Stora Barnhus in Stockholm Sweden

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Sweden > Orphanages in Sweden > Stora Barnhus in Stockholm Sweden

During the 1600’s many children lost their parents in connection to the many wars Sweden was involved in. In rural areas, it was common for the Parish Poor Authority (Fattigvården) to find a foster home for an orphaned, illegitimate, or unwanted child. In the cities, this role was carried out by the office of the Magistraten.

Utsikt från Blekholmen mot trakten mellan Observatoriet och Kungsholmsbrogatan.png

To help meet these needs in Stockholm, the government created the Stora Barnhus in 1633. Government authorities were concerned for the increase of begging children, especially in the cities. For example, before the coronation of Queen Kristina in 1650 the city authorities gathered all the “children of the street” to prevent any disruptions. The Stora Barnhus was funded by the government through tithing (every 40th barrel of church tithing in grain from Sweden and Finland), and from customs fees.

Life in the Stora Barnhuset (1633 – 1785)

From the beginning the Stora Barnhus had a focus on raising children by putting them to work. Their labor included manufacturing goods such as weaving sackcloth or making rope for the military. In contrast, the orphans in rural areas were taught agricultural or housework. Either way, their labor was seen as training to prepare the children for mainstream society. The children also received schooling. The older children (especially the girls) were expected to assist with the care of younger children.

Children who were disabled or sick were not admitted. During this time period younger children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old were taken to the Politibarnhuset or Frimurarbarnhuset. Children under the age of 2 were not accepted. They were taken care of by their parent (-s) who received economic support from the orphanage.

It’s difficult to know what life was really like in the Stora Barnhus. As with other areas of Europe, the child mortality rate was high in the Swedish orphanages at this time. In Stockholm there are horror stories of the Frimurarnas orphanage on Kungsholm in the 1700’s to the extent of a rumor that children were eaten after admittance.[1] Records from the Stora Barnhuset show that the children worked hard, and the books they read were possibly beyond their ability. In one report by Ritmästare Floding to the Diocese officials (who were the administrators over the orphanage) stated that boys started work in the spinning hall by 3:00 o’clock a.m. and continued their work until 7:00 o’clock in the evening. For their labor, they received hard dried out bread from the castle.[2] Even corporal punishment existed in the orphanage. Living with hard labor and poor living conditions, many children fled or purposely irritated the teachers. Before 1785 children could live at the Stora Barnhus for a few years. They slept, ate, went to school, worked and played at the orphanage. Over time the authorities found that life in the orphanage caused problems for many children to be able to transition into mainstream society, which only contributed to the social problems.
Rulla på Barnen i Stockholms Stora Barnhus Gåssar 1757.png
In 1785 it was decided to combine the Stora Barnhus and the Politibarnhus and call it the Allmänna Barnhus. For further information see: Allmänna Barnhus


The records of the Stora Barnhus became part of Allmänna Barnhus record collection. See Records of the Allmänna Barnhus.


  1. Det svenska samhället 1720 – 2006: Böndernas och arbetarnas tid, p. 131.
  2. Det svenska samhället 1720 – 2006: Böndernas och arbetarnas tid, p. 131.


Hedenborg, Susanna and Kvarnström, Lars. Det svenska samhället 1720 – 2006: Böndernas och arbetarnas tid. Studentlitteratur AB, Lund 2009.

Nordisk familjebok. Uggleupplagen 2, ”Barnhus”, Stockholm 1904, page 914

Clemmensson, Per and Andersson, Kjell. Släktforskaa vidare. Natur och Kultur, Falköping: 2003

Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, ”Barnhusbarn spreds över hela Sverige”. Släkthistorisk Forum 1983, no. 2