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 1876 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. Until recently, the fullest information found about this came 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 in 1906 as Rural Dean for Leatherhead (at the time - and for some years subsequently - spelled "Letherhead") - 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. [As shown by the Leatherhead Parish Magazine extracts below, the move was actually in late 1921.] The work owes a very large debt to Bishop Randolph [Suffragan Bishop of Guildford 1909-27, the last before the Guildford district - previously part of the Diocese of Winchester - became a separate diocese in 1927], 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 [Morris], 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 29 Ashley Road - which, when St Monica's left, reverted to private ownership.

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 later that year at No 96 Kingston Road, Leatherhead (almost next door to All Saints' Church) with the official title "Leatherhead Deanery Rescue Society".

The two homes of St Monica's
The two homes of St Monica's
Left: 29 Ashley Road, Epsom (1910-21)
Right: 96 Kingston Road, Leatherhead (1921-38)
Photographs by Roger Morgan © 2018

Some information about St Monica's early days in Leatherhead is found in the following excerpts from Leatherhead Parish Magazines.

Issue of September 1921:

The Central House for this work in the Deanery has hitherto been in Epsom but it is no longer available. The Committee have secured and bought a house in this Parish, St. Monica's, Kingston Road, close to All Saints' Church, where Sister Alicia, the Worker, now lives. She will be pleased to welcome there any girls who care to come and see her. The invitation is not only for those who have fallen into trouble, but for anyone who needs a friend and would like to come and see the Sister for a chat or a friendly cup of tea.

The House is open for inspection from 2 to 5.30 p.m. on any day. Sister Alicia is always "at home" on Wednesday afternoons; and she can generally be seen before 10.30 or 2.30 on all days, and will gladly welcome any visitor who cares to look in upon her. She is most anxious to be of use in every possible way, especially with girls and women.

The full address is
St. Monica's,
Kingston Road,
Issue of December 1921:

On Nov. 4th St. Monica's House, close to All Saint's Church, in Kingston Road, was dedicated by the Bishop of Guildford. This house is the centre of the work of the Preventive and Rescue Association in the Deanery of Letherhead, which was carried on from Epsom until the house there occupied was sold. Sister Alicia, who has been in charge of the work in the Deanery for the last five or six years, has not only the care of girls and young women who have fallen into trouble, but is most anxious to give advice and assistance to any whom she may be able to help, and welcomes any one who cares to come and see her for a chat or a friendly cup of tea. She is always "at home" on Wednesday afternoons: and can generally be seen before 10.30 or 2.30 on all days.

The purchase of this house for its most needful work has thrown a heavy responsibility upon the Committee: and the cost has to be met by the efforts of the various Parishes in the Deanery. It has not yet been entirely defrayed. One Parish, not by any means as populous as ours, has raised nearly 400 for the purpose; another of about half our size has raised about 100. It is specially incumbent upon us, among whom St. Monica's is situated, to undertake our full share of the burden: the means by which we can best do so in the immediate future are under consideration.
Issue of March 1922:

On Sunday, March 19th, the collections in Church will be given to the work of the Diocesan Preventive and Rescue Union in the Rural Deanery of Letherhead. The centre of that work is, of course, St. Monica's Kingston Road, Letherhead: it needs all the support which can be given to it: and we in Letherhead are more than ever concerned to give as much help as we can, not only to the maintenance of the work, but also towards clearing off the debt unavoidably contracted by the necessity of the removal of St. Monica's from Epsom.

There is also to be a "Pound Day" at St. Monica's on Wednesday, March 8th. Contributions will be most gratefully welcomed, and may be sent to the Vicarage, or to St. Monica's.
A 1936 local directory entry referred to the Home as "St. Monica's Rescue and Preventive Home for Girls" and showed that Sister Alicia's successor was a Sister Metcalf.

St Monica's closed on 31 July 1938 (reverting to private ownership), some three years after Canon Hunter published his memoir - and just a few months before he died in April 1939, aged 88.

Roger Morgan © December 2018
With special thanks to Frank Haslam for information
about St Monica's when in Leatherhead