Orginally built as a private residence in the 1770s, Westwood House, Sydenham, was purchased by Passmore Edwards and adapted to become Passmore Edwards House, an orphanage for the children of teachers.
The Benevolent and Orphan Fund of the National Union of Teachers was founded in 1877, to assist teachers in temporary distress by way of loans and gifts, to grant annuities up to £34 to teachers or their widows, to erect and maintain orphanages, to assist consumptive teachers to sanatoriun treatment, to make home allaowances of 5s and 7s 6d per week and special grants of 2s 6d and 3s 6d a week for the benefit of the orphans and necessitous children of teachers. (1912 Encyclopedia)
The Fund initally maintained two homes, one at Page Hall, Sheffield, for girls, and another at Peckham, for boys. These soon became insufficient to meet the needs of the Union and steps were taken to secure a larger and more secure home. Mr Richard Greenwood, a veteran of the teaching world and zealous member of the Benelovent Fund Committee, laid the facts before Passmore Edwards, which resulted in an undertaking to to build a Teachers’ Orphanage “to cost not less than £6,000”. In searching for a site for the proposed institution it was ascertained that an exceptionall suitable and commodious building, Westwood House, Sydenham, was for sale. Westwood House had been built in 1766 on the site of an inn, called either the “Three Compasses” or “World’s End”, and bought by David Ximenes a Sephardi Jewish Merchant(#). Lady Charlotte Campbell, a lady in waiting to Caroline, Princess of Wales, was one of the most notable later residents and lived there from about 1812 to 1818, and possibly later. In 1874, Henry Littleton, of Novello & Co purchased the house and employed J L Pearson to carry out alterations and “remodel it as a Renaissance fantasy palace with a magnificent music room as its centrepiece”.This was not completed until about 1881. Both Liszt and Dvorak stayed there whilst visiting Crystal Palace and Liszt gave one of his last piano recitals in the music room in 1886. The house stood in 5 acres of beautiful grounds, gardens, paddocks and lawns. It was said that the fireplace alone had cost £1000 and no expense had been spared of the rest of the house. The doors were elaboratly carved mahogany and the principal staircase ornamented by sculptured figures on the newals. The great feature of the house, the music salon was fitted in richly carved woods with a minstrals gallery at one end. The “winter gardens” had domed roofs. It would appear an unlikely choice for an orphanage but it was said that the alterations necessary to make the house suitable for its new use were carried out so as not to detract from the beauty of the house. The coachhouses were utilised for workshops and a gymnasium.
On Saturday 23 September 1899, the home was officially opened by Passmore Edwards before a crowd which included 1,200 teachers. Passmore Edwards was presented with a key to the building on which was engraved “Old and young in the years to come will rise up and call you blessed” An acount of the Opening is was published in the Schoolmaster on 30 September 1899
[# Information on Westwood House includes that given in “Sydenham and Forest Hill Past” by John Coulter.]