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
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.
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.
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.
Its seaside location meant that the girls spent many happy hours on the local beach.
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.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Index of the Society's first 30,000 children's case files ordered by surname.
- Index of the Society's first 30,000 children's case files ordered by date of birth.
- The Children's Society Records and Archive Centre is at Block A Floor 2, Tower Bridge Business Complex, 100 Clement's Road, London, England SE16 4DG (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Files for children admitted to its homes after September 1926 were microfilmed in the 1980s and the originals destroyed. Some post-1926 files had already been damaged or destroyed during a flood. The Society's Post-Adoption and Care Service provides access to records, information, advice, birth record counselling, tracing and intermediary service for people who were in care or adopted through the Society.
- The Society has produced detailed catalogues of its records relating to disabled children, and of records relating to the Children's Union (a fundraising body mostly supported from the contributions of children).
- 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.)
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain s Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- 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.
- 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)
- Hidden Lives Revealed — the story of the children who were in the care of The Children's Society in late Victorian and early 20th Century Britain.
- The Children's Society
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.