"I'd much rather stay at Hogwarts than go back to that - to that -"
-- Tom Marvolo Riddle (CS13)
On New Years’ Eve 1926, Merope Gaunt staggered up the steps of a Muggle orphanage in London, gave birth to her only son, and soon died. Before her death, she managed to make one request – that her baby would be named Tom Marvolo Riddle.
Riddle spent the first eleven and a half years of his life in this orphanage, described as “shabby but spotlessly clean,” in a “grim, square building surrounded by high railings” with stone stairs and a bare courtyard. It was run by Mrs. Cole, who seems to have done a good job – she was a “sharp woman,” the building was clean, and the orphans “looked reasonably well-cared for.” Mrs. Cole’s office was full of old, mismatched furniture, and Tom Riddle’s room – a single, at least when he was eleven – contained an iron bedstead, an old wardrobe, and a hard wooden chair. The orphanage allowed the children, even those who were ten or eleven, to wander around London, and took them to a coastal town on holiday (HBP13).
Albus Dumbledore visited this orphanage in 1938, when Riddle was eleven, to offer him a place at Hogwarts. He learned there that Riddle had made a habit of stealing other kids’ possessions, and that he had been using magic – without knowing what it was – to terrorize other orphans. He proved his identity to Riddle by lighting his wardrobe on fire and then putting it out, and invited Riddle to Hogwarts. Dumbledore saved this memory in his pensieve and returned to it with Harry in 1996 so Harry could learn about Riddle as well (HBP13).
Tom Riddle attended Hogwarts for the next seven years, probably returning to the orphanage every summer until he was 17. He didn’t like returning, and he in fact requested at least once that he be allowed to stay at Hogwarts over the summer rather than go back to London, but his request was turned down by then-Headmaster Dippet. It’s possible he was allowed to stay other years, as Dippet says that “‘special arrangements might have been made'” were it not for the Chamber of Secrets, which had been opened at the time Riddle asked to stay (CS13). This seems unlikely, though, as Dumbledore never made mention of this in all of his conversations with Harry.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione tried to return to the orphanage in 1997, while searching for Voldemort’s Horcruxes. They discovered then that the building had been demolished many years before to make way for a tower block of offices (DH15).
Orphans known to have lived at the orphanage:
- Amy Benson
- Dennis Bishop
- Tom Marvolo Riddle
- Billy Stubbs
- Eric Whalley
- a scruffy, bewildered-looking girl who greets Dumbledore at the door
- other orphans Mrs. Cole passed in the hallway
- Mrs. Cole
- other helpers Mrs. Cole passed in the hallway
Which orphanage was this?
Voldemort purchased his diary on Vauxhall Road in London (CS13), and the closest orphanage to that location in the 1920s was the Stockwell Orphanage, begun in the mid-1800s by the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon. The Stockwell Orphanage might have been the place where Tom Riddle grew up in misery, although by all accounts it was not a repressive place of the type we imagine from Oliver Twist. Also, according to the original charter, children stayed at the Stockwell Orphanage only through age 14, and Riddle probably lived at his orphanage through age 17. We now know that Riddle's orphanage had girls, too - all but eliminating this one as a possibility.