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Taken in 1866, this photograph depicts M. Lavinia with a few Sisters, plus the girls of All Hallows Orphanage. It is an interesting picture as the wing on the left of the square hasn’t been built yet. East and West (the Community’s magazine, published between 1886ish and 1919) states that two wings were built onto the original 1864 building, and I am wondering whether the wing on the right is the first of them, while the wing on the left (one story initially) would have been added at some point before 1886. For any who can’t quite place the building, the current dining room (of the Conference Centre) was added to the square behind where M. Lavinia is sitting.

I can’t name any of the others in the photograph, although I could make educated guesses at the Sisters. It struck me how young some of the children were; if I remember East and West correctly, they stayed at the Orphanage until they were fully educated. They took exams, in Norwich. One article I do remember mentions five girls who had been to Norwich for examinations. I gather the first four had all passed ‘but, oh, number 5’ [the girls were numbered in the article to avoid giving out personal details]. Number 5 seems to have been one of those who didn’t quite put the necessary work in … Hopefully she passed eventually.

The Orphanage took in orphans and half-orphans at a reduced rate, and boarders at full cost (usually). The higher cost the boarders paid enabled the Sisters to ensure a better standard of education. Both orphans and boarders were educated together and, as far as I can judge, no distinction was made between them, except clothing and so on for the orphans was provided by the Community. Exceptions were made, and girls with both parents living, but in poor circumstances were taken at lower cost, or sometimes for free. East and West has frequent appeals for donations, and sometimes for donors to pay the cost for some family who couldn’t afford the fees. Most of the girls in the Orphanage needed to earn their own living, at this stage as governesses, so a good education was crucial for their future. Many would have gone to family during the holidays, but those who couldn’t were able to stay at the Orphanage.

A reminiscence dated 1877 [written later] states that the Orphanage at this time was run on ancient and rather rigid lines, but there was still opportunity for fun and indulgences. Another photo taken in 1866 shows a swing and see-saw, and the reminiscence says that, in strawberry season, the girls were invited into the Community garden to pick and eat as many as they liked. The individual care taken for the girls is shown in another story in the reminiscence. M. Lavinia was on a quite restricted diet, including a drink called Koumiss [or Kumis, made of fermented mare’s milk] which she shared with a girl at the orphanage, who was delicate. [Koumiss was recommended for such cases then]. On one occasion, the girl went to the Sisters’ door and rang the bell for her drink. No answer, and after a second peal brought no answer, she ran back to the Orphanage, afraid of disturbing the Sisters. Next day, the door was answered immediately she rang, and after her drink, was taken into M. Lavinia, who apologised for the day before, ensuring it shouldn’t happen again. The reminiscence suggests that someone stood reproved of lack of courtesy to a small child.

This piece was intended to be purely historical, but it strikes me that it is worth pondering that last incident. The girl in question remembered this event thirty years later, so it evidently made an impression. But I wonder how we respond to those more vulnerable than us? Would we treat them with the same courtesy and respect that Mother Lavinia showed here? Would we take the trouble to investigate where necessary, as she must have done? How often do we apologize to others for our failings, or, as in this case, the failings of those under our authority? By the 1870s, this child was one of many individuals in the various works of the Community under M. Lavinia’s care. Yet she still took the time and trouble to investigate why the Koumiss hadn’t been given, and to apologise in person.

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