Ivy House (1890-1913)

Photo:Ivy House

Ivy House

© London Metropolitan Archives

Photo:Nursing staff at Ivy House Maternity Hospital, 1898.

Nursing staff at Ivy House Maternity Hospital, 1898.

© The Deliverer

Photo:A front view of Ivy House Hospital with Colonel Sapsworth, the Superintendent, at the top right side, 1909.

A front view of Ivy House Hospital with Colonel Sapsworth, the Superintendent, at the top right side, 1909.

© The Deliverer

Photo:Staff on front steps of Ivy House, c.1909.

Staff on front steps of Ivy House, c.1909.

© The Deliverer

Unmarried beginnings
By Peter Archard

On 10 October 1890 Agnes Ball gave birth to a baby girl at Ivy House, the Salvation Army’s Rescue Home and Hospital for Unmarried Mothers, located at 271 Mare Street, in Hackney, London. The birth of Agnes’ daughter was the first to be recorded in the Ivy House Register of Births. Under the care of Captain Mrs Frost, the matron and midwife, a further 15 babies were born at Ivy House by the end of 1890, including twin girls born on 29 October to Eliza Carter. By the end of 1913, 23 years on from Agnes Ball’s confinement, some 4,500 babies had been born at Ivy House. Ivy House was then closed down and replaced by the Salvation Army Mothers’ Hospital in Lower Clapton Road, Hackney.

Agnes Ball’s and Eliza Carter’s circumstances are not recorded in the Ivy House Register of Births. However, prior to their confinement, they were likely to have been domestic servants referred from one of the Salvation Army’s first rescue homes for unmarried pregnant women set up in Chelsea or Pimlico. Evidence analysed from the Salvation Army’s casebooks of their London rescue homes showed that over 25% of the unmarried mothers who came to the Salvation Army had applied themselves, 19% were referred by a relative, usually a parent, and the remainder were sent by Salvationists or other individuals outside the family.  

In [year] William and Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, commenced their itinerant evangelical work for the Christian Missio. But it was not until the early [mid?] 1880s that they established the Salvation Army with the double purpose of rescuing and evangelising London’s destitute poor in Whitechapel, in London’s East End.

Ivy House grew out of the Salvation Army’s evangelical and social work, begun informally in 1881, with its rescue work for prostitutes. By 1886 the Salvation Army recognised that unmarried mothers required special spiritual and social support if they were to avoid the risks of becoming prostitutes. It was in this context that Florence Booth, as head of the Salvation Army Women’s Social Services, asked Mrs Frost, a Salvationist midwife from Guernsey, to manage the organisation’s rescue homes for unmarried mothers in Chelsea and Pimlico.

Demand for their services grew rapidly and soon outstripped the capacity of the rescue homes. It was in this context that Commissioner Florence Booth obtained the approval of General Booth to set up a Rescue Home and Hospital for Unmarried Mothers. For this purpose the Salvation Army opened Ivy House in 1890.

Ivy House was a large four-storey building with a three-storey annex, located at 271 Mare Street, Hackney, on the north corner with Richmond Road. Originally a rural homestead, Ivy House was probably built sometime around the beginning of the 19th century. With the urbanisation of Hackney during the 19th century, Ivy House was converted into a lodging house prior to it being rented by the Salvation Army as a joint Rescue Home and Hospital for Unmarried Mothers (1890-94), and exclusively as the Salvation Army’s Maternity Hospital (1895-1913).

In 1906 a Dr Wanklyn inspected the premises for the London County Council. In his detailed report he described Ivy House as consisting of a basement, ground floor and two floors above. The basement housed the kitchen, kitchen offices, dining room and bathroom for domestic staff. The ground floor held the dining room for midwife pupils and for nursing staff – this room was also used for lectures – two administration offices, a room used in connection with district work, and a convalescent ward. The first floor housed the day nursery, four lying-in wards, and the Matron’s bed-sitting room. The toilet, used also as a slop sink, was located on the half landing below this floor. Hot and cold water sinks, used only for soapy water, were provided for on in the first floor passage and second floor landing. The labour room, night nursery, one further lying-in ward and an ante-natal room – which acted as a receiving room –were located on the second floor. Altogether there were six wards with a total of 22 beds. Twelve cots were provided on the three floors. Artificial lighting throughout the building was by gas. There was no bathroom for the patients. Instead movable baths were used in the ante-natal room and in the lying-in wards.

The hospital also made provision for an isolation ward which was a separate structure completely detached from the hospital and built against the external wall of 225 Richmond Road, a small end-of-terrace house housing the assistant matron, the nursery matron and “those waiting cases who help in the Hospital domestic work”. Nurses training to become midwives lived in the nursing home at 269 Mare Street, where they slept and studied under the care of a home matron, but took their meals in the Hospital were they did the rest of their work or in the district.    

The building was demolished around 1913. The site is currently occupied by an employment office for the jobless known as Job Centre Plus.

