St Mary's Home, Bildeston / Felixstowe, Suffolk

St Mary's Home was established by sisters Mary Katherine and Frances Vera Growse in around 1893 at Bildeston House, High Street, Bildeston. Their first child was a baby girl, just six weeks old. The home could house up to 27 girls, from infants up to the age of thirteen, who were trained for an eventual life as domestic servants. Some were taken in free, others on payment of five shillings per week, according to their circumstances

Former St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Bildeston, 2013. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1901, the home moved to a larger property at Yeldham House, 8 Sea Road, Felixstowe. The new premises could accommodate 60 girls, aged 3-16.

St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Felixstowe, c.1914. © Peter Higginbotham

Classroom at St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Felixstowe, c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Nursery at St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Felixstowe, c.1920. © Peter Higginbotham

Dining-hall at St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Felixstowe, c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

Girls at St Mary's Home, Sea Road, Felixstowe, c.1912. © Peter Higginbotham

The home closed in 1916 and for the next two years was used by the army as wartime billets for soldiers. In 1931, the home moved to a new location at the western end of Wolsey Gardens, a little further from the sea-front than Yeldham House, but still with coastal views. The house was donated by Sir Arthur Churchman, later Lord Woodbridge.

St Mary's Home, Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe, c.1931. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1929, when both sisters were in their mid-sixties, they entered into discussions with the Waifs and Strays Society about about the future of the home which the had 27 girls in residence. The Society formally took over the home in 1931. Below is a picture of the Mary and Vera Growse with their 'family' at the time of the handover.

St Mary's Home, Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe, c.1931. © Peter Higginbotham

Its seaside location meant that the girls spent many happy hours on the local beach.

St Mary's Home, Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe, c.1932. © Peter Higginbotham

St Mary's Home, Wolsey Gardens, Felixstowe, c.1934. © Peter Higginbotham

In September 1935, following a request from the Home Office, St Mary's became an Approved School, taking girls below the age of sixteen placed their by the courts. The home had thirty places in total, of which no more than twenty were to be committed cases.

At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, St Mary's was closed and the residents evacuated to Kibworth Hall in Leicestershire. At the end of the war, the Hall was purchased by the Society and the St Mary's girls remained there.

In 1946, the Felixstowe property was briefly used to house girls from the St Mary's Home at Cheam. Later the same year it was re-opened as nursery which continued in operation until 1973. The building has since been demolished.

The Sea Road premises later became the Felix Court Hotel but have now been converted to flats and a pub.

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.