Funded by Prince Albert's Royal Patriotic Fund, the building was intended for the 'Education and Training of three hundred Orphan Daughters of Soldiers, Seamen and Marines who perished in the Russian War, and for those who hereafter may require like succour'.
Originally named as the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum, the building was designed by Major Rhode Hawkins in a heroically ornate Gothic style. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria on 11th July 1857 and the first phase was completed in 1858 to an almost entirely symmetrical plan form. The result was judged to be 'bold, picturesque and effective' by The Building News (October 8th,1858). The first inmates were received on 1st July 1859.
Construction work was extremely rapid, taking only 18 months to complete. This was a result of many innovative features, including the use of iron filler joist floors of standard span, cast iron windows and stone dressings, roof trusses and decorative leadwork, all pre-fabricated off-site.
The Royal Victoria Patriotic Fund had raised the then colossal sum of £1.5 million. No expense was spared in the intricacy of the design and the quality of construction. However, the building cost was only £35,000, the builder being Mr George Myers of Belvedere Road, Lambeth. The symmetrical plan was altered to an asymmetrical Palladian layout by the addition of the dining hall (now used as a theatre), an annexe linked to the main building by a cloister, an infirmary to the south of the building, and a chapel to the north. At the same time, an orphanage for boys was also built, this time in the Classical style, and is now used by Emanuel School.
Several small ancillary buildings also sprang up. These included a swimming pool and various small single storey buildings, including a greenhouse. Some of the buildings may have been used in connection with the market garden, which was tended by the orphans.
Life for the orphans was extremely harsh. Their work included pumping water by hand from an underground rainwater system in the rear courtyard up to the lead-lined slate water tanks in the towers. They had to launder all the clothes. Their heads were shaved to discourage head lice and they were made to assemble in the courtyards every morning to be hosed down with cold water. The patented warm air heating system failed to work. Fireplaces were added to the staff rooms but no heating was provided to the dormitories.
The orphanage was nearly closed down after a scandal involving physical and sexual abuse by the Rector and the death of one of the orphans. Her ghost still allegedly roams the cloisters of the north and south courtyards.
Two orphaned daughters of 1027 William Walter Bassett, 11th Hussars.
Three orphaned daughters of 916 Richard Dollard, 17th Lancers.
Two orphaned daughters of 524 George Flowers, 17th Lancers.
Daughter of 974 Joseph Moore, 13th Light Dragoons or 1224 Joseph Moore, 13th Light Dragoons [ADD TO HIS RECORD].
Two orphaned daughters of 1099 Thomas Soames, 13th Light Dragoons. [ADD TO HIS RECORD]
"The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum", Scott MacRobert, The Wandsworth Historian, No.9, Wandsworth Historical Society [date?].
Wikipedia: Royal Victoria Patriotic Building (accessed 6.8.2013).