St Mary's / Ave Maria School for Roman Catholic Girls, West Croydon, Surrey
St Mary's Industrial School for Roman Catholic Girls was originally established in Eltham in 1871 but relocated to West Croydon in 1886. Its new premises, a large Italianate villa at 45 Wellesley Road, had previously been occupied by St Joseph's Training College for young students. Alterations to the building were carried out including the construction of a new laundry. The School, which was run by the Sisters of Mercy, was formally certified to begin operation on September 1st, 1886, with accommodation for 100 girls. Occupation of the building began towards the end of that month.
In addition to classroom lessons, the girls were engaged in industrial training, with most of them expected to enter employment in domestic service. The older girls ones carried out all the work of the house, washed the clothing and assisted in the kitchen. Special lessons were introduced in the duties of a parlour-maid. There was a good workroom for knitting and plain needlework. The older girls made their own clothing and also did church embroidery and lace work.
A report in 1896 noted that physical drill with extension motions was given, generally accompanied by music. Attention was given to the girls' gait, although the drill was done in boots rather than slippers. There was a pleasant playground and a large garden in which the girls could walk and run. They went out for a long walk once a week at least, and sometimes twice. In summer the walks sometimes took the form of picnics on the Shirley Hills. There was an excursion in that year to Worthing. Occasionally, a delicate child was sent to a convalescent home at Worthing. In the winter, entertainments were organised from time to time, including a Christmas cantata. There was a library and indoor games were provided. All the messages in the neighbourhood were done by the girls. The School was complimented on the girls' air of cheerfulness and refinement.
In 1896-7, new wings were added to the building, providing extra accommodation for the schoolroom, dormitories, dining-room, and bath-room. On March 8th, 1897, the official number of places provided by the School was raised to 150.
At an inspection in 1911, the girls' classroom performance singing—sol-fa, composition, recitation, mental arithmetic, and geography were all rated 'good' and was above the average for such schools. Cookery lessons were given by the Sister in the kitchen. Sick nursing and the care of the baby were also noted as featuring in the training. A series of exercises for physical training and based on the Swedish system were well performed by the girls. Three weeks had been spent at the Whitstable Home by the girls, in batches, and there had been other occasional outings. The superintendent at this date was Sister C. A. Dempsey. Messrs. Grassington & Sons were recorded as being the School's dentists.
On February 19th, 1906, an annexe to the School was certified for operation in premises at Northwood Road, Whitstable. The property was mainly used for giving groups of girls short-term holiday breaks.
Another annexe was opened on August 2nd, 1921, at 24 Howard Road, South Norwood, Surrey. The premises, which could house ten girls, was probably used as an Auxiliary Home, providing supervised hostel-style accommodation for girls on license who were taking up employment in the area, or who were between situations. It was closed on February 19th, 1926.
Up until the 1920s, the School was officially known as St Mary's but then became known as the Ave Maria School. According to one source, the new name had been adopted at a much earlier date to avoid confusion with the local parish of St Mary's.
In 1933, Ave Maria became an Approved School, one of the new institutions introduced by the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act to replace the existing system of Reformatories and Industrial Schools. The School could then accommodate up to 150 Junior Girls, aged from 3 to 15 at their date of admission. The headmistress in 1935 was Sister M. Etheldreda McNamara.
On the evening of December 4th, 1938, as the girls were going to bed, fire was discovered in a dormitory on the top floor. Nuns rushed the children, some of whom were only partly dressed, across the road to St Mary's Catholic Church. The Croydon fire brigade fought the flames. Bedding and mattresses were destroyed and the dormitory was badly damaged.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the School was evacuated to the premises of the St Vincent's School, near Whitstable. The West Croydon buildings suffered bomb damage during the war and were not returned to. In 1950, the School was re-opened at Sisters of Mercy convent at Eltham Park.
The Wellesley Road premises were later occupied by local council offices. The building no longer exists.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- No records noted at present for this establishment — any information welcome.
- Mahood, Linda Policing Gender, Class and Family: Britain, 1850-1940 (1995, Univeristy of Alberta Press)
- Prahms, Wendy Newcastle Ragged and Industrial School (2006, The History Press)
- Hyland, Jim Yesterday's Answers: Development and Decline of Schools for Young Offenders (1994, Whiting and Birch)
- Millham, S, Bullock, R, and Cherrett, P After Grace - Teeth: a comparative study of the residential experience of boys in Approved Schools (1975, Chaucer Publishing)
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