Hospitals & Asylums

St Joseph’s Orphanage for Catholic Girls

Nestled among the modern buildings of Preston, lies a time capsule that is St Joseph’s Orphanage for Roman Catholic girls. It is quite literally a stones throw away from the town centre. The buildings are both historic and gothic and looks somewhat out of place, with the ever changing landscape around it.

The orphanage opened on 9th September 1872 and also served as a hospital and later a private nursing home. This all being after Moorfield Orphanage opened in 1905 and the girls at St Joseph’s transferred.

In The Beginning

Preston in 19th century Britain had one of the worst mortality rates in the country. This was attributed to the town being dirty and unsanitary and only low paid work in the area such as mill work. Things began to improve towards the later half of the century with the building of the sewers, as well as improvements in amenities.

In 1872, a local by the name of Mrs Maria Holland donated a sum of £10,000 for the purpose of building an orphanage. The estimated cost of the construction was reported to be £6,000. With the remaining £4,000 used to provide 30 places for local Roman Catholic orphan girls aged between 2 – 15 years. It was run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady Mother of Mercy.

The orphanage was designed in three sections:

  1. A place for orphan girls to live, learn and eat.
  2. A place for the nuns to live.
  3. A place for visiting guests.

The girls were given a school education, but also trained for various occupations such as house work, teaching, shop work, servant work and machinists. There are some reports that some girls stayed beyond the age of 15. The orphanage took up to 60 children at a time in two dormitories.

In 1877, Mrs Holland gave another, this time undisclosed, donation to build a hospital for the sick poor. It was called St Joseph’s Institution. With her death the following year, Mrs Holland left the bulk of her fortune to the hospital as a permanent endowment. The Maria Holland and St Joseph’s Charity was founded.

On 22nd March 1879, St Joseph’s was accredited as a certified school. The certification was cancelled again on 17th July 1890. By 1905, Moorfield Orphanage had opened and the girls at St Joseph’s moved 2 miles away to the new facility.

1892 map

The Layout

The building is gothic in appearance and is formed in the letter H. It was constructed with brick and stone dressing and sporting metal gothic crosses in places. The roof is covered with Broomhalls & Co’s light and dull red tiles.

The principle entrance is approached through Theatre Street. The entrance is surrounded by a small bell tower that rang at times of prayer and to signify other daily duties.

There is a statue of St Joseph high up on the west side of the building. It was designed by architect Mr Hughes and executed by sculptor Mr Miles. Also to the west of the building was a large playground, that also had a portion for the nuns.

As you go through the entrance, you are in the visitors section, that is shut off from the rest of the house. Then comes the convent part, which consists of a spacious gallery into which the nuns private rooms open. Then moving on through you have, the Business Room, A recreation room that was airy and light, a refectory for 10 nuns, then a general workroom.

To the north was the kitchen, store room and dairy. A vestibule door in the gallery leads to the children’s quarters. Here you’ll find the large refectory and school.

The infirmary was to the south. So that in case of infection, it wouldn’t spread to the rest of the house because the ventilation system was contrary.

Upstairs were two dormitories that accommodated 30 children each. The dorms consisted of single beds, iron bedsteads, bedding and a bell to rise the waking. At the end of the dorm was a room known as ‘The Watch’. On the other side was a lavatory and baths.

The south-west portion of the orphanage is the chapel, that had a picture of st Joseph and infant Jesus above the altar. The artist was Roman.

In the cellar there are stores, washing basins, drying machines and also a bakery. It was said the drying machine could dry a blanket in 7 minutes.

St Joseph's Orphanage
The Chapel

St Joseph’s Hospital & Mount Street Care Home

After the orphans had left, the institution continued operating as a hospital, caring for the sick who couldn’t afford medical care. Before the NHS, the poor’s health was taken care of by charities and donations from the wealthy.

During both world wars the hospital was used to treat wounded soldiers returning from the front line. Tens of thousands of babies were also born here.

Legendary actor, song-writer and comedian George Formby died there on 6th March 1961 of a heart attack. He was notably remembered for his song hit – When I’m Cleaning Windows.

The hospital continued operating as a training centre for nurses from 1958 until it closed in the 1980’s. It’s final operation was as a private care home called Mount Street Care Home. It closed for good in 2003.

Theatre Light


  • Whole Project – Messrs Rigby & Midgall
  • Brick Work – Mr Williamson
  • Masonry – Mr Williamson
  • Plumbing & Glazing – Messrs Westray & Woods
  • Architects – Messrs Pierpoint & Hughes (Preston & Warrington)

The Explore

This explore was absolutely phenomenal! It had it all. On the day, we teamed up with Lee and Jane from Urban Spirit UK. We’d received word before going that security had been vamped up and we may hit difficulties. However we found the contrary to be true. We had plenty of unhindered time inside to really take it all in.

If you are interested in exploring the St Joseph’s Orphanage we are happy to explain how we gained entry, but in the interest of not ruining the experience for other explorers we have restricted this information to registered users on our website. Please register here or login here to view the details.

The Gallery

One of the reasons this post has been slow to be published is the sheer amount of pictures taken in this one location. Nearly 200 photos! But also as an amateur photographer I thought I’d give the free trial of Adobe Lightroom a go, to see what all the fuss was about. So for each photo I did two edits, one in Lightroom and one how I’ve edited previously, just simple light and colour adjustments. I then went through them all again, seeing the differences and choosing the one I liked best. Anyway enough talking. Take a look at the photos below.

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