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Our next meeting – Who knows when it will be? It will come as no surprise that we have cancelled all meetings for the first half of the year. Whether we will be in a position to resume in the Autumn is a very reasonable question, but without an answer. One of the speakers we have had to cancel suggested Zoom as a way of presenting his talk while more than maintaining social distancing. We should have details of our first virtual meeting later this week.
History from the Archives – Basingstoke’s House for Fallen Women by John Fisher
This title conjures up all sorts of ideas and to have one in Basingstoke seems even more unlikely, but at the TADS Meeting in September 1990, Mr. John Fisher gave a very interesting account of just such a place.The house for fallen women, or St. Thomas’s, is a group of buildings, dating from the latter part of the Victorian era, situated to the north of Basingstoke station and was used as a rehabilitation centre for fallen and destitute women from about 1876 into the 1930’s.
The need for such a home was recognised around 1850 and eventually a house for about 14-20 women was established at Hardway in Hampshire around 1862, the women and girls coming from the areas of Portsmouth, Portsea and Gosport. (A receiving house was also established at Ash to take women from the Aldershot Camp area). The driving force for this venture was Admiral of the Fleet, Sir A.P. Ryder, KCB who gave his support from the first conception right up to the building of St. Thomas’s in Basingstoke.
Unfortunately the house at Hardway had to close due to lack of funds, and around 1867 the Reverend Lascelles, with the aid of Sister Harriot Hewitt, took over the home and under their leadership the home started to pay its way. Eventually the house proved to be too small and an appeal was made by another prominent figure, Bishop Wilberforce, to raise funds to increase the number of
women helped: “No Diocese in England so urgently needs such a provision as that which contains such centres of misery as those for which these refuges are provided. A most efficient council has been appointed to carry out this work, but large funds are urgently and immediately wanted.
Around 1874 Bishop Harold Brown purchased 3 acres at Basingstoke with the option of 2 more, and St. Thomas’s began to take shape. It took about 10 years to complete with much fund raising taking place during the building. Bishop Harold Brown’s appeal for funds stated: “There can be no work holier than Christ-like work than to rescue these women from misery and ruin and to bring back the fallen to penitence and purity”. St. Thomas’s took in about 70 women and entry was voluntary – but obviously preferable to the workhouse or the street. The women were expected to stay for 2 years and were schooled in the three Rs, laundry, baking, needlework and also singing. The women were housed in cottages rather than dormitories, a system recommended by Admiral Ryder.
The cost of keeping the women was £25 each per annum but the house took in work – laundry mainly – to help with the finances. The youngest were girls of 14 years and work in service was found for all women and girls at the end of their stay. In a comment on the younger girls, which shows that thought and effort went into looking after the women and children, the Reverend Bigwither said: “If we receive a child at 14 and send her out to service at 16, we dismiss her at a most dangerous age. At such an age the reaction from the 2 years restraint issues in too frequently in an abuse of regained liberty.
Experience shows that these children need a term of at least 3 to 4 years of supervision of some kind.” In January 1868. after the death of Sister Hariot Hewitt and the resignation due to ill health, of Dr. Millard, the first Warden, the Sisterhood of St. Thomas the Martyr at Oxford, took on the responsibility of the Home. The buildings form a quadrangle and the last building to be completed was the Chapel. ‘This was designed by the Architect, Sir Henry Woodyear in 1884 and is a Grade 2 listed building. There is also a fountain in the centre of the quadrangle, presented by Admiral Ryder.
St.Thomas’s was used by the Education Authority until about 5 years ago but is now becoming derelict – the present occupiers being the Security Guards – but it has a special place in the history of Basingstoke due to the fact that such rehabilitation facilities of that period must be of a unique nature. There is an account of the early years of St. ‘Thomas’s by the Reverend Reginald Fitzhue Bigwither kept in the Record Offices at Winchester, and John Fisher has written an article, published in the Hampshire Magazine and is presently writing another.
Bert Rogers (1990)
The site is now private housing and a care home. Many of the Victorian Buildings remain. – Ed.