History of the orphanage

About the orphanage

On Hooglandse Kerkgracht near the Hooglandse Church, there are several buildings festooned with memorial plaques that used to house the Weeshuis until 1961. On the gateway there are two orphans, popularly known as Kaatje and Kootje. Above the gateway leading to the former boys’ playground, we see a sculptured relief portraying orphan children on their knees, reaching out to the dove sitting on the clouds, a symbol of the Holy Ghost. The dove still reminds us of the time when orphans were looked after by the Heilige Geestmeesters [Holy Ghost Masters]. After 1583 the Weeshuis underwent a radical renovation. The year 1607 on the gateway shows that the renovation
had been completed by then. At first, the new Weeshuis consisted of one wing on the Hooglandse Kerkgracht. Later a new building was added on the Burchtgracht, the canal which then flowed into the Old Rhine. In 1768 a fierce fire more or less destroyed the new wing on the Old Rhine. In May 1774, the first stone was laid for a major renovation whereby the Weeshuis underwent a total facelift. At the end of 1776, the boys and girls were able to move into the renovated Weeshuis. During the day, children up to the age of twelve went to the school of the Weeshuis: they learned how to read, write and do sums. Boys over the age of twelve learned a trade as an apprentice outside the orphanage. Girls learned to be maids or seamstresses at the Weeshuis. In 1882, the girls’ wing of the Weeshuis on the Old Rhine was rented to the printing company owned by the firm
E.J. Brill. Only the gateway that gave access to the girls’ unit is still standing. The last children left the Weeshuis in 1961 to go to the Lijsterhof on Rijnsburgerweg. In 1990, after the National Natural History Museum moved out of the Weeshuis, the government and municipality of Leiden exchanged ownership of the Pesthuis (from the municipality to government, now Museum Naturalis) and the orphanage (from government to municipality).
The Weeshuis had no fixed designation until it, after its restoration by Stichting Utopa, on 28 May 2010 was reopened.

I would like to organise an activity in the Weeshuis. How do I do that?
If you would like to hire a room, please contact Utopa-Weeshuis:
Telefoon 071 513 25 46

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