and according to the plan. It was the Second World War that changed this drastically. During this period the children had to be evacuated out of the city, to the house of Mr E. B. Royden where they were kept safe throughout the whole period.
Following the end of the war, the institution had troubles keeping up with new laws and regulations, such as that no children under 11 years should study together with older children.
Faced with financial difficulties, the orphanage closed its doors on July 27, 1949. Years later this same building was converted to a hospital named Newsham Park Hospital that took care of mental patients. The hospital continued to work until 1988 when it was closed.
It was briefly reopened in 1992 to admit patients from the closed Rainhill Lunatic Asylum but was shut down again in 1997. Ever since, this place remains abandoned and people report numerous ghost sightings, such as a small child, a ghostly shadow, noises of someone being dragged where there is nothing but empty space and many other oddities. Owners of the former orphanage and hospital have turned this whole situation into a thriving ghost hunting business and tourist attraction.