Maternity homes

Photo:183 Amhurst Road was originally a 'rescue home for unmarried mothers'

183 Amhurst Road was originally a 'rescue home for unmarried mothers'

© Natasha Lewer

Photo:Hopetown, 165 Lower Clapton Road, was established during the First World War as a 'home for mothers and infants'

Hopetown, 165 Lower Clapton Road, was established during the First World War as a 'home for mothers and infants'

© Natasha Lewer

By Natasha Lewer

Pregnant outside marriage  

Girls and women who became pregnant outside marriage frequently found themselves ostracised and thrown out of their jobs and their homes. Often this would happen when their pregnancies first began to show. ‘Receiving homes’ were set up to give shelter to these women in the months until they gave birth, as well as for a time afterwards.

Brent House, at 27-9 Devonshire Road (now Brenthouse Road), off Mare Street, was the Salvation Army’s first receiving home in Hackney. It opened in 1889 and was described as "a home for hitherto well-conducted young women who have been led astray, and are about to become mothers." The first girl to be admitted was 14-year-old Mary Ann Elliott, “made pregnant by her brother”.  

Giving birth  

At first, births took place at Brent House itself, under the supervision of midwife Caroline Frost, but when Ivy House opened in 1890, women were sent there to give birth, returning to Brent House three or four weeks later, where they stayed with their babies until according to Adelaide Cox “some situation is found for them or in some other way they are provided for.” 

Click here to read more about Ivy House Maternity Hospital .

Mother and baby homes  

In 1911, two further maternity homes for unmarried mothers, also known as ‘mother and baby homes’, were opened in Hackney. Lorne House (at 16 Rectory Road, Stoke Newington) was a gift to the Salvation Army from Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. Cotland, the third home, was at 11 Springfield, Upper Clapton, moving in 1920 to 9 Amhurst Park, Stamford Hill. A photograph in the Daily Mirror of 21 Jan 1921 shows Adelaide Cox and Lady Nott-Bower at the opening of the new Cotland in Amhurst Park, which had space for 33 mothers and 18 babies.  

Other Salvation Army receiving homes and maternity homes in Hackney came to include Lanark House, in Laura Place, Lower Clapton; Lorne House II (later known as Hope Lodge), at 4 Clapton Common; Hopetown, at 165 Lower Clapton Road; Sapsworth House, at 122-4 Lower Clapton Road; Cotswold, at 55-7 Downs Road; and 181-3 Amhurst Road. There was also a special home for unmarried mothers suffering from venereal disease, opened in 1921.

Six-month stay  

Pregnant girls and women were received on the condition that they would stay there for a certain number of months after the baby was born (four months in 1911, increasing to six months by 1926), though in practice the time was often shorter than that, for the Salvation Army was keen to help move the women on as soon as possible so as to make room for others.  

A moral change  

There was no shortage of applicants for the receiving homes and maternity homes, the majority of whom were respectable working-class girls who had attended Sunday school as children and worked as servants before “drifting away” and “becoming indifferent”. The Salvation Army saw it as their mission to help these women in the long-term by bringing them back to a “moral” way of life and ensuring that their past mistakes would not be repeated.  

Working not dreaming  

“In this work they go on the principle that there must be a moral change before there can be any lasting outward change,” reported an interviewer of Adelaide Cox in the late 1890s. “The girls come to them, usually dull and stubborn, but the influence of the home tells upon them. They are kept at work and from dreaming, the latter being the more difficult thing.” The women were kept busy chiefly with housework and sewing. The needlework they did was often sold, the money going to the maternity home.  

‘Old girls’

After leaving the maternity home, the mothers would receive visits and letters from Salvation Army officers for the next three years, enquiring after their welfare and making sure that they were living morally upright lives. The Annual Report of 1927 describes how, “at each home an officer is set apart to watch over the welfare of ‘old girls’ to whom she writes hundreds of letters and pays hundreds of visits every year.” There was also a “club room for ‘old girls’” in every maternity home, described as “a much used and cheerful social centre”. In the mid-1890s, Adelaide Cox claimed that the success rate with the girls and women in their care was 80%, falling to 70% over a period of three years, reckoning “that those who have been reclaimed and lived consistently for this time are likely to stand”.      


This page was added by Natasha Lewer on 11/11/2009.

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