Origins of Ivy House as a maternity hospital

The inspiration and energy for providing a service for unmarried mothers at the time of their confinement principally rested with Florence Booth (Mrs Bramwell Booth, daughter-in-law of William and Catherine Booth, the founders of the Salvation Army), and her assistant, Commissioner Adelaide Cox. They saw the need to separate unmarried mothers from the ordinary rescue cases because of their special circumstances. Ivy House was intended for “girls who previous to their fall, have led respectable lives, and who have been betrayed by the so-called men to whom they have been engaged and whom they loved not wisely, but too well”. Click here for more information on rescue homes

Circumstances leading to the opening a maternity hospital

From the early 1880s the Salvation Army fulfilled a dual function: fervent evangelism combined with practical social work.

In 1881 the work of the Army’s Women’s Social Services began informally in Whitechapel through one of its officers opening her home to women seeking to escape life on the streets and settling them in respectable situations. The Army formalised this work in 1884 through the establishment of a home targeting “prostitutes, young girls ‘who are just entering upon the paths of sin and shame [and] girls who have been ruined and forsaken but who are opposed to leading an immoral life’”. Pregnant women gave birth in this home until 1886, when the Army established its first separate maternity facility. This home may have been a rescue home located in either Chelsea or Pimlico.

According to historian Ann Higginbotham:

“The early records of Salvation Army rescue homes show that, by 1886, the Women’s Social Services was receiving frequent requests for aid from both pregnant single women and women with illegitimate children. By 1890 the Women’s Social Services had two separate homes for women with infants and, in that year, they opened Ivy House, a small maternity hospital. Before the opening of Ivy House pregnant women who came to the attention of the Women’s Social Services were sent to the workhouse, to lodgings, or, after 1888, to the home of Mrs Walker, a Chelsea midwife who undertook to care for Salvationist cases during their confinement. The newly confined women and their infants then returned to a Women’s Social Services home. Once the Salvation Army began offering facilities for childbirth the demand was high. By 1894, one third of letters received at the Women’s Social Services headquarters contained requests for help for maternity cases”.  


From its early days Ivy House also functioned as a training school for midwives. Adjutant (later Captain) Mrs Frost, the first matron and midwife, trained prospective nurses and midwives, some of whom were certified by the London Obstetrical Society. Once Mrs Frost took charge of the Salvation Army’s district work, probably in 1894, midwifery training was led by Ensign Sowden who retired in [year], following which Major Martin and Major Castle led the training courses. Between May 1894 and March 1909, 341 nurses were trained at Ivy House. Of these 234 were certified by the Central Midwives Board, 26 held the certificate of the London Obstetrical Society, 22 held the Hospital Certificate only, and 59 were approved by the Hospital to work as “ladies Monthly Nurses”.  

The course for training midwifes lasted four to six months and consisted of theoretical and practical work, including 12 weekly lectures from Dr Bremner, a Clapton-based local general practitioner and visiting physician to Ivy House. A six-month course consisted of the first month in the nursery, the second and part of the third in the post-partum lying-in wards, followed by assisting in hospital and district confinements. During the last month the trainee midwife was encouraged to give extra time to those aspects of her work she was deemed to be weak on, and to study for the examination.  

In 1891 and 1901 respectively six and eight nurses resided at Ivy House, not all of whom were midwifes. When Dr Wanklyn inspected Ivy House in 1906 three of the five nurses were midwives certified by the state-regulated Central Midwives Board.

District work

Visiting unmarried mothers in their homes – district midwifery – was an integral part of the Army’s work at Ivy House. Prior to the opening of Ivy House, district work led by Captain Frost had probably been at the centre of her work in Pimlico and Chelsea. It was continued under her direction when Ivy House was opened, particularly in combination with the Army’s slum work, initially in the London Fields, Cambridge Heath, and Broadway districts, but in the latter years extended to Bermondsey, Canning Town, Shoreditch and Clapton Park. By the time the Army’s maternity hospital closed in 1913 Ivy House had 23 nurses – not all of them qualified midwives – attached to the districts. The district nurses attended to some 13,600 births between 1895 and 1913.

Maternity district work took on increased importance following the temporary closure of Ivy House in 1894. Captain Mrs Frost and four district nurses were transferred to 225 Richmond Road, adjoining Ivy House, probably so that the hospital could increase the number of unmarried mothers admitted to the hospital. Staff Captain Weir wrote of the district work:

“Round the corner [from Ivy House] is an unpretentious little abode with a brass plate on the palings indicating that within obstetric nurses may be procured. Captain Mrs Frost, with her staff of four nurses, live here and their special work is to attend the outside or Slum Maternity cases. They find plenty of employment”.

As with all their “rescue work”, district nurses combined attending childbirth with evangelising the mothers. The nurses did not leave the patients without a prayer and “some straight dealing with them about their souls”.  

This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 22/09/2009.

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