Müller founded the the Bristol Orphanage when he was 40, in November of 1835.
The decision was the result of a chance reading of August Francke’s biography in 1835. Müller was inspired by Francke’s example of opening an orphanage in the late 1600s that eventually accommodated as many of 2,000 orphans, and was supported through prayer alone. You can read an English translation the same information that inspired Müller in the link that follows.
This is a wonderful autobiography written by Francke, translated into English, regarding God's work in opening up His ministry that eventually included multiple schools, an orphanage that could care for as many as 2,000 children, missionary organization, publishing house, refuge for widows, etc. As Müller would do later, all funds for Francke's ministry were sought from God through prayer. If you haven't read this autobiography you should! You can learn more about Francke at the path2prayer page on Him.
In making the decision to found an orphanage, Müller spent much time praying, searching his heart relative to his motives, seeking to dispose of all worldly thinking and seeking input from other church members. He was struck by Psalms 81:10 where it said, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” As a result he prayed for a building, funds and workers. Shortly thereafter he received a shilling towards such an enterprise and a large wardrobe. He also received £100 gift from a poor needlework woman. Opening day every thing was in place, but no orphans came. Müller realized that he had failed to pray for orphans and added to his prayers.
His purpose in opening the orphanage was to demonstrate God’s faithfulness in furnishing means through prayer alone, promoting the spiritual welfare of fatherless and motherless children, providing for their temporal good and encouraging others to also enter into such a life of faith. As he put it, “If he, a poor man, without asking any one but God, could get means to carry on an orphan house, it would be seen that God is faithful still and still hears prayer.”
First efforts began in 1836 in their own rented home at 6 Wilson Street, Bristol, where they were able to accommodate thirty girls. Later three more houses were prepared for girls and boys, raising the capacity to 130.
In 1845, because of complaints coming from the neighbors, it was decided to open a new building at Ashley Downs to accommodate 300, which was completed in 1849.
Operating principles included not buying anything for which funds were not in hand, the children were never to suffer hunger or nakedness—nor were they to be told of need, nothing was to be revealed to outsiders of existing needs, God was to be their continual resort, and they were to live in such daily and hourly fellowship with God that their own unbelief and disobedience might not risk either their own power in prayer or the agreement, needful among them.
Over time four more buildings were added. Each had been a matter of earnest prayer, heart searching, seeking only the will of God, sometimes long delays, before they were constructed.
Eventually 1,722 children were being accommodated, though there was capacity for 2,200, in five buildings. These were all built without making any requests for funds.
God provided abundantly! Not only did God provide the funds for building these marvelous edifices, but He also provided for the other ministry activities going on. For example, in 1874 Müller recorded that they had fed and clothed 2,100 orphans and staff. They had also helped 189 missionaries. One hundred day schools with 9,000 students had been supported. Four million tracts had been printed. Thousands of copies of the Scriptures had been printed and distributed. Müller had opened His mouth wide and God had more than filled it.
Effie Taylor wrote a book that focuses on the history of the buildings. In the preface the author acknowledges having no connection with Müller and that the book was written without Müller's knowledge. The pictures that follow are taken from this volume. You can download Taylor's book by clicking on the link: The Bristol Orphan Houses, Ashely Down
While working in the archives of Hudson Taylor, I came across a post card of the Müller's orphanage. George Müller was an important supporter of Taylor's ministry, and apparently gave him a postcard at some point. The postcard is truly lovely and reminds me of the one of the key pictures of Francke's ministry in Halle.
This picture was found in the library in one of the buildings that had formerly been the Ashley Down Orphanage of Müller in Bristol.
In the following picture gives you the sense of the setting of the orphanage. The children, at one point just under 2,000 of them, were on an outing.
I was holding meetings at some point in London and had the opportunity to take an inexpensive bus over to Bristol to visit the Foundation office and the Ashley Down buildings, as well as important buildings linked to John Wesley.
Among my impressions were first the distance that Müller would have been walking in going to the Orphanage in the morning. It was a bit of a distance since I walked it myself, and would have afforded him time to be meditating and communing with Christ.
So far as the buildings were concerned, they were located out of the town, and a bit above in elevation, and would have thus afforded the children a delightful place to live that was somewhat away from the distractions of town life. I am not surprised that God directed him to construct the buildings outside of the town in such a lovely place.
I was also impressed with the quality of the buildings so far as their construction and materials went. They were built solidly. What I would have expected from George Müller.
I was also impressed with the simplicity of design. There is no fancy ornamentation, yet they are beautiful. Just what I would have expected from George Müller.
Finally, I didn't notice plaques attached to the buildings in the original construction praising the founder and operator of the orphanage, and commemorating human achievements. Rather, there was the clear testimony of a God who so marvelously answered the prayers of a human instrument who was committed to bringing glory to Him.