William Smith’s legacy of care

The Smith Orphan Homes 1920
The Smith Orphan Homes 1920

The Smith Orphanage was the dream of one man, William Smith JP and the first part of that dream came to fruition on Saturday July 31, 1920.

But that dream started just before World War One when on a trip to Southport, he attended a Wesleyan Church service and noticed, amongst the congregation, a number of children from a local orphanage. He always felt it was that moment when he decided he had to do something similar in Brighouse.

He bought the original building, called Boothroyd, in 1915. This was the place he planned to have the orphanage.

However with the outbreak of the war premises were needed for temporary hospitals. So between February 1916 and April 1919, Boothroyd was used as a hospital for hundreds of injured soldiers.

After the war Boothroyd was modernised and extended and officially opened on July 31st 1920. Smith, by this time in his early 80s, gave explicit instructions to the architects: ‘Spare no expense to make this orphanage a model of its kind...’.

Surrounding the building were playgrounds, playing fields, a tennis court, rose and kitchen gardens. From a nearby farm which the orphanage owned was a constant supply of fresh dairy products.

The home was run on a Christian basis with prayers every day and all the children attended Sunday school. He wanted it to be a Christian home, not an institution.

The children all received a basic elementary education and many then went on to secondary education in the main to Rastrick Common School. For gifted children no expense was spared in developing their education with some even going on to university.

Music, art recreational activities and even an outing to the seaside was an annual event that the children looked forward to. Monthly visits to the Savoy cinema (now the Civic Hall) were made possible by the kindness of the Savoy’s management.

Each child was given a weekly chore about the house and good behaviour saw them given a reward of weekly pocket money. William Smith believed all this helped the children to become self-reliant and helped to prepare them for their adult lives..

The conditions to be accepted into the orphanage had to be strictly adhered to and included children who had no father, no child was refused on religious grounds, children from the West Riding area had first claim on a placement although those applications from further afield would be given a sympathetic hearing. Boys between the ages of five to nine and girls from five to eleven were eligible. The time scale for living at the home varied from boys staying until they were 14 but girls until they were 16.

For those children who were accepted and went to live at Boothroyd, initially called The Smith Orphans Home, it certainly sounds like paradise when you consider what kind of home life many of them would have experienced.

The original orphanage has long since gone but now as the William Henry Smith School the staff aim to continue many of those original ideas of William Smith. Creating a caring, secure, stimulating and flexible learning environment which serves to provide every child, through success and achievement, the health, safety and engagement opportunities needed to thrive.

Preparing the young people for adulthood through the teaching of skills and attitudes which will enable them to participate fully in society and give them the foundations to become lifelong learners. Learning by achievement underpins everything that is done at the William Henry Smith School.