St Monica's Mother & Baby Home

(Epsom 1910 to 1921 & Leatherhead 1922 To 1938)

Emmeline Willis's memorial.
Emmeline Willis's memorial
Photograph © Nishi Sharma of Light & Shade Photography, 2015

At first glance, this beautiful example of Powell's Opus Sectile work (otherwise - and more helpfully - known as "opaque stained glass") in the North Aisle of Christ Church Epsom Common is often taken as a Madonna. That is particularly so since it is sited at the entrance to the original 1976 North Transept which, in 1920, was remodelled as a Lady Chapel to house the parish's Great War memorial. (This space, more recently known as the Peace & Reconciliation Chapel, also now houses the parish's WW2 memorial.)

The second glance shows that the figure is named as St Monica. She (331-387) was the mother of St Augustine of Hippo, and her problematical family life has led to her being the patron saint of "difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of (verbal) abuse, and conversion of relatives" - so is not the obvious choice for the memorial of the ultra-respectable Emmeline Willis (née Levick) of Horton Lodge. (Contrary to the name, this was a grand house in its own right - having its own lodge, called Horton Lodge Lodge!)

The probable explanation is that Emmeline Willis was active on the Committee for the now-forgotten St Monica's, which was what would now be called a Mother & Baby Home. The fullest information so far found about this comes from a privately published memoir written by Canon Archer Hunter. He was Vicar of Christ Church from 1881 until his retirement as a parish priest in 1911, when he was aged 61. In addition to his parish duties, he was appointed Rural Dean for Leatherhead in 1906 - an area covering 17 parishes, from Cobham and Horsley in the west and Banstead and Ewell in the east. He continued as Rural Dean until 1925, when he was 75.

In his 1935 memoir, Incidents in my life and Ministry, Archer Hunter notes that, on standing down as Rural Dean, he was asked to continue his work in connection with St. Monica's, on which he expanded as below.
St. Monica's has to do with the Prevention and Rescue work of the Diocese. It was started a quarter of a century ago [i.e. about 1910], and after having its centre for some years in Epsom, was removed to Leatherhead in 1922. The work owes a very large debt to Bishop Randolph, our advisor for many years, I doubt if without him we should have been able at times to carry on. To him we owe our worker, Sister Alicia, who has been with us for nearly twenty years. No one has had more experience than she has in this very difficult work, and the girls under her care are helped to a new life by making their home as bright and cheerful as possible. Since writing this Sister Alicia has resigned, but still helps us on our Committee.

On leaving Ashley Road, Epsom, in 1921, because the house in which we had carried on the work was wanted, we had considerable difficulty in finding another. Almost all the parishes in the Deanery contributed nobly towards the purchase of a house if such could be found, and here I should like to mention the very generous and kind help constantly given by the late Mrs. Garton of Banstead Wood, Banstead. Banstead led the way, but was well followed by the other parishes.

Towards the purchase of a house, secured in the Kingston Road, Leatherhead, we had early in 1922 obtained all but about £600. Before the end of the year this had been reduced to £150, when a very unexpected and generous donation of £500 was received from the executors of the will of the late Mr. Salomons, of Norbury Park. This enabled us to pay off the remainder of our debt and to invest £350 in five per cent War Loan.

The work is done by Sister Alicia, who visits all the parishes in turn, and is always ready to address meetings of mothers, and to help girls not only who have fallen, but who are in danger of falling. Our objects are to protect and help friendless girls, to rescue the fallen, to provide a friend to whom girls can always apply in time of perplexity, and to give advice to parents in cases when innocent girls may be exposed to danger. The work is carried on under a very able committee of ladies chosen from among the twenty parishes in the Deaneries of Epsom and Leatherhead. It is perforce of a secret character and very difficult. Few can undertake it, therefore I feel special thanks are due to those who do so, and without doubt we owe a great debt of gratitude to our chief worker.
Contemporary local directories indicate that, when in Epsom, "St Monica's Rescue Home" (with Miss Bertha Atkinson as the matron) was housed in what is now No 29 Ashley Road.

There is a mention of this stage of the Home's life in Trevor White's War-Time in a Surrey Town where, probably quoting from The Advertiser, he records the following.
To the Rescue of Young Women

Also in the first month of 1916, revealing news was given about the work of St. Monica's Home for Preventative and Rescue Work which was situated in Ashley Road. It had opened quietly and then closed in the previous year but now it was felt that there were big enough numbers to continue the work of the Home. Sister Palmer had asked for clothes, boots and shoes for girls, a sewing machine, an ink-stand and blotter, and cot blankets.

At the re-opening by the Bishop of Guildford it was made known that the Home was for those who wished to save themselves from themselves.

Someone who lived in Epsom at the time remembers a nun, in Waterloo Road, trying to save one of the girls by pulling her forcefully back towards the Home.
As Canon Hunter noted, the Home left Epsom in 1921. It reopened in 1922 at No 96 Kingston Road, Leatherhead (almost next door to All Saints' Church) with the official title "Leatherhead Deanery Rescue Society". A directory entry for 1936 referred to it as "St. Monica's Rescue and Preventive Home for Girls". Sister Alicia Morris had been succeeded by Sister Metcalf.

The Home closed on 31 July 1938, some three years after Canon Hunter published his memoir - and just a few months before he died in April 1939, aged 88.

Roger Morgan © May, 2017