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

Hill House Home For Girls, Cold Ash

Photograph of Hill House Home For Girls, Cold Ash

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Hill House Home For Girls, Cold Ash

Cold Ash, nr. Newbury, Berkshire

(1886 - 1946)

The first intake of girls arrived at Hill House on 2 March 1886, and the Home was formally opened on 29 May. To mark the occasion the Bishop of Oxford, Mr Mackarness, conducted a dedication ceremony in Cold Ash parish church. After the service, the gathered crowd walked to Hill House where the Home was formally opened with a benediction (a type of blessing). On 5 November the 27th child arrived at Hill House and the Home was declared full.

In the early years Hill House underwent some significant alterations. Building work in 1887 modified the Home's heating system, and a new stove was fitted to the schoolroom 'with a pipe to the dormitory, warming both at a lower cost than previously.' Another change occurred in 1890 when the Home bought the freehold on its property, which saved over £20 per year in rent (over £1,300 in today's money). Hill House also changed its name in 1893, and became known as St Mary's Home for Girls.

St Mary's was certified as an industrial school for girls aged 7-14 years old. This meant that it cared for children from the most impoverished backgrounds, such as those found habitually wandering the streets. Industrial schools provided a disciplined working routine for the children, which involved training in various practical subjects. In the case of St Mary's, the 'little industries' of the Home included laundry, needlework and cooking.

Much of the work produced by the girls was sold at fêtes and bazaars, and in the 1890s they had particular success with their home-made jam, and mob-caps (hairnets). The children were also taught the theory of housework, and they were given 'domestic economy' lessons in the Home's schoolroom. Many of the girls used their training to follow careers in domestic service.

Every year one of the girls would be proclaimed as 'Rose Queen', and presented with a crown of roses. In 1893 they organised a special ceremony for the event, which was presided over by Revd Courtenay Carter. The girls formed a royal procession around the Queen and held banners bearing the motto 'I rule by love'. They then danced around a Maypole holding long coloured ribbons, with music played by the Newbury Town Band.

On this same day the Home also staged a farewell ceremony for the retiring Superintendent, Miss Summerson, who had worked at St Mary's since it opened. She was presented with three framed engravings as a 'token of appreciation of her valuable services'. Miss Barter, who came from the Meanwood Home, became the new Superintendent later in the year.

The Home closed in 1946 and the building was converted into a St Mary's Nursery. This facility for toddlers ran until 1980.

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