Catalogue description Grace Eyre Foundation

This record is held by East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Record Office (ESBHRO)

Details of GUA
Reference: GUA
Title: Grace Eyre Foundation
Related material:

For a short history of the Society and its founder, reciting 1864-1995, see GUA/17/10; for deeds of 82 Grand Parade, Brighton, 1774-1928, acquired by Brighton Borough Council from Dr Helen Boyle, a trustee of the Guardianship Society, in 1928, see R/C/4/302; for an obituary of Grace Eyre Woodhead and an account of her funeral in The Brighton Herald see DB/B/77/32, page 17, column 4; for a probate copy of the will of Grace Eyre Woodhead see 35/3 below; for copies of the wills of Henry and Emily Woodhead and the Rev Henry Comber Woodhead see GUA/35/1-3; for a copy of the marriage certificate of Henry and Emily Woodhead, 1846, see GUA/31/46.

Held by: East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Record Office (ESBHRO), not available at The National Archives
Former reference in its original department: GUA
Language: English

Guardianship Society

Grace Eyre Foundation

Immediate source of acquisition:

Records deposited 28 Jan 1983 (ACC 4023), 23 Dec 1991 (ACC 5814), 9 Sep 1993 (ACC 6158), 7 Feb and 14 Jun 1994 (ACC 6230), 6 Jul 1995 (ACC 6659), 14 Aug 1997 (ACC 7557), 19 Sep 1997 (ACC 7571)

  • East Sussex
  • Mentally disabled
Administrative / biographical background:

The Guardianship Society began unofficially around 1899 with the work of Grace Eyre Woodhead (1864-1936), who believed that the 'care and supervision of the mentally and physically defective' should be within the community rather than in the large isolated institutions. She was born in Brighton on 24 February 1864, the eleventh of twelve children, of Major Henry Joseph Plumridge Woodhead and his wife, Emily Woodhead, nee Clements, of 12 Norfolk Terrace, Brighton, and latterly also of Heathfield House, Heathfield. According to Kelly's Directories Major Woodhead was living at 12 Norfolk Terrace by 1862 and had a second residence at Heathfield House, Heathfield, by 1878. He does not appear at either property in 1855. The 1861 census lists the family at 12 Norfolk Terrace shortly after their arrival in the county and the birth of the ninth child, Amy Christina, then one month old. Henry James Plumridge Woodhead, aged 41, is described as a captain in the 3rd Middlesex Militia, born at Marylebone, Middlesex. His wife, Emily, then aged 35, was born at Clapton in Middlesex. They were married at Hackney parish church on 23 June 1846 and their first child, Mary J Woodhead, aged 14 in 1861, was born in Florence, in Italy, while the second daughter, Emily Alice, was born Oswaldkirk, North Yorkshire, in the following year. The remaining five children listed in 1861, Margaret C[aroline] (aged 11), Clementina (aged 8), Thomas W[andesford] (aged 7), Maude H[elena] (aged 5) and Constance Ada sic (aged 1) were all born in Paddington. The household at Norfolk Terrace also included a nurse, Jane Large, and nursemaid, Elizabeth Parsons, a parlourmaid, Sarah Crane, a housemaid, Eliza Marsh, and a cook, Emma Edwards. By the time of the 1881 census the family had extended to include Grace (by then aged 17), and her sisters, Hilda (aged 15) and Edith (aged 18), all born in Brighton. Margaret and Amy (aged 31 and 20 respectively) were still living at home.


Henry Joseph Plumridge Woodhead died at 12 Norfolk Terrace on 11 January 1903. His will was proved in London on 28 February and probate granted to his business partner and fellow navy agent, William Thomas Western of 44 Charing Cross, and his son, Reverend Henry Comber Woodhead of Castlenau Barnes Vicarage in Surrey. His estate was valued at £9032 10s 4d. Emily Woodhead died on 15 March 1912 and probate was granted in London to the same executors as her late husband on 25 June. Her estate was valued at £1278 6s 1d and included a house called Oakdene in Waldron.


The Reverend Henry Comber Woodhead was the first son and fourth child of Henry and Emily Woodhead. He was born on 21 May 1851 and baptised on 8 July 1851 at Paddington St James. He is not listed with the family in Brighton in either the 1861 or 1881 census but was a pupil at Brighton College from 1864 before attending King's College, London. He was ordained in 1875 and was successively a curate at St James's Chapel, Hampstead, 1875-1877, St Philip's, Battersea Park, 1878-1881, St John, Bedford Hill, Balham, 1881-1883, All Saints, Clapton, 1883-1900, and vicar of Holy Trinity, Barnes, 1900-1921. He retired to live at 13 Compton Avenue, Brighton, where Grace Eyre Woodhead and her sister Hilda also lived prior to their deaths in 1936 and 1937 respectively. He died on 3 January 1933 and his will which includes bequests to his sisters, Grace, Hilda, Amy, Edith, Alice, Maude, Clementina and Constance, was proved on 15 February 1933.


Maude Helena Woodhead was known as Maude Helena Comber by the time of her father's will in 1893, which also refers to 4 grandchildren Eily Comber, Kathleen Comber, Harry Comber and Geoffrey Comber as well as several other grandchildren including Robert Comber Woodhead. Thomas Wandesford Woodhead, the son listed in the 1861 census, was dead by 1900 although bequests are made to his sons in their grandfather's will.


