Originally called the Post Office Homes Institution, the society was set up by members of staff at Eastern Central Office in London. Members were recruited from all the postal staff, from every grade, and they paid an annual subscription of 5 shillings (25p). However, the society also gained the help of various merchants and bankers in the city, and also significant donations from the very benevolent public.
The initial statement as published in the second annual report 1872 said:
“The Home is established for the purpose of boarding, clothing, and educating the Orphans of Sorters, Sub-Sorters, Letter Carriers and other members of the Minor Establishments of the Post office, either in London or the Provinces, who have been subscribers to the Institute. Applicants admitted between the ages of six and twelve years, according to the priority of application, and either placed at suburban or provincial schools, or are boarded with carefully-selected foster parents, who are under the supervision of the Committee, the great expense of maintaining an establishment is thus avoided altogether.”
They also organised concerts and the very first in 1871 raised £65. From the very first the members of the committee sought to brighten up the lives of the children in care, by organising days out in the country, or at the seaside. This progressed to become a 2-week holiday by the sea for the children, paid for by a separate fund set up by the postal staff. Christmas parties started off with a small gathering around a Christmas tree to a gathering of nearly 2,000 at the Leysian Hall near Old Street by the early 1900s. By 1905, 138 children were on the books, 745 orphans had been provided for since the beginning at an expense of £120,000 (equivalent to £15.5m is 2022).
The concerts continued throughout the years and venues such as Alexandra Palace. Information about these can be found at the Postal Museum.
The committee arranged for the Children to have suitable living space, clothes a food, but also in looking after their physical and mental wellbeing; stipulating a good education and seeing that they got it with annual examinations properly managed. In short, they did everything to ensure the children would have the best start in life considering their individual circumstances.
In June 1905 HRH King Edward VII became the patron of the society.
As time went by the Great war and the Second World War caused many postal workers to join the forces and as a result, many gave their lives.
Today, the Post Office Rifles are remembered for their role as infantry on the Western Front and their actions on the Somme, Passchendaele, and elsewhere have earned the battalion high praise and a prestigious place in British military history
They have many military medals and accolades in evidence of this. Comprised mostly of Post Office employees, approximately 12,000 men fought with the battalion, suffering losses of 1,800 and 4,500 wounded.
Similarly in the second world war, postal workers gave their lives to defend the country and because of these wars many children were orphaned, and the society had to step in and help.
The experience of almost total state control during the Second World War had encouraged the belief that the state might be able to solve problems in wide areas of national life. The Welfare State from the late 1940’s began to look after the needs of families in much better ways. However, the Post Office Orphans Benevolent Institution (as it was now called) continued to help the children and orphans right up until the 1970s.
Image from the mid 1950s of a school/home in Ingatestone, Essex, where several Post Office children were living and attending the school.
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