A Supper For The Factory Girls

The Edinburgh Castle had been a popular pub and music hall venue on Rhodeswell Road, Limehouse, when, in February, 1873, Dr. Thomas Barnardo took it over and reopened it as  the “British Workmen’s Coffee Palace.”

In 1888, it was the venue for a supper for the girls from the local factories which was reported on by an article which appeared in The Leeds Times on Saturday, 4th February 1888:-


“The atmosphere of London, murky and overcharged though it may be, has yet some bright streaks of sunshine to lighten up its dreariness.

The most beautiful contemplation ever given to benevolent humanity was bestowed by Dr. Barnardo, at the Edinburgh Castle, Mile-end, on Tuesday night, when a supper was given by him to 2,000 factory girls, of all denominations.

The funds were provided by Mr. Angus, of South Australia, to whom the sight of this overflow of working girls was novel and amazing.

He had never been accustomed to behold so many young girls at once; in fact, he could not have believed so many existed in the universe, considering that the arrival of one single working woman at the far-off station he inhabited is rare enough to induce the most lively competition for her services – sometimes serious enough, indeed, to lead to bloodshed through revolver and bowie-knife.

A photograph of the Edinburgh Castle.
The Former Edinburgh Castle.


Never was there a stranger sight than that afforded the 1,500 hard-working, poor, and scantily-fed, yet gaily-attired, lasses gathered in the great hall of the Edinburgh Castle.

Dr. Barnardo is not the man to be alarmed by numbers, so he instantly provided accommodation for the later arrival of the 500 additional guests in an adjoining room, where they were served, like the rest, with tea and cake, and all sorts of little biscuits, as provocative of much innocent laughter and chattering.

And right well did the lasses perform the part assigned to them, by exhibiting nought but smiling, happy faces, and uttering grateful thanks to the donor of the feast and blessings on its distributor.


One of the gentlemen waiters, who had asked as a favour to be admitted into the service for the purpose of gaining information concerning the comparative influence of the different work pursued by these toiling girls, reports that, to all appearances, the rope and brush making are more healthy than the jam-making or the blacking mixing.

He says that while the complexions of the former are clear and bright, those of the latter were muddy and pasty.

All, however, were in good spirits – laughing and talking so merrily and frolicking with such apparently thoughtless gaiety that my friend, who is of a sensitive nature, was affected almost to tears.


This mass of youth and freshness of life, whose exuberance of spirits had burst forth beneath the influence of the freedom, the lights, the companionship momentarily afforded by benevolence – the contrast of the lone garret, the scanty food, the darkness, and the weariness to which they would return – filled his mind with the most dismal thoughts.

Some good, however, was wrought, for he left the hall determined on founding an establishment where these girls should enjoy the companionship and amusement they seemed so much to appreciate, and where the entrance should be free to all sorts and conditions of working lasses, let the nature of their toil be what it may.


Dr. Barnardo’s “Band of Boy Musicians” came out strong upon this occasion.

There were Highland pipers and bell-ringers, all looking well and happy, comfortably clothed, and playing in right good earnest.

These boys – who but a short time ago were rolling about the gutters of London, playing for halfpence in the mud of the Thames or tumbling head over heels by the side of the Battersea omnibus, fed upon offal (when offal was to be had), clothed in rags, and ignorant of all language, save that employed to curse or be – afforded the most pleasant food for reflection after all.


A very few such men as Dr. Barnardo are needed in London now to complete the work to which he has given such noble impetus.

A very few years separate us now from the complete clearance of our streets from the ragged population of wild arabs so wondrously succoured by the thousand in Dr. Bernardo’s various homes.”