St. Mary's Home

Stand 11. St Mary's
Photo John Palmer 2014

One of the stands on our Memory Walk is St. Mary’s Home

It is now close to the Ring Road, but of course long predates it having been built in the 1830s. It has quite a chequered history, having been used by Salisbury College (now the Salisbury Campus of Wiltshire College) for a long time.

We are very grateful to Salisbury resident Alan Doel for sharing his memories of St. Mary’s with us:

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 ladies 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!

We have a separate page with a gallery of Alan’s photos of St. Mary’s, showing the interior and several of the fine stained-glass windows.

You can read some fascinating memories from someone who grew up in the building after it had been closed as a “home” here https://www.milfordstreetbridgeproject.org.uk/content/places/churches-other-religious-buildings/living-in-st-marys

Comments about this page

  • This sounds fascinating! Thank you for this bit of history, Alan! Can one go round the building now?

    By Nikki Copleston (31/07/2019)
  • Hi Nicky, we e-mailed Alan and he says:

    “Almost the entire St Mary’s building behind the main-road frontage was demolished 15-20 years ago (I forget exact year) and a modern building of student accommodation framed behind it. However, the upper parts, including the Chapel were kept, and finally the Chapel was restored as a performance and display space. I haven’t been in it for a few years now, but the College then had an office – seen from the small vehicular entry from St Martin’s Church Street – where you might enquire perhaps. If they let you in, the Chapel is beautiful and the stained glass of Charles Kempe’s company makes a wonderful display.”

    Let us know if you go and visit!

    By Clare Christopher (03/08/2019)
  • Thanks for sharing your memories with us Alan. Hopefully other ex-students will do the same!

    By Clare Christopher (23/09/2014)

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