This set of regulations was for the Royal Asylum for Female Orphans, effectively a workhouse for girls, at the end of the road where William Blake and his wife Catherine lived, in Lambeth. The regulations show the institution refused to admit non-white girls; nor did they take on girls who might bring infectious disease into the institution. It also indicates that the institution was intended to be partially self-supporting through the work of the girls, and that they were to be apprenticed as domestic servants.
How do children appear in Blake’s poems?
Blake’s awareness of the way children were set to work is clearly seen in the Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in the poems ‘London’ and ‘The Chimney Sweeper’. The artist John Flaxman described Blake’s address as ‘No 13 Hercules Buildings near the Asylum’. During his period of residence there, Blake saw a boy in the street with shackled feet. After releasing the boy Blake was involved in a violent argument with the boy’s employer, Philip Astley, the renowned circus owner, who lived a few doors away. Eventually Astley accepted Blake’s humanitarian point of view, despite the loss of temper on both sides.
‘Holy Thursday’ in Songs of Innocence looks specifically at orphans from different institutions being marched to St Paul’s – note that he specifies the colour of their clothes. In the poem there are also ‘the aged men; wise guardians of the poor’, and Blake places them beneath the orphans, implying a lower status for those in authority.
Who is the audience for this book?
The book was directed at the trustees and those who gave money to support the institution (‘the subscribers for its support [who] are denominated Guardians’), to see that their money was being well spent. The subscribers made regular contributions and had election rights for the committees that ran the institution.