The Ayahs' Home in Hackney
What an astonishing photograph! It appears in George Sims' Living London, published in three volumes from 1901. The Ayahs' Home at that time was on King Edward's Road, close to the southern end of Mare Street.
Ayahs are Indian nannies - hundreds came over with British colonial-era families returning from India, and quite a few ended up abandoned, or homeless as they sought new employment. An ayahs' home seems to have been set up in Aldgate from the 1820s or a little later. The home had moved to a large house at 26 King Edward's Road by 1891, when it came under the management of the London City Mission.
This photo of the exterior of the Ayahs' Home appeared in the London City Mission magazine in 1900. The mission of course was trying to save souls as well as help the distressed - and clearly seeking to reassure its donors that this was a well-run enterprise.
The building still stands - none of the signage survives, but otherwise it is much as it was when ayahs sought refuge here a century and more ago. I went down to King Edward's Road today - this is what No. 26 looks like:
The First World War made it all but impossible for ayahs to return home. And during or more probably just after the war, the home moved one-hundred yards or so to slightly bigger and more modern premises at 4 King Edward's Road. And that building too is still standing - again with none of the old signage, but with the porch and rudiments of the exterior design little changed, and perhaps even the same railings:
Its not clear when the Ayahs' Home closed - perhaps in the mid-1920s, though one imagines that the problem of stranded ayahs may well have persisted into the 1950s. Perhaps as the Indian population in the UK grew, ayahs were able to seek help from within the community.
You can find out more about the Ayahs' Home at the following sites and in an article by Suzanne Conway in a volume entitled Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World. And thanks to the Geffrye Museum in Dalston - it was a mention of the Ayah's Home in their current exhibition 'Swept under the Carpet?: Servants in London Households, 1600-2000' which put me on this track.
What a brilliant find, Andy! Only a few months ago did I read 'Sahibs India: Vignettes from the Raj' which also discusses the issue, albeit a century earlier.
Thanks Nitin - tell me more about that book, I haven't come across it and it sounds intriguing.
So glad you spotted the Ayah in Swept Under the Carpet! I co-curated and I am hoping to publish some more detailed research on ayahs in London in the near future. Thanks for this fantastic post and photos! Laura
Thanks Laura - do let me know when this research is pubished. A
Laura - I'm intrigued but the link to the exhibition is no longer online. Is there a way of contacting you? As I said in my comment to Andrew, I'm planning to pursue this subject later this year (2017), would love to connect with you.
Hi Victoria. Sure! You can contact me at lhumphreys [AT] rmg [dot] co [dot] uk.
A great blog post Andrew! I'm really interested in this history have done some work on it awhile back and planning to get back to it later this year.
These buildings deserve blue plaques, surely?
All that the Indians have achieved is due to the whiteman ! That is the record of History ! dindooohindoo
All said and done, what matters is the intention with which those things were accomplished. May like to read 'The Men Who Ruled India' by Philip Mason. And the books by Charles Allen. Gratitude is certainly due and prevails in various forms even today.
We have an event at Hackney Museum on Thurs 16 June 2022 about the Ayahs and Amahs Home, which may be of interest: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-ayahs-and-amahs-home-hackney-tickets-309386241577
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