Anne Hillyard was a kind and generous woman. She lived during the Victorian era in England and loved many needy children of the time. She was the widow of an Anglican clergyman and when her husband died she was already self-sufficient and looking for some good way to invest funds that she possessed. It seems that “Mrs. Hillyard had asked a friend to recommend some totally reliable public figure to whom she could entrust her considerable fortune to be used for orphans. The man, though not a particular admirer of the prominent Baptist preacher, nonetheless immediately replied, “Spurgeon.”1 He was, of course, referring to Charles Haddon Spurgeon whose “remarkable ministry in London would last 38 years.”2
Anne Hillyard was “An ‘ordinary’ woman (with) an extraordinary legacy.” One article calls her “a woman the world knows little about, but who became a catalyst of change for thousands of lives.”3 “Born as Anne Field, in Warwickshire, she waited until she was 38 to marry. Her husband, Reverend John William Hillyard, was the Curate of an Anglican Church at Ingestre in Staffordshire. He died just one year after their 1841 marriage.”4
“In 1855, (a decade before Anne met Spurgeon) Charles travelled to meet George Müller, the founder of a famous orphanage in Bristol. At the conclusion of a worship service, Müller invited Spurgeon to say a few words, but he declined because he had ‘been crying all the while.’
“I never heard such a sermon in my life as I saw there.” —Spurgeon (after visiting Mueller’s orphanage)5,6
More than a decade later, this experience would help bring Anne and Charles together to provide a place where young orphans could learn and grow.
It was a “widely held misconception” that Anne received a large sum of money from her husband’s estate. In fact, she had an inheritance from an uncle before she got married.7 In 1866, Charles Spurgeon challenged his large congregation stating that we “should be doing more the Lord in this Great city.”8 Soon afterward, Anne sent a letter to Spurgeon expressing her desire to use her money to “establish… an orphanage for the training and educating of orphan boys.”9
When Spurgeon and one of his deacons, William Higgs, “called at her modest home they feared that there had been some mistake.”10 The home she lived in did not appear like the residence of someone who had large amounts of money to give to others. After the meeting, “Anne joined Spurgeon and a group of friends to establish the Stockwell Orphanage. Before its construction, she sold some of her household belongings, even the family silverware, to provide sanctuary to the first four orphan boys.”11
A month later two and a half acres of land was purchased not far from Spurgeon’s church. On September 9, 1867 the first stones of some of the buildings were laid by Charles, Anne, and two others.12 Four thousand were in attendance that day.13 “At the opening ceremony of the Orphanage, Spurgeon said of Anne: “When Mrs. Hillyard’s munificent contribution was first announced in the newspapers, people said it had been given by a duchess, but I say no, it is given by a princess—one of the blood imperial—a daughter of the King of kings. She has given it in the most unostentatious manner, desiring that her name should not be known, and I and my friends have dragged her into the light today contract to her wishes.”14
“Eventually a row of several individual homes, all connected as one continuous building, were erected. Each two-story home housed fourteen orphans and was sponsored by various donors. A dining hall, infirmary, large gymnasium and even a swimming pool were constructed as part of the expansive complex. Eventually a corresponding row of homes were built for orphan girls. The area between the two sets of orphan houses was a grass-covered playing field, edged with flowers and shrubs. 250 boys and 250 girls at a time were housed and received a well-rounded education at the orphan complex.”15,16
“Mrs. Hillyard lived for some years to rejoice in the good work which she had so successfully initiated, and her last words as she died on January 13, 1880, were, “My boys! My boys!”17,18
Charles Spurgeon died in 1892.
Long after Anne and Charles went to be with the Lord the work they started continued:
“When the Second World War had been announced in 1939 the children living at Stockwell orphanage had to be evacuated. The majority of the children were moved to St. David’s in Reigate, Surrey, where the children occupied themselves by looking after the animals there.
“In 1951 the home in Birchington, Kent, was opened and became the new children’s home for Spurgeons. By 1953 all of the children were relocated here. It remained open until 1979, when children were sent to smaller homes or foster families.”19
The ministry still exists and is now called Spurgeons Children’s Charity.20
Anne’s deep devotion to God and His kingdom helped many orphans to receive a good education and to learn about the truths of God and the love of Jesus.
Picture of Stockwell Orphanage
Picture of the entrance to the Stockwell Orphanage (Scroll down)
STOCKWELL ORPHANAGE: QUADRANGLE AND BUILDINGS
Pictures of Stockwell including the swimming pool
This post was inspired by Pastor Jim Lee (also known as SlimJim) of The Domain for Truth blog. Pastor Jim put up a post about a devotional that states how “Children need to learn the doctrine of the Cross.” Based on a sermon, it is written by Charles Spurgeon in a style that I enjoy. I have yet to find a preacher who can use the English language as well. You can see Pastor Jim’s post HERE and you can get a free copy of the Spurgeon booklet HERE.
I made a comment on his blog and he suggested that my comment was a draft for a post. So, I elaborated a bit on the comment and here is a post relating to my comment.
Chris, thank you! My love in Christ to you and your family!
You’re welcome, Maria, and thank you for your kind words! It is so good to hear from you.
My love in Christ to you and your family as well!
Thank you, brother! What a worthy subject!
Yes! I would have loved to have met Anne and Charles. I guess we’ll have to wait until we meet then in heaven someday!
Sorry for replying late!
No problem at all, Maria.
I hope you have a wonderful Palm Sunday!
This is a great post Chris with this woman’s bio being very encouraging. NOt just with the orphanage but also her loss of her husband and marrying later in life…and yet she focused on God
Thank you, Pastor Jim. She certainly seems to have been a person of great faith and good priorities. I’m so glad you were encouraged!
What a testimony for even today!
It is, Indeed!
This is a great testimony of how the Lord uses willing vessels. Thank you for sharing.
You’re welcome. We hear a lot about the men of God who had hearts for the children of that time and place, particularly George Muller and Charles Spurgeon. We also know there must have been many Godly women who were praying for and helping with these orphanages.
Anne Hillyard has been lost in history for the most part but at least she is mentioned as well she should be. Without her initial discussions with Mr. Spurgeon, the Stockwell Orphanage may never have been built.
There were so many other Godly women involved in that great work that we will never read about. Many did not have the gifts that Anne had, but they used the gifts they had. Besides financial gifts, women played a part in nearly every other aspect of raising the needy children of London and the surrounding areas.
Thank you for your comment and may God richly bless your new book!
Thank you for asking God’s blessing on my book. And really it is all God asks of us to use what gifts and talents he gives us whether many or few. God bless.
You’re welcome and amen! We all have different gifts for sure. May God continue to use what gifts we have to glorify His name!