Reverend Andrew Reed
who founded The Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum in 1827
The Wanstead Infant Orphan Asylum was founded by the philanthropist Andrew Reed in 1827 and was based in Hackney. In the 1830s, and owing to a lack of space in the current building, Reed applied to the Crown Estate for a section of land in Snaresbrook, which was then part of Wanstead Forest, and a grant to help fund the building of a new premises. The application was successful and construction started on 27 June 1841. Between 1835 and 1844 George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt were in partnership and were prolific designers of workhouses and hospitals and churches. They were chosen to design the orphanage; the foundation stone was laid by Albert, Prince Consort in 1841.
The Infant Orphanage Asylum was officially opened on 27 June 1843 by Leopold I of Belgium. It is designed in the Elizabethan style and cost £35,000 to construct. The 1881 census recorded there being 74 staff and over 400 children at the institution. King George V, who was the patron of Reed's charity, renamed the asylum the Royal Infant Orphanage in 1919. The charity’s eligibility criteria required that children had to be either fatherless or entirely orphaned; under the age of seven; and that their late fathers would have to have been considered by the trustees to be either "creditable" (not earning less than £50 a year upon their death), "respectable" (£100 a year), or "very respectable" (£400 a year). In exceptional circumstances, the institution accepted children whose fathers were still alive but "subject to confirmed lunacy or paralysis", according to a reporter for the Derbyshire Courier. Once admitted the institution would house and look after the children up to the age of 15. The youngest recorded child to reside at the orphanage was a six-month-old girl in 1849.
In 1938 the building became the Royal Wanstead School and Prince George, Duke of Kent became its patron. As well as a refuge for orphans, it was also allowing children from impoverished families to join its register. These inductions were brief and stopped altogether in 1942 owing to the introduction of the welfare state, which allowed poor families to live together. The school received grammar school status in the years after the establishment of the Education Act in 1944 and was funded by the Local Education Authority. By the late 1960s the school was experiencing a decline in pupil admissions which resulted in financial difficulties. It eventually closed in 1971. The children's charity exists today under the name of the Royal National Children's Foundation. On Christmas Day of that year the building came into the ownership of the Department of the Environment who began a £1.6m refurbishment project, creating what is evident today. The building's chapel and North Wing are the only two areas to remain in their original states.
View of the court from Eagle Pond
With the school winding down by the mid 1960s, work began on converting certain sections of the building into a court. It opened, as such, on 1 April 1965 when the first case was heard. The building had one judge and a group of 12 staff who managed 325 cases within the first year. The building received Grade II listed status on 11 November 1968.
Snaresbrook Crown Court was officially opened on 26 November 1974 by Lord Widgery, who was, at that time, Lord Chief Justice. Further improvements were made to the site between 1976 and 1979, but in November 1981 a fire destroyed three courtrooms and damaged two others. Renovations were made, and by 1988, five more court rooms, including a separate annex, built to a cost of £3m, had been added, bringing the total to 20. The court manages around 7,000 cases a year, making it the busiest Crown Court in the United Kingdom.