History of the Society
Father Hudson’s Society was founded by Father George Vincent Hudson. Father Hudson was born in 1873 at Kinsham in the parish of Bredon, Worcestershire. He studied for the priesthood at St. Mary’s College Oscott and was ordained in 1898. A week after his ordination he was sent to Coleshill as parish priest.
At that time there was great poverty, deprivation in many areas and exploitation of child labour. Father Hudson feared for the children who found themselves destitute through no fault of their own – helpless, friendless and powerless. From his earliest days in the small parish of Coleshill he formulated ideas to reach out and help these innocent victims of circumstance.
Fate was to play a part in helping his grand scheme to come to fruition. At the turn of the century Pope Leo Xlll invited the Bishops of the world to consecrate the new century to Jesus Christ by some special work of charity. The Bishop of Birmingham at the time, Bishop Ilsley, decided that the aim of the Birmingham Diocese should be the rescue and protection of homeless Catholic children. He knew of Father Hudson’s ideas and so asked him to undertake the rescuing of children for the Diocese of Birmingham.
The Birmingham Diocesan Rescue Society for the Protection of Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children was established in 1902 with Father Hudson as its first Secretary and Administrator. Father Hudson remained in Coleshill from 1898 until 1934. During that time the work of the Rescue Society grew, in particular the children’s homes. Its expansion included St. Vincent’s, a home for working boys in Moseley Road Birmingham, St. Edwards Boys Home, St George’s and St. James’ Cottage Homes for boys and St Gerard’s hospital for children in Coleshill. St. Gerard’s was the result of Father Hudson’s vision for a purpose built infirmary, not just for the boys of St. Edwards but for those from all Catholic homes in the Diocese and the Catholic children from the workhouse hospitals. Two new schools were established in Coleshill through the Society. Father Hudson’s devotion to the children, his patience, energy and great administrative skills guided this development and the Rescue Society became known colloquially as Father Hudson’s Homes
Father Hudson was also the first secretary of the Catholic Emigration Society that was formed in 1903. The Rescue Society took full advantage of the opportunity to offer children from the Midlands the opportunity of a better life in Canada. Father Hudson made about thirty trips to Canada to oversee the child migration programme. Canadian emigration ceased in 1935 during the Great Depression.
Father Hudson’s great labours took their toll upon his health; he retired due to ill health in 1934 and died on 25 October 1936 aged 63 years. On his retirement his assistant and great friend Fr. John Connor took over his role, sadly he too was taken ill and died of cancer at the beginning of 1935.
Father Hudson’s retirement and death was sorely felt by the Society but he was followed by many other dedicated priests and Administrators. The work of caring for children developed. Further children’s homes were established including St Joan’s home for girls. Mother and baby homes and nurseries were set up in Birmingham and Coleshill. During the 2nd World war the number of children needing care increased as did the number of illegitimate births leading to increased provision for both.
Single mothers stayed in the mother and baby homes after the birth of their babies whilst they decided their future course. Some mothers chose to have their babies adopted. Many of the children who were subsequently adopted were born in either Woodville mother and baby home at Selly Park or Francis Way mother and baby home in Bentley Heath Solihull. In the early days of the mother and baby homes adoption was administered by the local Education Authority under the Adoption Act of 1926. The Society played no formal part in such arrangements. In 1944 new legislation was brought in which enabled the Society to become a registered adoption agency and it has continued to arrange adoptions ever since.
The post war period saw a number of changes within the Society. Adoption placements became a more important part of the work. Placements reached a peak during the 1950 and 1960s. Following the Children Act of 1948 and altering attitudes to residential care for children there was a greater emphasis on arranging foster care for children. A “house system” was established within the children’s homes. As an experiment in giving the older boys from St. Edward’s more experience of family life St. Andrews Home in Coleshill was opened in 1949 as a family group home housing 25 boys.
The care of older working boys expanded through extending the work of St. Vincent’s and establishing further hostels. In 1945 the Society acquired Priory Farm at Studley in Worcestershire for boys not destined for industrial or commercial work in Birmingham. Here the boys worked on their own 250acre mixed farm. Girls leaving the care of the Society to go into work were catered for with the opening of the Manresa Hostel for Working Girls in 1948.
Whilst plans were being made for a National Health Service there was considerable anxiety about the future of St. Gerard’s hospital. When the 1948 National Health act was passed the Regional board agreed to pay hospital expenses and the hospital undertook to take patients according to their disability, not their religion.
After the war 133 children from Father Hudson’s Homes were sent to Australia through the Catholic Emigration Society and a few older boys from St. Vincent’s went under the adult emigration scheme to give them a chance of a new life. This emigration stopped in 1956.
By the start of the 1970s more and more emphasis was being placed on returning children to the care of their families or finding foster and adoptive homes for them, rather than maintaining large institutions. The number of children in the homes dropped dramatically as Local Authorities stopped referring children. Changing attitudes in Society, both towards unmarried mothers and abortion meant that there were fewer babies coming into care or being offered for adoption. Also there was a gradual realisation that foster care was possible not only for babies and toddlers but also for older children and those regarded as difficult to place for adoption for various reasons.
