The present Victoria Homes Trust was founded in 1988 following the sale of property belonging to Victoria Voluntary Homes.
The Early Years
In 1881, the Belfast Women's Temperance Association (BWTA) first began the charitable work of rescuing "young girls from homes made miserable by poverty, unemployment and abuse of alcohol and to prevent the possibility of them becoming prostitutes or involved in other kinds of crime."
The first house was rented in 14 Alfred Street and opened as a "Home" for "destitute little girls" on 20th May 1882. By the end of this year 21 children were cared for in the home and a further 5 girls boarded with volunteers.
The education of these girls was undertaken by young lady Associates of the Women's Temperance Association who taught reading, writing, arithmetic and sewing for two hours a day at the Home. Matron assisted the children with their homework and established a happy, secure place for them to live and grow up.
In 1886 numbers and funds had increased, so Shamrock Lodge, a large house in Lagan Village was acquired. In 1887 certification under the Irish Industrial Schools act was obtained.
In the following years Dr Margaret Byers (pictured left), Headmistress of Victoria College, was the driving force behind a fundraising campaign mounted to provide enough money to buy a site on which to build more suitable premises.
The Move to Ballysillan
Finally in 1892, the first of the Victoria Homes was opened and the children moved to the Home in Ballysillan, overlooking the city then in a semi-rural setting.
The work continued and prospered. By the 1930's there were six Homes on site at Ballysillan. Shamrock Lodge (named after the earlier home in Lagan Village),
Forster Green Home (funded by and named after Mr and Mrs Forster Green. Mr Green had given a blank cheque and requested the charity to fill in the amount of the cost of building another home. Forster Green was a successful Belfast tea merchant whose family's fatal experience with tuberculosis prompted him also to endow the Hospital that bears his name on the outskirts of Belfast.
Macauley Home was funded by a donor named Macauley and three cottage homes were funded by public subscriptions and named after Miss Isabella Tod (pictured right), who was a pioneer in all Christian and philanthropic efforts for the benefit of women who founded BWTA with Dr Margaret Byers in 1874.
A Recreation Hall was built following a legacy received from a Miss Hamill of £600. Provision was also made for girls suffering from tuberculosis, a small 'isolation' cabin being built for them in the grounds. The money for this donated in memory of Agnes Orr Miller, a pupil of Victoria College, who died while still at school and who was interested in Victoria Homes. The full name of the Homes at this time was Victoria Voluntary Homes for Destitute Little Girls and Shamrock Lodge Training School.
At the time older girls were taught cookery, laundry work and farm work in all its branches, including poultry keeping. Older girls who worked hard and showed special promise were given the opportunity to take a course in Domestic Science at the Belfast Technical College. Most of the girls leaving the Homes found jobs as domestic servants. They were placed in good homes where their employers would take an interest in their welfare. Some girls were placed on farms and a few went overseas to Fairbridge Farm Schools in Australia and Canada through the help of the Overseas League.
A "Missionary" was appointed by the Belfast Woman's Temperance League, who attended the courts and sought out older girls who found themselves in trouble. The last Missionary appointed by BWTA was a Mrs Heatherington who died in 1978.
During the 1930's the practice of sending residents of the Homes to Sunday School, in St Mark's Church of Ireland and the Ballysillan Presbyterian Church commenced. In 1934 the first girls were sent to Wolfhill Public Elementary School, the younger children being driven there in pony and trap.
The War Years
In 1940 the girls were dispersed to a large house called "Faunoran" in Greenisland and to private houses in Warrenpoint area as evacueees while the Belfast Corporation rented the premises at Ballysillan for the duration of the war to accommodate boys of Balmoral Industrial School.
In 1944 for the first time a full-time Organising Secretary was appointed and an office taken in 26 Howard Street in Belfast. While fundraising was difficult at this time the Homes were supported by North Belfast Temperance Council who had organised House to House collections and Flag Days. The Girls Auxiliary groups of the Presbyterian Church and Girls' Life Brigade Companies were very enthusiastic collectors and supported the homes in many other ways. Some Girls' auxiliary groups 'adopted' some of the children and arranged special outings for them.