No Place Like Home

The Story of Princess Mary’s Village Homes

Princess Mary’s Village Homes was the brainchild of two local ladies, Mrs Meredith and Miss Cavendish, who conceived the idea of building cottages in a village as a home for daughters of women prisoners. 

The Trust Deed dated 12th January 1872 states,

‘The purpose of the said Institution shall be the bringing up, including board, lodging, clothing and education of female children who shall have had a parent convicted of crime, … who have no home or who are otherwise circumstanced as to be peculiarly exposed to demoralizing influence’.  The Home was to be known as Princess Mary’s Village Homes for Little Girls, and the Princess herself chose as its motto ‘God setteth the Solitary in Families.’ 

There had been no precedent for an institution of this kind and in the late 19th century Princess Mary’s Village Homes was a hundred years ahead of its time.

It is easy to forget that the universal education system we enjoy today is a relatively new phenomenon. Up until the 19th century schooling was often the luxury of the privileged few. Whilst there had been a scattering of charity and parish schools working to spread literacy and religion amongst poorer children, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that Ragged, Workhouse and Industrial schools attempted to provide education for the very poorest of children.

Susanna Meredith had long been concerned for female prisoners and the lack of opportunities for them once they had served their sentence. In c. 1864 Mrs Meredith formed the Mission in Aid of Discharged Female Prisoners at 143 Clapham Road, London and later set up the Marble Laundry which employed female prisoners on their release. She was assisted by Caroline Cavendish, and as a result of this work they saw first hand the effect the imprisonment of these women had on their children.  Initially Meredith and Cavendish organised foster homes in and around Addlestone for the girls. There was much criticism at the time for removing the girls from their parents, however an amendment to the Prevention of Crimes Act stated that a child under the age of 14 of any woman convicted for a second time of certain offences should be sent to an Industrial school. Soon there were too many girls for the available foster homes, and so Mrs Meredith and Miss Cavendish had to seek an alternative way of providing for these children.

A note by the Honorary Secretary in the front of the first Records Book, now deposited at the Surrey History Centre, states:

The School for the female children of Criminals, began to be gathered by Miss Cavendish of Lyne Grove, Chertsey in Essam Farm House, parish of Longcross, in a shepherds house belonging to the Honourable Mr George Cavendish – of Lyne Grove – in the year 1870. After about six months the school, consisting of about sixteen girls, was removed to a cottage on the New Haw Road, about a mile from the village of Addlestone – the removal took place on the 24th of March 1871  - on Friday.

On Friday 22nd March 1872 The School was removed to the new school at Addlestone – which was to be built in separate cottages called “Princess Mary’s Village Homes” – The first pair was finished on the above site when the children were moved there. Another house was taken in Addlestone in 1872 called “Roselands” to accommodate the increasing number of children. On Friday 10th May the children out of Roselands went into the second pair of cottages at P.M.V. Homes. The total number of girls in Homes numbered 37 on the date of occupation of the second pair – in 1872.

M.A. Lloyd 1879

Mrs Meredith and Miss Cavendish recognised the importance of a stable, supportive, structured family life which is why they were concerned about these girls’ domestic situations, and why they tried to recreate that environment as far as possible in their new establishment. Their idea was to build a unique institution unlike previous orphanages which homed the girls in small cottages with a house Matron, rather than in large impersonal dormitories.

Originally it was to be run in association with the Mission in Aid of Discharged Female Prisoners and was to be called Mrs Meredith’s Prison School until H.R.H. Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, who was a fervent campaigner for children’s welfare, remarked that the girls would be burdened with the stigma of being a “prison school” pupil and that an alternative name should be found. This was the start of involvement with the school that was named in her honour, and for which she became a very pro-active Patron.

On 12 July 1871 H.R.H. Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck cut the first turf, signifying the start of building work on the Homes on a plot of land between Crouch Oak Lane and Station Road, Addlestone. By the end of 1871 six benefactors had contributed £300 each to fund the construction of six cottages. In February 1872 the Homes had been certified by the Home Secretary as an Industrial School under the 1866 Industrial Schools Act. Industrial schools were founded to help those who were destitute but who had not as yet committed any crime. The Act enabled a Magistrate to sentence children between the ages of 7 and 14 to a spell in an Industrial school if they were bought before the courts for being homeless. The Act was later extended to include any children apparently under the age of 14 found begging, receiving alms, with no visible means of support or in the company of reputed thieves, as well as those who had committed an offence punishable by imprisonment. The word “apparently” was important as it was not compulsory to register births until 1875 and many children lied about their age.

Industrial schools aimed to remove the child from bad influence, whether that be on the streets or at home, and give them an education and a trade. They were particularly strict establishments which aimed to instil the work ethic in even the youngest child. The day was structured to ensure there were set times for schooling, learning trades, housework, religion, meal times and short periods of play. Boys learned trades such as gardening, tailoring and shoemaking while girls learned
knitting and sewing.

