Jim Jarvis was a real boy who lived in the east end of London in the 19th century.
He ran away from a workhouse after his mother died and was helped by a woman who sold whelks and shrimps. He lived for a time on a coal lighter with a man and a dog and was treated very cruelly. After he ran away from them he lived in the streets and slept in the rooftops until he went to one of Doctor Barnardo’s Ragged School classes and asked him for help.
His story and that of other orphans was written down in a series of very short pamphlets which Dr Barnardo sent to wealthy people when he was trying to raise money to open an orphanage.
Thomas John Barnardo was born in Ireland in 1845. He came to London to study medicine but never qualified, though he liked to be known as Dr Barnardo. He was eager to become a missionary in China but soon decided that his real mission was to help the poor children in the streets of London.
First he opened up ‘Ragged Schools’ in the 1860s. In those days you had to pay to go to school, so Barnardo opened a school that was free, in the back streets of London. It was a warm, sheltered place where children could spend the day learning to read and write and to sing hymns! Later he opened up his first home for destitute children, a Cottage Home, in Stepney, London, in 1867. Barnardo was not a wealthy man himself but he raised money for the Homes by writing short pamphlets about the orphans he came across.
From the foundation of the homes in 1867 to the date of Barnardo’s death in 1905, nearly 60,000 children had been taken-in, most being trained and placed out in life.
He often said that meeting Jim Jarvis was what made him aware of the real plight of destitute children in London.