Kate Brooks, a doctoral student and associate lecturer at Bath Spa University, tells us about Muller’s New Orphan Homes Museum.
Tell us a little about one archive collection you have used as part of your research? I am researching the ways in which children in care were educated and for what purposes. George Müller (1805-1898) set up and ran five orphanages in Bristol during the nineteenth century. Müller was a Christian evangelist who was one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren and the work he started continues in a different form today as the George Müller Charitable Trust. I am looking at the Dismissal Books 1836 – 1890s (from when the orphanages were open, to the late 1800s), which state where the children go after their time at the orphanages, which can include into service, taking up apprenticeships or being returned to relatives.
What was significant about the collection? How did it benefit your research? I am interested in the language used to categorise the children: they are ordered into ‘recommendable’ (for work) or ‘unrecommendable’ (because of illness and/or attitude, physicality). Investigating what criteria was used to make these decisions, and how those decisions are justified, has given me insight into how children in care were conceptualised and ordered, according to what values, assumptions and perspectives, in the latter part of the nineteenth century. It also tells us what makes a ‘good’ young servant/apprentice.
Do you have any top tips for other researchers accessing this collection? You can visit the George Müller Museum which opened in 2019 in one of the original Orphan Homes in Bristol. The organisation’s archive contains records of over 17,000 orphans that were cared for from the 1830s until the homes closed in the 1950s. The collection is not digitised and not widely available to the public. However, you can make an appointment to see family records (I am grand daughter of orphan no.458!). I obtained access to the wider archives and the Dismissal Books after I had made a request to the CEO of Müller’s, and visited the institution. It is a Christian institution (I am not religious) but they have been extremely welcoming, although understandably protective over their archives.
Kate Brooks (2020) ‘Making a stand with Mary: precarious employment in pandemic times’ [Winner of the 2020 Social History Society Postgraduate Prize Social History Society Research Exchange blog]
Kate Brooks (2020) ‘Death in the archives’, Social History Society Research Exchange blog.
Kate Brooks (2020) ‘In this age of wonders: exploring the myth of George Muller’, Question Postgraduate Journal ‘Myth’ Issue No.4