Year 1787


The son of a watchmaker, Andrew Reed was born in 1787 in Butcher Row, St Clement Danes.   Ordained in 1811 he became minister of the Congregational New Road Chapel, off Commercial Road and launched a scheme to start a charity for the building of the first institution he founded, the London Orphan Asylum, in 1813 when he was only 26.

Year 1813


As minister of the New Road Chapel he found himself holding the hand of a dying parishioner. The man’s wife had passed away and his final wish was that his two young daughters would be cared for after his death. Reed’s own mother had been a penniless orphan and, recalling this, he and his sister Martha, agreed to help. The granting of this dying man’s request would lead the way to a life dedicated to philanthropy and change the futures of thousands of children over the next 200 years.

It was not however to be an easy path and the phrase ‘Nil desperandum’ became Reed’s guiding motto.

In his search to find suitable care for the girls, he and Martha visited many orphanages and were appalled at the circumstances they found. Reed believed that a better solution must exist for the care of orphaned children and was determined to make it a reality. He gathered a small but committed group of supporters who supported his vision that the poor should not surrender their dignity in the face of poverty and that children should be cared for with compassion. They chose the word Asylum carefully as it was to be a true sanctuary, a place of safety and shelter for the vulnerable.

Funding for such a charity was a constant challenge but Reed refused to be daunted. Rather than simply rely on church collections, he appealed to the wealthy members of the Stock Exchange, enabling them to understand not only the spiritual need but also the rational benefits to society. He was not afraid to break social convention and approached the Royal Family directly for their support. He knew that their patronage would not only bring prestige to the charity bit also instill confidence in its other supporters. His success in this venture is testament to both his personal courage, faith and the wisdom of this appeal.

Year 1815


In April 1815, the first Foundation Appeal Dinner was held in the City of London. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent presided as president. The Duke was the son of King George III, brother of the future kings, George IV and William IV, and the father of the future Queen Victoria.

Year 1825


The London Orphan Asylum building was finally opened in 1825. All along, Reed had been aware that the asylum, by its constitution, could only take children from aged 7. Years previously he and his sister and been resolved to do something for infant orphans and he was now disappointed that efforts to persuade the  Governors of the Asylum to change the constitution as regards the age of entry were to no avail. He, therefore, decided that the time was ripe to start another orphanage which would also cater for the very young. With the backing of a few friends, he announced his plans to supplement the London Orphan Asylum by forming an Infant Asylum. Within a year two houses had been acquired and a building fund set up. Reed wrote to Queen Victoria and her Patronage was guaranteed. In 1841 the first stone of the Infant Orphan Asylum was laid by Albert, the Prince Consort.

Although England had broken away from the Church of Rome in Henry the Eighth’s time, this did not mean that those who did not conform with the Established Church of England were viewed with any tolerance by clergy or State. As was to be expected, this dogmatic attitude was not universally acceptable, and a number of nonconformist movements came into being, each in turn hounded by the State and often falling out among themselves.  However, the tide of toleration in England was turning and in 1829 when Andrew was 42, even Roman Catholics were at last emancipated from their previous statutory disabilities.  There still remained a distrust of all nonconformists, however, and for the first two of his charitable projects Andrew had to agree, much against his conscience, that the religious training of the children should be kept to Church of England practices.  With that understanding, Church of England members and nonconformists worked harmoniously together for the common good of the orphan children for sixteen years.

Year 1840


In 1840, however, Andrew Reed noticed that as the original Governors and Secretariat at Wanstead were replaced by newer members, decisions on important matters were more and more influenced by religious consideration; and for Andrew Reed with the prospect of internal disagreement, future trouble was likely.  This came to a head in 1843 when one of the newly appointed clerical secretaries at the Wanstead Asylum proposed that the Church of England Catechism should be introduced for the children and a majority of Board members agreed with this proposal.  Andrew’s nonconformist conscience would not allow him to accept this change, and to avoid subjecting the matter to a public battle, he felt that his only course was to resign from the Board.  The sacrifice was great, and the Board asked him to reconsider his decision, but his mind was made up.  Although the two Asylums and the children there were often in his thoughts, he ceased to have any official connection with the Wanstead Asylum and his absence from the opening ceremony did not go unnoticed by a prominent old friend, the Prince Consort, who sent him a message of sympathy.  Meanwhile, Andrew still had his Chapel work to do and he also applied his energies to questions of Education, Church rates and Slavery which were then being raised in Parliament.  Education included religious instruction in schools and this was based on Church of England practice; Andrew could not agree with this since it implied religion under State control.  He was also involved for a time in an attempt to form a union of all nonconformists to be called ‘A Free Church’ or ‘A United Church’.

Year 1844


Although Andrew Reed had withdrawn from the Infant Orphan Asylum in 1943, the plight of orphans was still in his thoughts and he remained eager to provide a home for those unfortunates who were fatherless.  By the end of the year, he had resolved to start yet another Asylum and one which for all time would open a door to all orphans irrespective of sex, creed or party, and would be based upon the most liberal foundation.  In May 1844 he made known his intention and co-opted into the venture those ex-Board members who had resigned with him from the Board at Wanstead.  He had some fears that because of his resignation from the Board he would not gain much support from Church of England members, but he continued to expound the claims of charity that also revered the right of conscience.  Luckily his fears of non-co-operation were groundless, and in the summer of 1844 a charity for his project was inaugurated in the Hall of Commerce, Threadneedle Street.  Thus the Asylum for Fatherless Children was founded, and its first home was a large house on the banks of the River Thames at Richmond; it was to take children of both sexes and at any age and give them food, shelter and education until the age of 13 or 14.  When later in the year Andrew found himself forced off the Board of the London Orphan Asylum for the same reason as at Wanstead, he decided to put all his efforts into building up the new Asylum.  The house at Richmond was soon outgrown and a larger one taken at Stoke Newington; the number of applicants still continued to grow and in 1846 a large mansion was taken over at Stamford Hill.  In 1852, the establishment of children was 58 at Stamford Hill and 26 at Stoke Newington.  To ease the pressure on the two houses, 28 boys were sent to a boarding Grammar School, but on receipt of a letter of complaint against the school by one of the mothers of the boys, they were soon taken away and housed temporarily in a house at Kingsland Green.  All this proved to be an expensive operation and the bank balance (as so many times) was hanging by a thread.

Year 1849


Andrew, therefore, toured the country to raise money, and although the resulting amount was not as much as he had hoped, he had at least publicised the object of the charity.  At the anniversary dinner in 1849, the Earl of Ducie made an appeal for funds to build a completely new home on the same lines, and this met with a generous response.  The Reverend William Aveling became the Honorary Secretary, and with his loyalty and hard work the arduous task of fundraising yielded results quickly.  In Andrew’s notes in 1853 we read “At long last . . . we have purchased an estate three miles from Croydon on the trunk line of the Dover and Brighton Railway.  It is paid for.  (The cost was £3,895).  We shall put our Asylum on the crown of the hill.”  Thus Reedham was born and its story began.

Year 2019


Reedham is here today, on the 175th Anniversary of our foundation, as testament to the vision, compassion, and determination of one man …… who wanted to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people.


Booking for this event has now closed.