Grace Eyre Woodhead studied at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, (for photograph see GUA/29/1), before becoming concerned with the provision of country holidays for children from London Special Schools, who were boarded out at Heathfield in East Sussex. Applications were subsequently received by the Guardianship Society to take other cases, such as patients funded privately or by other Societies or Boards of Guardians, who were then boarded out with foster mothers all over the county. The emphasis continued to be on care in the community, supervised by the Society, with the additional provision of occupational training.


The passing of the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, which imposed on local authorities the duty of ascertaining which persons in their areas were mental defectives and arranging institutional care or guardianship for them, led to the formalisation of the Society's work under the regulation of the newly-formed Board of Control. The Society sought the help of Mr T W Edwards, superintendent of the Billericay Sanatoria, who came down to Brighton to help set up a Committee, which met for the first time on 10 June 1913. The General Committee continued to meet quarterly to receive reports and to take decisions on policy matters whilst a fortnightly Executive Committee was formed in January 1914 to consider cases and matters connected with the general administration of the society. In 1916 following a report from the Board of Control which made certain criticisms of the Society's care of its mentally defective patients, an Executive (Case) Committee was set up to deal exclusively with the mentally defective, draw up rules for the guardians of mentally defective persons and establish after-care procedures. The Committee later expanded to include representatives of local authorities and, after 1948, of the National Health Service. Funding was derived from subscriptions, from grants and fees from the Board of Control and from local authorities as well as from various other fund-raising activities.


Under the 1913 Act patients had to be certified under guardianship or notified to the Board under section 51 of the Act. Board of Control Commissioners visited and reported on individual patients twice a year. The Society's work became increasingly concentrated on the mentally handicapped, taking in patients from all parts of the British Isles. Industrial classes and Training Centres were established at Brighton, Hove and elsewhere in Sussex and Kent. In the 1920s small certified institutions were set up at Dungates Farm and Alpha House, later transferred to Walsh Manor in Waldron and Tubwell Farm in Rotherfield. Walsh Manor closed around 1936 but Dungates Farm and Tubwell Farm remained open until 1959. Work was also undertaken with patients discharged from mental hospitals and a Mental After-Care Committee was set up in 1925. A nurse was appointed to visit all patients leaving the Borough Mental Hospital at Haywards Heath with a view to helping them resume their normal lives. A Clinic for Nervous Disorders was started in 1926 and held weekly by Dr Harper Smith, Medical Superintendent of the Borough Mental Hospital, and Dr Guppy, the Assistant Medical Superintendent.


The Society occupied a succession of offices in Brighton; 4 Richmond Terrace until January 1917, 7 St George's Place from April 1917 to October 1918, 82 Grand Parade from January 1919 to February 1928, 2 Old Steine from March to April 1928, 8 Grand Parade from July 1928 to June 1937 and 3 Buckingham Place from July 1937 to September 1950. The Occupational and Industrial Classes moved to the Adult Centre at 61 Dyke Road in 1945. The Hastings Centre started in 1946 and weekly classes also began at Tunbridge Wells in the same year. A Junior Occupation Centre opened at St Winifred's Church Hall, Whippingham Road, Brighton, in 1945 but closed in 1949 and moved into the Centre at 61 Dyke Road. On 11 September 1950, following the sale of the Dyke Road and Buckingham Road premises, the Society moved to the Grace Eyre Woodhead Memorial (a converted Methodist church) on the Old Shoreham Road, Hove. In 1987 it was renamed the Avondale Centre.


In 1988 the name of the organisation was changed from the Guardianship Society to the Grace Eyre Foundation to mark the 75th anniversary of the founder. In 1993 it was incorporated as a limited company.


Grace Eyre Woodhead of 13 Compton Avenue, Brighton, died at the age of 72 on Sunday 5 April 1936 in a nursing home at 12 Dyke Road of cardiac failure, having suffered a heart attack six months previously. Her funeral was held at All Saints Church, Brighton, on Wednesday 8 April 1936 and she was buried in the family vault at Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery, Woodvale. Her will was proved in Lewes on 4 August and probate granted to her sister, Hilda Woodhead also of 13 Compton Avenue, and her nephew, Henry Alexander Walker of Manor House, Lower Woodford, Salisbury, retired Brigadier General, HM Army, on 4 August 1936. Her estate at her death was valued at £3815 17s 1d. Bequests included £200 to the Guardianship Society, family legacies to her sisters, Amy Christina Woodhead, Edith Cunliffe, Alice Emily Woodhead, Maude Helena Comber and Hilda Woodhead. Items bequeathed included a silver tea service and two armchairs originally given to Grace Eyre by the Guardianship Society and family heirlooms left to her by her mother, uncle, brother and grandfather. Three of her sisters died in the following year: Hilda Woodhead of 13 Compton Avenue, at the Royal Sussex County Hospital on 19 February (aged 71), Emily Alice Woodhead of 36 Forest Road, Broadwater, Worthing, on 20 May (aged 88) and Ada Constance of 53 Tisbury Road, Hove, on 21 November (aged 78). Her last surviving sister, Amy Christina, died on 28 April 1948, aged 87.

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