St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, Surrey

The St Mary's Home for Girls was opened by the Waifs and Strays Society on April 30th, 1914, at 58 Sandy Lane, Cheam, in Surrey. It was a purpose-built home, part of an initiative by the Society in 1913 to increase its stock of houses. St Mary's could accommodate 50 girls aged aged from 6 to 16. In its early years, the home mainly catered for destitute girls who were to be trained for emigration to Canada. St Mary's first residents came from the Society's Peckham Home for Girls, another emigration home, which was being closed.

St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, c.1922. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, c.1922. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, c.1927. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, c.1931. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's Home for Girls, Cheam, c.1932. © Peter Higginbotham

The home closed at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and the girls were evacuated to Frant in Sussex. In 1945, the premises were re-opened as a residential nursery for children up to the age of three and continued in operation until 1968.

The property no longer exists and the houses of Chesham Close now stand on the site.

Beth Linley worked at the home from late 1962 until late 1963. She had intentions of being a children's nurse, but there was a waiting list and so she became an assistant until a place became available. However, being impatient, she switched to a secretarial course, then joined the Navy as a Wren. Here are her recollections of the home:

I was surprised to learn that it had been a Home for Girls, before changing its function to looking after children. Matron Long ran the Home, alongside a Scots Sister, whose name I cannot remember — I do recall her being very strict! When I was working there we took children, the majority from broken homes or single mothers, from the age of two until five, when they were then transferred to another Home for older children. From birth until two years old, children were, I believe, at a Bexley Heath, Kent, Home.

I remember that although the children were well cared for by we nurses, it was not the nicest place to work. Our hours were very long, 7 -1pm, 2 - 5 p.m. free, then we would work 5 - 7.30pm. If we were on "tea duty", we would be up at 6am to riddle the range, make the tea and to hope that when we went into the huge cupboards, we did not find too many cockroaches, we certainly walked on them when we turned the light on! We had to be in by 10pm so it did not leave much time to enjoy a social life — films were never seen to the end! We did not have a key, so had to knock to get back in, woe betide us if we were late, as Matron would give us a right dressing down! Unfortunately, the Home was not always the cleanest of places and we endured dysentery (brought in by two small black boys), tapeworm, and nits. The food was basic and they used a margarine called "Magic" which was white, then would pass Stork off as butter.

Records

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Bibliography

  • Bowder, Bill Children First: a photo-history of England's children in need (1980, Mowbray)
  • Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society [Rudolfe, Edward de Montjoie] The First Forty Years: a chronicle of the Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society 1881-1920 (1922, Church of England Waifs and Strays' Society / S.P.C.K.)
  • Rudolf, Mildred de Montjoie Everybody's Children: the story of the Church of England Children's Society 1921-1948 (1950, OUP)
  • Stroud, John Thirteen Penny Stamps: the story of the Church of England Children's Society (Waifs and Strays) from 1881 to the 1970s (1971, Hodder and Stoughton)
  • Morris, Lester The Violets Are Mine: Tales of an Unwanted Orphan (2011, Xlibris Corporation) — memoir of a boy growing up in several of the Society's homes (Princes Risborough, Ashdon, Hunstanton, Leicester) in the 1940s and 50s.