Catalogue description Records of St Mary's Home, the Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Brighton, Ovingdean and Buxted

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

Details of
Title: Records of St Mary's Home, the Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Brighton, Ovingdean and Buxted

Mother Superiors (originally called Lady Superiors; also known as Reverend Mother from 1902)


Katharine Mary (Katharine Anne Gream) 1858-1873


Harriot Mary (Harriot Rout) 1873-1890


Anstice Mary (Eliza Anstice Stradling) 1890-1896


Antoinette Mary (Antoinette Eleanor Hutton) 1896-1902


Joan Mary (Mary Juana Holdich) 1902-1926


Charlotte Mary (Charlotte Mary Burnside) 1926-1941


Agnes Mary (Agnes Mary Thornhill) 1941-1956


Inez Mary (Agnes Jennie Barker) 1956-1966


Elizabeth Mary (Florence May Hill) 1966-1972


Lilian Mary (Lilian Alice Grinham) 1972-1975


Elswytha Mary (Moira Elswytha Tindall) 1975-1978


Prisca Mary (Irene Morgan) 1978-1979


Gertrude Mary (Gertrude Kelf) 1979-1983


Elswytha Mary (Moira Elswytha Tindall) 1983

Related material:

For parish records of St Paul's Brighton see PAR 276; for annual reports, 1905-1907, 1911, see CHC 9/7. For an account of the foundation of the Brighton Home for Female Penitents, Albion Hill, Brighton, see AMS 6483

Held by: East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Record Office (ESBHRO), not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Administrative / biographical background:

The Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded by the Rev Arthur Douglas Wagner in 1855, and formally constituted in 1858. It was originally based at 3-4 Queen Square, Brighton, and initially its functions were to care for the fabric of St Paul's, to help with the Sunday school, and carry out district visiting. Wagner took over the house for female penitents (prostitutes) run by his cousin George Wagner in Lewes Road, Brighton after the latter's death in 1857, and moved it to houses in Wykeham Terrace, adjoining Queen Square, and the sisters became involved in rescue work. A bequest of £1,000 in the will of George Wagner endowed the separate Brighton Home for Female Penitents at Albion Hill in 1858


In 1858 St Mary's Home took over the school that had been established in 1855 at 80 West Street, Brighton by Miss Neale, the sister of Dr J M Neale, the theologian, hymnologist, and warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead. The school was at first dedicated to St Katharine, but was known as 'St Mary's School for the daughters of the clergy and others' after Miss Neale left Brighton and it transferred to the Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The school closed in 1910


Originally based at 3-4 Queen Square, St Mary's Home (originally called St Mary's Hospital) and Female Reformatory was enlarged to include 1-6 and 10-11 Queen Square, and 1-5 and 8-11 Wykeham Terrace. As well as undertaking parochial work, the community ran an orphanage for infants, boys and girls; the girls were trained for service and the boys sang in St Paul's choir. There was an infirmary for aged females; a dispensary for the poor of St Paul's parish; a relief room; a nursery; an embroidery school. Coal and clothing clubs were organised, and 600 blankets were available for loan during the winter; there was a needlework society and a bible class. Boarders were taken in at £25 pa


The sisters also had charge of the Brihton Refuge, a temporary shelter for fallen women at 7 St Peter's Place, Brighton, from the time it was reopened in May 1899, but their involvement ceased in 1904 when the original promoters were forced to give up the house because of lack of funds. 7 St Peter's Place was then taken over by the Chichester Diocesan Penitentiary Association, which continued the work of the refuge


The Rev A D Wagner hired Totease House, Buxted, as a retreat in 1873, and the Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Brighton, was also allowed to use it. In July 1878 this was replaced by St Margaret's Cottage, at the end of Church Road, Buxted, which was purpose-built as a home. Girls in the orphanage were trained for service, and when older transferred to the branch home at Buxted, and known as Industrial Girls. In 1883 Wagner built himself a new house called St Mary's on a plot adjoining St Margaret's Cottage; this had a private chapel which he shared with the community. The Buxted community was closed in 1911 when work started on the new premises at Ovingdean, and was taken over by the sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage, Berkshire


There appear to have been some financial difficulties after the death in 1902 of the founder, the Rev A D Wagner; all the work was undertaken by the sisters and volunteers, but Wagner had been solely responsible for the running costs of the home. The problems were eventually resolved and a move to new premises was planned; it had been felt for some years that a move to the country would be beneficial to the penitents


The Community moved to a new home at Ovingdean in 1912, and the first stage of the chapel was completed shortly afterwards. Building work continued for some years because of shortage of funds, and it seems that the premises were never completed on the scale which had initially been envisaged. The architect was F C Cawthorne, and the builders were Messrs Walter Laurence & Co of 21 Finsbury Circus


Ovingdean became the mother house in Nov 1914, when the Reverend Mother moved there from Brighton. A mission house was left at 6 Queen Square, Brighton, with the St Paul's Choir School for Boys at 13 Crown Street, which later moved to 3 Queen Square. The Dispensary at Brighton closed in June 1915.6 Queen Square was given up in 1924. St Paul's Church Council provided rooms at 4 Queen Square and connected these with number 3, forming one house only. The sisters then lived at 3 Queen Square. Involvement with St Paul's Choir School seems to have ceased around 1937; the sister moved to 2 Queen Square in 1938, and had care of St Paul's church and undertook parochial work


Sisters from St Mary's were in charge of St Martin's, the Diocesan Penitentiary at Hereford, from 1910 to 1929; from around 1910 sisters also worked at All Saints Mission House, Worcester, which took some of the furnishings and goods from the home at Buxted when it closed in December 1911. It was decided that help was no longer needed at Worcester in 1919, and the sisters moved to the parish of St Michael and All Angels, North Kensington, which was given up through lack of funds around 1941-1942


The Sisters were clearly active in their local area. They visited the scattered homes on the downs nearby, and ran a Sunday school at Woodingdean. One of the sisters played the harmonium at the church of Holy Cross, Woodingdean, and assisted with parochial duties


By 1938 it was known as St Mary's Training Home for Girls, rather than as a female reformatory. At the time of the centenary in 1955, the chapel was used for retreats, Mothers' Union services, Guilds and Girl Guides, and the Community ran a convalescent home and rest home for the poor, aged and lonely. In 1962 it was decided that it should be known as The Convent of St Mary, rather than St Mary's Home, reflecting the change of emphasis in its work. The community moved to Craigwell House, 30-32 Newlands Road, Rottingdean, on 10 Aug 1977. The Ovingdean building became St Mary's College, an international language school, in 1978, but closed in 1980. It was then used by the Church of Scientology as a training college until 1984, when it was bought by Westcott Estates, and sold shortly after to Worthing developers Jarvis Brothers and Brewster Group. Between 1984 and 1987 the building was converted into flats known as Rottingdean Place

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