Through the pages of this website we hope that many of the people who attended the ‘O’ – as we affectionately call her – will come across old friends and refresh old memories of Sir Josiah Mason…whose motto, carved in stone above the main entrance to the orphanage was: ‘Do Deeds Of Love’…
He made his fortune manufacturing pen nibs in Birmingham and was responsible for the development and wide-spread use of electro plated nickel silver (EPNS – as we know it today – which is also an anagram of PENS!).
Josiah Mason was knighted in 1872 and died in 1881, aged 86. His wife of 52 years, Annie, had died in 1870, aged 78 – so never lived to become ‘Lady Mason’. They had no children of their own.
Even after he had given almost £500,000 to his various charitable projects, his estate was still worth £56,000. These were, of course, vast sums of money at the time.
Sir Josiah Mason was formally commemorated by a statue in Edmund Street, Birmingham, but this was removed in 1952 and instead, a bronze bust, sitting incongruously atop a stone pillar, was installed in the middle of the roundabout at the junction of Chester Road and Orphanage Road, Erdington – where it stands to this day.
In 1869 an orphanage was opened in Bell Lane (now Orphanage Road), Erdington, with rooms for 26 women and large dormitories for 300 children – boys and girls.
This huge, Italianate building, dominated by three tall towers – clock tower, boiler-room chimney and main tower used for ‘air-conditioning’, cost £60,000 to build and was endowed to the tune of £200,000.
After differences of opinion with Anglican supporters, who were less keen than Mason on helping poor children, Mason decided to go it alone and found all this money, which amounted to a huge fortune in those days, himself. Later a new wing was added to enable a total of 500 children to be accommodated.
The orphanage was closed in 1960 and finally brought down – see demolition pictures in the photo archive – in 1964 on the 83rd anniversary of the founder’s death. The site was sold by auction on the 10th January 1964. It comprised of 6.15 acres and was sold with planning permission and vacant possession. The sale raised £106,000 which was used to build Mason Court in Olton. A sad end for a glorious building and institution.
Sir Josiah had built and run the orphanage with his own money until achieving charity status a full year after it was opened.