There was a move towards family support work to prevent children from having to come into care. Falling numbers resulted in the gradual closure of the children’s homes. There were also no longer the numbers of young men moving to St.Vincent’s and in a two phase development it became first children’s home and then a home for the elderly. By 1989 all the homes had closed as residential units for children.
Developments in child care had overtaken the Society. Many of the changes that affected the Society were the result of the 1975 Children Act, although the full force of the regulations did not come into effect until 1984. As the Society was forced to close more homes, hostels and nurseries, as a result of dwindling numbers, a working party was set up in 1979 to examine the whole future of the Society. It was realised that care for children could no longer be the sole aim of the Society. One change was that the Society became involved in the care of the elderly. St. Joseph’s, originally part of St. Gerard’s accommodation for nurses, became a home for the elderly. In 1981 when St. Edwards closed and the remaining boys moved to St. Andrews it was hoped to use it as a home for the elderly but the cost of converting it proved prohibitive at a time when the Society’s finances were at a low ebb.
In 1983 the St. Catherine’s wing of St. Joan’s was used to give respite care to young people with learning difficulties. The future of St. Gerard’s was under consideration, as it registered under the Private Hospital and Nursing Home Act but continued to treat National Health patients.
In 1982 the Birmingham Diocesan Rescue Society restructured to become a company limited by guarantee. In 1984 the Society’s name was changed to Father Hudson’s Society. In 1985 the Society had complied with the Children’s Act by becoming a corporate body and had passed a rigorous inspection by DHSS to gain approval as an adoption agency.
In 1984 after more than 90 years of clerical leadership Michael Pinches was appointed as the first lay director of the Society. He had the mammoth task of guiding the Society through a time of great change, restructuring and re –thinking. The work of fostering and adoption continued. The Children Act had also made it mandatory for adoptees to receive counselling before accessing their birth records. The counselling role together with helping children who had been brought up in the care of Father Hudson’s or who had emigrated through the society to find out about their origins became an increasing part of the work of the Society and was the beginning of the Origins service offered today. The change of direction towards the care of the elderly and those with disabilities continued. In 1985 St. Andrew’s was adapted as a home for 10 young adults with learning disabilities. In 1986 the St. Catherine’s and St. Michael’s wings of St. Joan’s were adapted to provide a home for 16 young people with physical and learning disabilities. In 1989 St. Margaret’s was adapted to become a day care centre for people with learning disabilities.
Around this time the Society began reaching out to some of the most neglected and despised members of society. - the homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes. This was the start of Community Projects work. In 1986 in conjunction with the Legion of Mary and two sisters of Our Lady of Charity a drop in centre was opened in Balsall Heath in Birmingham. This later became the Anawim Project.
In 1991 Michael Pinches retired and Kevin Caffrey took over the role of Director. His appointment coincided with the decision to make Father Hudson’s Society the official Social Care Agency of the Archdiocese. Soon after his arrival the New Routes Fostering Project was developed, which began to recruit and train foster parents for children temporarily in the care of the local authority. The traditional work of adoption was also being radically changed, with fewer babies available for adoption adoptive homes were sought for older children, those with special needs and for family groups. This is now firmly established as the Families through Adoption Project.
In 1993 the Society began to support the Hope Community in Heath -Town Wolverhampton which has now become the Hope Family Project. In 1999 the Society helped to set up Brushstrokes as a collaborative Community Project. The Community Project work has developed to include support for parish based projects. From 2006 it has included School Based Family Support Projects.
Under the umbrella of Adult Care Services the work with the elderly and people with disabilities has continued to develop. In 1997 day care provision moved from St. Margaret’s into the former St. Edwards school. Some of the former children’s home buildings, which had been converted for use as residential homes for the elderly and people with learning and physical disabilities were becoming unsuitable for purpose and were failing to meet increasingly stringent regulations. Further refurbishment of those buildings was considered, but this still would not bring the buildings up to the standard required. It was, therefore, decided that these would be replaced with new purpose built buildings. In 2002 St. Catherine’s bungalows for people with multiple disabilities opened on the Coleshill site followed the same year by St. Joseph’s Home for the frail elderly and those with dementia.
More than 100 years after Father Hudson arrived in Coleshill the Society that bears his name is a very different organisation from the one he knew yet his vision and his spirit continue to guide it. The Society continues to obey Christ’s command to “love one another as I have loved you” by providing services for children, young people, adults and families. It will continue to change and develop to meet the changing needs of society.
If you would like more in-depth information about the history of the Society FATHER HUDSON AND HIS SOCIETY – A HISTORY 1898-1998 by Sylvia Pinches is available from the Fundraising and Publicity Department price £6.50.
If you would like to find out more about obtaining information from our records relating to you or your family you can access the Origins section of our site by clicking here