PMVH pupils, 1880

PMHV pupils, 1880

By early 1872 sufficient funds had been raised to enable the completion of 4 cottage houses to accommodate 40 girls, and shortly afterwards the school house and teachers’ accommodation was built. The cottage homes were built in blocks of two, but as early as 1898 alterations were required to meet Home Office regulations and so each double cottage was converted in to one dwelling.  Each cottage consisted of a kitchen, dining room, sitting room with locker rooms and a toilet. Each bedroom had two to six beds and the rooms were practically furnished. There was no electricity nor piped water and each cottage had a ration of 1 ½ pounds of candles per week.  The House Matron had her own sitting room, bedroom, and indeed her own separate, carpeted staircase. The food, which was prepared in each cottage by the girls, was plain and a typical breakfast in 1875 consisted of bread, treacle and milk.


Soon after the first cottages were opened a laundry was built, and all the washing from the Homes was done there which in 1905 saw an estimated 1,700 items washed per week. These facilities were also used as a commercial laundry. The Homes bought a donkey cart and each week laundry was collected from the large houses in the local area and washed and pressed by the PMVH girls; work which brought in a useful income. In 1894 £523 was earned through laundry work. The girls were also taught how to become seamstresses, mainly working on old clothes as new materials were expensive. In 1893 a sewing room was built with funds given by the Duchess of York, later Queen Mary, who succeeded her mother as patron, and all the uniforms for the girls and the House Matrons were made and repaired by the pupils. The girls were learning skills that would stand them in good stead when they were old enough to leave, and in the meantime helped fund the running of the Homes, but despite this the girls still lived a poor existence. The Duchess of Teck and the Duchess of York continued their involvement with the Homes, visiting annually, sending gifts at Christmas, and most importantly persuading influential friends to hold fundraising events on their behalf. The Homes Management Committee was constantly looking at ways to fund the care of the girls at a time when there was no government support for children under the age of 6. To this end an adoption scheme was introduced whereby benefactors could sponsor a child for 1s a week. By 1905 there were 100 Patrons; although there were a further 80 girls who still needed support.

The Homes were so successful that they constantly needed to expand to accommodate the ever growing number of girls sent there. In the early 20th century Homelands and Crouch Oak House were acquired. At its height there were 300 pupils living, studying, working and living within the PMVH site and so it was necessary to follow a rigid daily routine. The girls would rise every morning at 7.30 to complete chores and have breakfast with the other girls and House Matron. At 9am they would assemble in the school hall for morning lessons. Shortly after midday they would return to their cottages for lunch before returning to the school hall at 1.30. When lessons finished at 4pm there would be further chores to complete before preparing and eating their evening meal at 5.30pm, after which they would be given free time to write to their families or play until bedtime at 8.30pm. Later on in the history of the Homes the girls were able to stay with their families at the weekend, whilst those remaining in Addlestone were allowed to go shopping or to the cinema. The girls earned pocket money by completing their chores, some of which they were encouraged to save towards a summer holiday with their “cottage girls” at the seaside.

Whilst the Homes was originally set up to support girls whose parents were in prison, it soon accepted girls who had themselves got in to trouble. In 1927 PMVH became an approved school for girls ages 10 to 17 years, and from this point onwards it seems that the girls were not encouraged to speak of the reason why they were there, not even to the other girls in their Cottage. It was felt that the less they spoke it, whether it was because their parents had separated or because of their own misdemeanours, the less of a stigma they would bear. However, in reality it seems to have only served to keep the girls isolated from the outside world and each other, and former pupils tell of being discouraged from forming any friendships. After a pupil had been there three months her progress was reviewed by a Sub Committee of Managers with a view to her eventual release, however, they remained in the care of PMVH for 2 years after leaving and were able to return to the Home if their life became difficult or if they once again got in to trouble.

PMVH site, 2010

The re-developed site of PMHV, 2010

In 1964 on 7th December, the new school block was opened by H.R.H. the Princess Royal who had become Patron of PMVH on the death of her mother, Queen Mary, however many of the girls continued to be educated in local schools in Chertsey, Walton, and even as far away as Woking. Besides new classrooms, there was a hall with a stage, a modern laundry, needlework, art, typing and domestic science rooms.  

By 1970 each cottage had easy chairs, adequate heating, television, radio and in some cases a record player.  There was ample hot water and gas or electric cookers.  The girls were allowed to decorate the dormitories as they wished and there was a sitting room for the supervisor. However, the institution that at its conception had been ahead of its time was fast becoming an outmoded way to house girls in need of care, and so in June 1981 Princess Mary’s Village Homes closed and the land sold off for development.