11. St Mary's

Stand 11. St Mary's
Photo John Palmer 2014
Stand 11. Lesley Bush recalls the clues she saw of the former residents' way of life at St Mary's. (MP3 audio clip)

Stand 11

St. Mary’s

These characterful, old buildings are now Salisbury College’s Halls of ResidenceThey date back to the 1830s.    

St. Mary’s – A Home For Salisbury’s Catholics 

Towards the mid 1800s, the Roman Catholic faith was experiencing a liberation in Britain after a period of repression and persecution lasting nearly 300 years.  They had been left without churches in Salisbury.  St Mary’s was put into service as the focus of the Catholic community. One of their devotees was the celebrated architect Augustus Pugin, who designed a chapel for them within these old buildings. This did good service until, in 1848, his design for a full sized church was realised and Salisbury’s Catholic Church of St Osmund’s was opened,. It can be visited, not far from here, in Exeter Street. Pugin also restored the mediaeval great hall of  Salisbury’s 15th century Mayor, John Halle, which now forms the entrance hall to the Odeon Cinema.

St Mary’s –  A Home For ‘Fallen and Wayward Girls’

After St Mary’s ceased to be the Catholic centre for Salisbury, it became ‘St Mary’s Home’. This was a reformatory run by Anglican nuns for unmarried mothers and girls with questionable behaviour. The girls had to participate in a strict programme of work and prayer designed to equip them to get a job or bring up a family on their departure.

Lesley Bush lived on the site of St Mary’s Home soon after it was closed as a home for ‘fallen and wayward women’. She recalls the clues she saw relating to the lives of the former occupants. Listen to the audio clip on the right of this page or on the MP3 file from the Downloads page.

Now walk into St Martin’s Church Street, pass by St. Mary’s Chapel on the right, until you reach the Church gate.

Comments about this page

  • As the current manager of St Marys, I would love to collect and display photos and stories detailing her long and varied life. It is a Halls of Residence now, and we do have year round residents, but it may be possible for an occasional visitor or two to have a tour during the summer. A contact number is posted on the wall outside the gate.

    By babz (20/01/2021)
  • I can’t thank you enough for this. I have been trying to trace one of my husbands ancestors (great Aunt) who apparently was never talked about other than to say In hushed words .. “she was a bad un”. She had a daughter who was was bought up by her gran and I don’t think they were ever reunited. Sad really but that was the sign of the times but I desperately wanted to be able to trace her (rose) so that her story was out there. I now have somewhere to start from. Thankyou
    Frances Morton

    By Frances Morton (12/07/2020)
  • Hi Frances, there are three more pages with info about St Marys in the section places/churches-other-religious-buildings including some photographs from inside. Best of luck with your research.

    By Clare Christopher (12/07/2020)
  • Alan, thank you so much for all this information. I spent ages trying to find out more about St Mary’s, especially the chapel, sadly Wiltshire College were unable to oblige. If you have any more anecdotes please do let us have them.

    By Barbara Gibson (06/10/2014)
  • Illegitemacy was the stigma which drove the formation of St Mary’s Home, or as it was also called, a Female Penitentiary. Mid-nineteenth century girls, restricted in work to varieties of domestic service, were vulnerable to male advances in a men-only society (one reality of the master/servant relationship), and unmarried pregnancy was sometimes the result. If the young lady’s family took a stern view and threw her out, as undoubtedly her employer would, she would have no fall-back position, and in the major cities young lady’s on the streets may be forced for their keep into prostitution.

    If illegitemacy was seen as a stigma to the Victorians, prostitution was anathema, and societies sprang up with the charitable intention of taking in these young mothers, finding local homes for the unwanted babes, and guiding the girls in strict moral and religious studies, they earning their way back into society by the labour of laundry work.

    St Mary’s was such a home, founded and funded by the well-to-do of the Salisbury area and run by nuns of Clewer near Windsor, it was initially centred on the former Catholic chapel part of the building, later dormitories and laundry workrooms being built at the end of the C19th, and the fine chapel added abutting as it still does on to St Martin’s Church Street.

    I remember the building from the late 1980s when I was for a short time a student of Salisbury College. Whilst I did not enjoy my studies, I found St Mary’s a fascinating building, having a whole range of seemingly domestic rooms on various levels, connected by little flights of stairs, and a corridor running alongside Churchill Way which went up and down steps. I seem to recall some wooden architraves on the gable ends, pretty much a ubiquitous feature in architecture of the period. A typical Victorian utilitarian agglomeration really, little brick-built sections added on as needed. I was fascinated by the chapel area, where a short passage accessed a tiny six-flight stairway, barely wide enough to navigate, leading to a bridge across to the organ loft of the beautiful chapel. It would never be built thus today!

    By Alan Doel (20/08/2014)

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