St Mary's Home
Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990. As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.
c) ST MARY’S HOME: Nos.1-6 and 10-11 Queen Square were once occupied by St Mary’s Home for Female Penitents. In mid-nineteenth-century Brighton the many inns, taverns, beer-houses and music halls were notorious as the haunts of prostitutes; an official survey of 1860 recorded 97 brothels and 300 prostitutes with, no doubt, many others unrecorded. The most notorious areas were said to be around Edward Street and Church Street, while the nightly scenes on the beaches in front of King’s Road and on the Level were said to `beggar all description’.
To facilitate the reform of these women, a home for female penitents (i.e. ex-prostitutes) was founded in 1853 by Revd George Wagner and Mrs Murray Vicars in a house opposite the Level, which soon moved to larger premises in Lewes Road. The routine was strict, but the girls were educated in reading, writing and scripture, and .visits by mothers were encouraged. In 1855 the penitentiary was moved to houses at Queen Square and Wykeham Terrace, but following Wagner’s death in 1857 it was taken over by the Community of’ the Virgin Mary, a convent of Anglican nuns founded by his cousin Arthur Wagner at 3-4 Queen Square. Renamed St Mary’s Home, the penitentiary was enlarged to include 1-6 and 10-11 Queen Square, and 1-5 and 8-11 Wykeham Terrace. Thirty inmates from all over the country were accommodated, but the home also started to take in the aged, the disabled, the poor and the infant, and established a lying-in hospital, a nursery, an industrial school, an infirmary and a dispensary.
By 1866 the premises had become too small and part of the institution was removed to 17 Egremont Place. In 1868 a new building, the Brighton Home for Female Penitents, was opened on the eastern side of Finsbury Road where it was generally known as the Albion Hill Home. In 1917 this was taken over by the Church Army as a girls’ home and school run by nuns, but in the early 1950s it was converted into a furniture factory. The Crown Hill and Westmount flats were built on the site in about 1961.
St Mary’s Home remained in Queen Square and Wykeham Terrace until a new building was erected by F.T.Cawthorn at Falmer Road in Ovingdean parish in 1912. In 1938 it became St Mary’s Training Home for Girls and was later an old people’s home, but it was still run by the nuns. The home closed in 1977 to become St Mary’s College, an international language school, and then a centre for the Scientology sect in 1980. In 1984 however, the buildings were converted into flats known as Rottingdean Place. The Community of the Virgin Mary is now based at 30-32 Newlands Road, Rottingdean.
Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder.