Free Church Maternity and Training Home, The Retreat, Mere, Wiltshire

In July 1915, a meeting of the Women's Auxiliary of the National Council of Evangelical Free Churches was held in London with a view to founding a mother and baby home for unmarried young women. The Retreat, as it was named, was to be established in the village of Mere, in Wiltshire. The property was to be fitted to receive up to fourteen girls, who would receive a six months' course of gardening, poultry farming, dairy work and domestic training. At the meeting, Dr Salesby commended that part of the arrangement “by which the young mothers would be kept with their babies long as possible, that the mother-love should get a chance to assert itself, thus creating a strong factor towards making the girls useful members of society and good citizens again.”

The driving force behind the scheme were Dr Francis Burchett Rutter and his wife Alice. Alice Rutter became the Honorary Superintendent of the home. Among her other activities, she was secretary of the Mere Union's boarding-out committee, which arranged the fostering of children from the workhouse. Francis was a Quaker, and in addition to his own medical practice, was a medical officer for the Mere Union workhouse. He also found time time to be a county magistrate and to chair the parish council. He added to this list by becoming the Home's Honorary Medical Officer.

The Home was located in a property known as The Gables, at the south side of Salisbury Street, just two doors away from the Rutters' own home, Dewes House. The Home is shown on the 1925 map below, coloured in blue, with Dewes House in red.

The Retreat Maternity and Training Home site, Mere, c.1925.

Former Retreat Maternity and Training Home, Mere, 2011. © Google

In 1919, the Home was enlarged by expanding into two adjacent cottages.

By the time the Home closed in 1927, some 300 girls had received assistance there.

Records

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.

  • Wiltshire and Swindon Archives, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Cocklebury Road, Chippenham SN15 3QN. Holdings include annual reports and statements of accounts.

Bibliography

  • None identified at present.