Our most active President was Noël Coward, for 22 years. The charity then continued to fund children, but through grants. We were led for 65 years by Richard (Lord) Attenborough, and we were called The Actors’ Charitable Trust from 1986 to 2012.

Orphans network

ACT is privileged still to be in touch with many of the children who lived at our orphanage in the 1940s and 50s. We’d love to hear from you if you were at Langley Place or Silverlands, or at the Rutland Gate hostel or Watford houses. There’s no pressure to meet up with other people and we can keep your name confidential if you wish. 

If you do want to meet others, we will do our best to put you in touch with people you knew. We have also had wonderful reunions. Please telephone Robert Ashby at ACT 020 7636 7868 or email robert@actorschildren.org

Our history in pictures

The charity was founded in 1896 as the Actors’ Orphanage Fund with Sir Henry Irving as President.  It raised money until, in 1906, we could open our first orphanage for actors’ children, in Croydon.  The driving force was Mrs Kittie Carson (pictured), the wife of the editor of The Stage.

Mrs Carson founder of ACT

 

The first orphanage in Croydon
The first orphanage at 32 and 34 Morland Road, Croydon.

 

the younger orphans in 1906
The younger orphans in 1906 at Croydon.

 

The football team at Croydon in 1906.
The boys’ football team at Croydon in 1906. Behind you can see the height of the wall which divided the boys’ and girls’ buildings.

 

Henry Irving
Our founding President, Sir Henry Irving.

 

A 1907 application form.
This 1907 application form is a rare survival. William Leopold’s sister Christina lived to the age of 105 with clear memories of the orphanage.

 

A book by our Chairman.
Our long-serving Chairman, Mrs Raleigh, wrote more than 250 novels under the name Effie Adelaide Rowlands, and later as Madame Albanesi. Many were inspired by the family circumstances of the orphans.

 

Ellen Terry's letter.
Ellen Terry was an early supporter, along with nearly every well known actor and writer. George Bernard Shaw even wrote a play to benefit the charity, and ACT still receives the royalties today.

 

Cyril Maude
Our second President (1905 – 1914) was the actor-manager Cyril Maude, popular with the profession and public alike.

 

Gerald du Maurier
Sir Gerald du Maurier was our third President (1914 – 1934) and made big improvements at our Langley orphanage. His daughter, the writer Daphne du Maurier, volunteered to teach English to the orphans.

 

The children in 1940.
In July 1940 the children were photographed by the Evening Standard after they’d been told they were to be evacuated to America until the war was over.

 

The Attenboroughs at Silverlands
Richard Attenborough and his wife, the actress Sheila Sim, were on our committee from 1947 and visited Silverlands regularly.

 

Silverlands
Our orphanage at Chertsey, “Silverlands”, was a large country house with panelled rooms.

 

Noel Coward
Noel Coward was our fourth President (1934 – 1956) and transformed the lives of the children at Silverlands. He based everything around their happiness. Here he took a press call on 23 December 1952, when he motored down to Chertsey with many friends and enough provisions for a Christmas party.

 

Coward playing the piano.
Noel Coward often visited Silverlands and, here in 1953, he is playing the piano with Ronnie Billinge, David Morris, Ray Carroll, Ann Holles, Liz Trigg, Valerie Speller (on his knee), Jennifer Thompson and Lally Ingram.

 

recipe book
“Our Favourite Dish” was a successful fundraiser, with recipes from well known actors.

 

A theatrical board game
Sir Emile Littler created a board game to raise money for the orphanage. Hardly any survive.

 

Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier was our fifth President (1956 – 89) but largely honorary. We still have the metal plate to print his signature, which he infinitely preferred to having to sign documents himself. His first wife, Jill Esmond, became an energetic chairman of the children’s Welfare and Education Committee. His second wife, Vivien Leigh (pictured here) gave enormous time to our annual Theatrical Garden Party and the fundraising Night of 100 Stars.

 

Richard Attenborough
After Noel Coward, the most important person in ACT’s history was Richard Attenborough, on the committee from 1947, Chairman from 1956 and President 1989 to 2014.

 

Audrey Hepburn sent us $1,000 every year for decades. She and Mrs Jack Hawkins were remarkable at extracting donations from Hollywood actors for the charity.
Audrey Hepburn sent us $1,000 every year for decades. She and Mrs Jack Hawkins were remarkable at extracting donations from Hollywood actors for the charity.

 

Letter to Elizabeth Taylor
Lord Attenborough’s fundraising was tireless and brilliant. This is his first draft of a letter to Elizabeth Taylor in 1970, when Lew Grade had set up a series of TV dramas to benefit the charity.

 

A letter from Harold Pinter
You may not associate Harold Pinter with children’s charities, but here he is, agreeing to be on one of our fundraising committees.

 

John Gielgud
Sir John Gielgud is typical of the many actors who had served on our committee, and then became Vice Presidents. His spidery letters always drifted at an angle in a block of text.

 

Simon Williams and Angela Thorne
Simon Williams and Angela Thorne were our Joint Chairmen for 15 remarkable years.

 

Three long-serving chairs of ACT's work with children are Isla Blair, Elizabeth Garvie and Doreen Mantle. All three went on to serve as Vice Presidents of the charity.
Three long-serving chairs of ACT’s work with children are Isla Blair, Elizabeth Garvie and Doreen Mantle. All three went on to serve as Vice Presidents of the charity.

A detailed history of the charity is available free of charge on request, by email or post. Please contact Robert Ashby: robert@actorschildren.org or 020 7636 7868.

We welcome your support as a member, or your help with fundraising or as a Marathon runner.
Read more about how you can support us.

Here on behalf of somebody else?

We understand it is a big step to contact a charity. If you are looking at this on behalf of an actor friend, please do get in touch by phone or email. There is no need to tell us the actor’s name at this stage. We are friendly and our help is confidential.

Read more about who we are or get in touch for help and support, email robert@actorschildren.org or call 020 7636 7868.