Nazareth House, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
A Nazareth House was established in November 1884 at 10 St James' Square, Cheltenham, adjacent to St Gregory's Catholic Church. Like other Nazareth Houses, it provided accommodation for the aged poor, and for orphan and destitute children — primarily Roman Catholic girls, including those placed by the workhouse authorities. A report in December of that year noted that there were 16 children in residence, all of whom, except for two or three, had come from the workhouse. The accommodation comprised nine rooms, with the aged and infirm of both sexes in the one part, and abandoned and deserted infants in the other. The doors of the institution were closed in the evening at 5 o'clock, up which time visits were allowed, but on Thursdays and Fridays, a slight latitude from this rule was permitted.
The St James' Square house had become too small for its growing number of residents and fund-raising began to provide a larger building. In 1888, the home moved to new premises on Bath Road, Cheltenham, opposite the Ladies' College. Over the years, it gradually expanded with the acquisition of neighbouring properties.
Tragedy was averted in February, 1927, when shortly before six o'clock on Sunday morning a fire broke out at the home. Fortunately, it was discovered before very much damage was done, and was quickly extinguished. At the time of the outbreak there were about 70 children and 40 women in the home, but as most of the inmates were up and dressed ready for the early morning service, no panic was created when the alarm was raised, and no injuries occurred. The fire was discovered by the night patrol Sister Evelyn Miller Ephrem, who on smelling burning wood different parts of the premises, located the outbreak in a cupboard in the dining-room, the floor of which had become ignited. After the alarm was given, the Sister Superior, the Rev. Mother Mary Margaret Kendrick Joseph, and other Sisters in the home, came to assist. They threw buckets of water on the fire and were able to keep it in check till the arrival of Captain Such and the Brigade who quickly completed its extinction. A fire engine was brought to the scene but was not used. The fire was thought to have originated in a cupboard, which was burnt out. An aged inmate seems to have gone to the cupboard on the Saturday night with a lighted candle, and without realising it had accidentally set fire to inflammable items in the cupboard which smouldered throughout the night and then burst into flame in the morning.
Fire broke out again in January, 1929, in the roof of the men's quarters. It was thought to have been caused by the overheating of the roof support timbers which rested in or on the chimney stack of the adjacent laundry block. The fire brigade were quickly on the scene to put out the fire and no injuries occurred.
In March, 1945, a fair-haired, blue-eyed two-years-old girl found abandoned inside the home's tradesmen's entrance. Beside her was a piece of cardboard bearing the message, written in lipstick, "I cannot keep this child. I have not work nor money; thank you." On the other side was written"Looking after her. Thank you. I cannot keep this child as I haven't work or money to do so. So would you mind." The child, with wavy fair hair, was well nourished. She could walk well and speak a few words such as "Mummy" and"Daddy" Her clothes were all in poor condition, and on a pair of green hand-knitted woollen knickers was a white tab inside bearing the name "C. Smith" in Indian ink. Left near the child was a white pillowslip containing a quantity of clothes suitable for the child. One white petticoat with lace at the neck had the name "Gay" in red cotton on a stitched-on tab.
The home ceased accommodating children in around 1965.
In about 1970, the home moved to new purpose-built premises at 344 London Road, Charlton Kings, on the eastern outskirts of Cheltenham. The establishment still continues to provide residential care for the elderly.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals.
- Sisters of Nazareth Archive, Sisters of Nazareth Archive, Nazareth House, 169-175 Hammersmith Road, London W6 8DB. The archivist is Christine Hughes. The archive contains material from the very beginnings of the order in the 1850s up until the present day. The archive is not open to the public and does not have facilities for personal searchers, although exceptions can be made for Sisters and for academic researchers. Enquiries are welcomed by post only for privacy and confidentiality reasons and replies are by also letter. There is no fee for dealing with enquiries, although donations to the Sisters are appreciated.
- Fothergill, Anne Memoirs of a Nazareth House Girl (2013, Quoin Publishing). Memories of the Middlesbrough Nazareth House.
- Gray-Wilson, Shirley It isn't Always Raining: Children in Care, 1939-1948 (2000). Life in the Carlisle and Newcastle Nazareth Houses.
- Kelly, Judith Rock Me Gently: A Memoir Of A Convent Childhood (2006, Bloomsbury). A memoir of life at Bexhill Nazareth House in the early 1950s. The factual veracity of this book has been challenged, and charges of plagiarism levelled against the author (e.g. see Catholic Herald 2/9/2005). The introduction to the current edition of the book acknowledges some of these criticisms.
- Reilley, Frances Suffer The Little Children: The True Story of An Abused Convent Upbringing (2009, Orion). Memories of the Belfast Nazareth House.
- Nuns 'abused hundreds of children' (Guardian article 16/8/1998)
- Sisters of No Mercy (Guardian article 1/4/2003)
- Compensation for care homes abuse (BBC News item 15/8/2006)
- Sisters of Nazareth become second Catholic order to admit to child abuse (Guardian article 14/1/2014)
- Children at Derry care homes were made to eat vomit, inquiry told (Guardian article 27/1/2014)
- A Time for Penance? (BBC Scotland 'Frontline' TV feature on abuse in Scottish Nazareth Houses)
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