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.

Comments about this page

  • Is that the murder house?

    By Amy (03/06/2010)
  • I am hunting information on the Penitent Home at 16 Blue Boar Road, Leicester, England in 1881. There was a 14 year old girl there. Her name was Sarah Jane Jacques. She was a sister of my grandfather. I would like to know if she had a child and where she went and when she left. If she had a child was it adopted out and could we find out who adopted it. We can’t find any trace of her after 1881 census.

    By Christine Hale (01/02/2011)
  • The suggestion is that this picture was taken in the 1930s. I may be wrong, but weren’t the white bands only painted on the trees during the war, making the photo a decade later at least?

    By Roy Grant (03/04/2011)
  • I’ve just started working in Norwood House, which overlooks Wykeham Terrace. From there I can see what looks like the back of a chapel. At the front (in Queen Square) however, there just seems to be houses. I can only assume that the chapel was converted into one or more houses and façades built. Can anyone tell me any more about this?

    By Karl (07/02/2012)
  • Yes, it is Amy, (the one with the rectangular roof extension). It was owned by Harvey Holford in the 1960s. Home of the infamous Blue Gardiner club upstairs and The Whisky-a-go-go coffee bar in the basement.

    By Barry Plank (06/05/2012)
  • Hi Amy. Do the houses in the picture back onto the St Marys Home in Wykeham Terrace? I am trying to put the different places in this series of photos together. Many thanks

    By Jane Lucas (26/10/2013)
  • I’m researching family history and have found that my great-grandmother gave birth to a child at Albion Hill Home in 1919.  Her name was Elizabeth Rose Cox and I’m interested in finding out about the time that she stayed at the home and if there are any records kept anywhere. If anyone can point me in the right right direction please get in touch.

    By Lee Annals (07/03/2018)
  • I am trying to find out why Lizzie Benson, who appears on the 1911 census for this establishment was there. She is recorded as an 18 year old “penitent” from Southall Green, Middlesex. I believe she is my grandmother born Elizabeth Victoria Benson in Southall in 1892. Any help would be appreciated.

    By Barry Miller (25/11/2020)
  • Awkward this one Barry, but the Protestant nuns who ran St.Mary’s were ostensibly there originally from 1850 to save ‘fallen women’, however by the date you give they may have moved emphasis to help women in some form of need.

    By Dr Geoffrey Mead (26/11/2020)
  • How would I go about finding out if one of my great great aunts was a nun who worked at St. Mary’s Home?

    By Chalene Bilinski (28/12/2020)

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