The William Thompson Masonic School was founded in 1922 at Baulkham Hills (in Sydney's north west) for the care and education of the children of deceased Freemasons. It had previously been Masonic Orphan Schools. Different sources give different dates when the school was closed. The site was sold to the Hills Shire Council in December 1973. Following the closure of the Masonic School, around December 1974, the Masons opened family group homes in Baulkham Hills and Castle Hill.
In 2012 Find and Connect staff were advised by the United Grand Lodge of the Masons NSW/ACT that all records relating to the Masonic Orphan Schools, William Thompson Masonic School and related institutions Orana, Boronia and Wybalenna were destroyed by accident in 2002, during construction works.
The William Thompson Masonic School was the brainchild of William Thompson who was the Liberal Party member for Ryde from 1913-20, and Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons from 1914-24.
Thompson's aim was to establish cottage homes for orphans. Land was purchased at Baulkham Hills in 1921 and the first stage of what was originally known as The Masonic Orphan Schools was opened on 11 November 1922. In recognition of Thompson's leadership and service to the project, the school was later renamed William Thompson Masonic Schools.
An article by Pam Wilson in the aMUSine website has an account of the daily routine at the William Thomas Masonic School in 1938:
6am: Reveille followed by a cold shower. Get dressed in the school uniform. Make the bed and do special duties in the cottage for half an hour such as clean the bathroom, sweep and polish the floors, dust the furniture.
7am: Do tasks outside the cottage such as sweep the pathway, sweep and polish the front verandah floor, weed the garden.
7.30am: Gong sounds and children march to the dining room for breakfast. Stand beside their chair at the table and sing the grace, then sit down to oatmeal porridge, bread and butter with jam or honey. Finish with a cup of milk from the local dairy and then sing another grace and march back to their cottage.
8am: Bell rings and children gather their books and march in line to the Assembly Hall where a prayer is said by a senior boy or girl who also gives a speech on a subject ie. early rising, honesty, obedience, sport or a famous person. Mr Cropley then read out the default marks for the previous day and gave a brief address before the children leave the hall and march off to the school rooms accompanied by the boy's band of drums and bugles.
8.45am: School begins under the guidance of 9 teachers. The children study English, History, Maths, Geography, Business Principles, Shorthand, Typing and Needlework.
12noon to 1pm: Lunch break when children march to the dining room for a hot meal of meat, vegetables and sweets.
3pm: Finish school and return to their cottage to do sewing or work in the gardens or play in the paddocks or read library books.
5.15pm: March to dining room for soup, bread and butter with jam, cake, fruit and hot cocoa. The wireless is usually played during tea time.
6.15pm: Return to cottage to do homework
9pm: In bed and lights out.
In 1942, the Home consisted of cottages with names that all began with the letter F: Faithful, Fidelity, Famous, Felicity and Favonian for the girls, and Foremost, Firm, Fortitude, Fearless and Fervent for the boys.
In the 1970s, the Masons began to wind the school down, as changing attitudes to child care took hold. One of the last residents of the Home got in touch with Find & Connect to advise that it closed in December 1974. The site was sold to the Hills Shire Council in December 1973.
Following the Home's closure, the Masons set up family group homes in Castle Hill and Baulkham Hills: Boronia (1976, Orana (1978) and Wybalena (1978). These family group homes closed in the 1980s and 1990s, with the last closing at the end of 1993.
The Hills Shire Council bought the site and it is now known as Balcombe Heights Estate. Council provides a virtual tour on its website, which includes interviews with former residents of the Masonic School.
In 2010 the Hills District Historical Society Museum and Research Centre opened in a former girls' cottage, Building 10. The Museum includes a display about the Masonic School including furniture, honour roll boards, magazines, minute books and photographs.
1922 - c. 1924 Masonic Orphan Schools
c. 1924 - c. 1974 William Thompson Masonic School
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Masonic School for Orphans. Accommodation for 100 children.', The Mercury, 11 November 1922, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23613551; 'Mr. A.W. Green: Cricket President's Death.', The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 August 1935, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/17184543; 'Balcolmbe Heights Estate: fact sheet', in Hills Voices Online: Heritage Sites, The Hills Shire Council, 2007-, http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Library/Library-e-Resources/Hills-Voices-Online/Heritage-Sites; Earnshaw, Beverley, A Start in Life: The history of the William Thompson Masonic School, 1922-1988, William Thompson Masonic School Council, Sydney, 1988; The Hills Shire Council, 'Hills Voices Online: Heritage Sites', in The Hills: Sydney's Garden Shire, circa 2007-2010, http://www.thehills.nsw.gov.au/Library/Library-e-Resources/Hills-Voices-Online/Heritage-Sites; Thinee, Kristy and Bradford, Tracy, Connecting Kin: Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their records [completed in 1998], New South Wales Department of Community Services, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998, https://clan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/connectkin_guide.pdf; Email communication with United Grand Lodge of NSW and ACT Freemasons, 24 February 2012; email correspondence with a former resident (via Wattle Place, Find & Connect Support Service), December 2014; email correspondence with a former resident (via Wattle Place, Find & Connect Support Service), August 2017.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 22 March 2011, Last modified: 18 August 2017