THESE vintage images reveal the story of the Clacton branch of a national charity which helped orphans.

Although it is probably not a word that would be considered acceptable today John Groom used the term Cripplage in the name for his organisation which helped young disabled girls in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

In 1890, Groom, a God-fearing silver-engraver extended his London-based charity called Watercress and Flower Girls’ Christian Mission by opening an orphanage in Clacton.

And in 1907, this charity became known as the Crippleage and Flower Girls Mission.

It had begun humbly in 1866 when a friend highlighted the plight of blind and disabled girls living in the London Slums.

The girls tried to earn money by selling watercress and flowers on the streets and John began offering a hot drink and dinner to the ones near Covent Garden and in turn encouraged them to attend one of his Sunday Schools.

The Clacton branch of the charity began with three pairs of houses on Old Road in the town, which expanded into the Crescent on the other side of the road.

Following this expansion, the accommodation at Clacton could offer space for up to 250 and was known as the Flower Village because every house was named after a flower.


Charity - John Groom’s Orphanage at the Crescent in Clacton. PICTURE: HAJ

The aim was to offer places for orphaned and abandoned young girls who were blind and also to provide seaside holidays for girls living and working in London.

The girls living permanently in Clacton went to local schools and would also go out and give demonstrations of dancing.

One of these events was a bazaar in June 1915 in aid of the building fund of the Clacton Baptist Church.

Lady Julian Byng, of Thorpe Hall in Thorpe-le Soken, opened it and one of the many attractions listed was entertainment from the girls of John Groom’s Orphanage.

Once they turned 14 they either went into service or to work for John Groom himself in London where, as well as a school for 350 children and a soup kitchen in Clerkenwell, he also had a floristry business.

Here the girls made up bouquets of fresh flowers during the summer and in the winter, created artificial flowers.

This was a trend which became so popular John Groom had to move to larger premises by 1894 and the girls were making every type of flower there was from including poppies and wild roses.


Precious - one of the silk flowers crafted by the Clacton flower girls

They even created them for royalty - being commissioned by Danish-born Queen Alexandra to create artificial wild buttonholes in 1912 to help commemorate half a century since she had arrived in Great Britain.

This launched the tradition of Queen Alexandra Rose Day across the country where the artificial roses were handed out in return for donations which benefited a number of charities.

The first event raised £32,000, the equivalent of almost £2 million in modern money and the event itself continued to be marked even after her death in 1925.

As a result of their involvement with this the Crippleage Flower Girls became known throughout Great Britain.

And they even held the first charitable event where a poppy was sold for charity.

This happened in Whitby 1916 when a group of women asked for the girls to make poppies for them to sell.

This ‘Poppy Day’ was one of the very first of its kind – where an artificial poppy was exchanged for a donation, which would benefit wounded servicemen.

In this case, the monies raised funds benefited First World War soldiers being cared for at the Red Cross Hospital in Sleights.

When Yorkshire women needed to raise additional money for their Sleights Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment, they arranged a ‘Poppy Day’.

This involved Ninety-two gross of poppies, which were made by what was then known as the Crippled Girls’ Guild, were bought ahead of the event which was held on August 19 1916, just over a century ago, in Whitby.

This ‘Poppy Day’ was one of the very first of its kind - and involved the efforts of girls living in Clacton.


Royalty - Queen Alexandra

When John Groom’s poor health forced him to retire in 1918, his oldest son Alfred took over the charity. John Groom spent the next year living in Clacton and died there on December 27 1919.

With declining demand for children’s residential places, the John Groom’s ‘Association for Disabled People, as as it eventually had become known by 1990, ended its work with them in 1979 .

It turned its effort to helping adults rather than young girls at this time.

At the time he retired John’s oldest son Alfred had taken over running of the charity.

Having joined forces with the ‘Shaftesbury Society’ in 2007, the charity formed one of the building blocks of ‘Livability.

This is now considered to be Great Britain’s largest Christian disability charity.

John Groom’s orphanage houses in Clacton-on-Sea were taken over by the charity Barnardo’s in 1947 and vacated in 1969.

They were then demolished and modern houses now stand on the site where they once were.

But the legacy of the girls who made the silk flowers lives on.