Loft House, Acorn Property Group’s regeneration of the former Brunel House in Bristol, has a history rooted in philanthropy and charity, drawing a visit from writer and champion of the poor Charles Dickens.
Designed by renowned local architect Thomas Foster, of John Foster & Sons, the imposing building dates back to the mid 19th century and is Grade II-listed.
It was the second of five orphanages built by George Muller, a Christian evangelist originally from Germany, and its regeneration has been a fascinating journey back in history, unearthing its past and some of its original features.
Muller was a remarkable man not only caring for local orphans but also ensuring they were educated, arranging apprenticeships and jobs when they were of age. It was a practice that irked local factory owners who felt their pool of unskilled labour was shrinking.
But even more remarkable, for his charitable endeavours – in 1870 there were 1,722 orphans living in the complex of buildings at Ashley Down – Muller never asked for money and he never borrowed.
He was a man of unwavering faith believing that God would provide. Building work only commenced when all the costs could be covered and the orphanages were run on donations of food, money and other necessary items – the children never went hungry.
Hearing a rumour that the orphans housed by Muller were being mistreated, Charles Dickens made an unannounced visit. He must have found the rumours to be false as he later published a glowing essay on Muller and the work he was doing in Bristol.
Muller died in 1898 but his good works carried on for several decades. As the approach to social care began to change there was less demand for places for orphans and by 1938 Brunel House was no longer in use.
The orphanage escaped direct hits from German bombers during the second world war and, on the anniversary of Muller’s birthday in 1940, a dog fight took place overhead but enemy aircraft were seen off before they could drop their bombs.
Brunel House became part of Bristol City College in 1958 and was bought by Acorn Property Group in 2016 when the college decided to relocate its facilities.
A new phase of the building’s history is beginning, renamed Loft House, its new residents can enjoy some of architect Thomas Fosters original features such as ornate ironwork grilles, large sash windows and extraordinary cantilevered stone staircases in the communal areas.
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