Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

St Mary's Home For Girls, Cheam

Photograph of St Mary's Home For Girls, Cheam

Discover more about this imagelink opens in a new window

St Mary's Home For Girls, Cheam

Sandy Lane, Cheam, Surrey

(1914 - 1939)

The Cheam Home was built as part of the Waifs and Strays' Society's 'bricks and mortar' scheme of 1913. Under this proposal the Society aimed to construct several new homes in a short space of time. The Cheam Home was one of the quickest to be completed, and the girls (aged 6-16) moved in on 30 April 1914.

The first intake of girls arrived from Peckham, where their old house had been closed. As they walked up 'Sandy Lane' to their new home, they 'were all smiles and excitement'. Two days later the Home held an opening ceremony, with 'mounted policemen and Venetian masts with festoons of fluttering flags'. All this grandeur made one visitor feel as though they were 'in London at a royal wedding or a coronation'.

St Mary's location near the Surrey Hills made it an attractive location for other homes to visit. In 1921 the girls from the Dulwich Home stayed there for a three-week holiday, and one girl wrote a letter describing their activities. They 'enjoyed seeing the threshing machine in the field opposite, and it was nice too to pick the wild flowers, and watch the insects. We saw a number of buildings and big places which interested us a great deal.' The children of St Mary's had their own holidays too, and in 1934 they all travelled to Felixstowe. They visited Butlins Amusement Park where they went on all the new rides. There were 50 girls in the Home, so this must all have taken some time!

Children's homes often encouraged their girls to join the Brownies and the Guides, and Cheam was especially successful at winning badges. These were awarded for helpful activities such as laundry, cooking and domestic service. The matron was proud of her girls, and she sent a letter to the Society in 1924 telling everyone how well they were doing. She wrote about a recent Girl Guides rally, where the Cheam girls had been awarded a distinction in personal cleanliness.

St Mary's closed in 1939 when the girls were evacuated to Frant, and reopened as St Mary's Nursery for under three year olds in 1945. It closed in 1968.

The Children's Society UNESCO logo Big
           Lottery Fund logo Wellcome Trust