Friday, 8 December 2017

St Thomas' Fallen Women's Refuge

St Thomas' Fallen Women's Refuge

Registers: 1886- 1914

The term fallen woman was used to describe a woman who has "lost her innocence", and fallen from the grace of God. In 19th-century Britain especially, the meaning came to be closely associated with the loss or surrender of a woman's chastity outside of marriage.

The Jersey Care Inquiry highlights an organisation which has almost vanished from the historical record – the “St Thomas Fallen Woman’s Refuge”. They certainly called a spade a spade when deciding the name of that institution which immediately judges those who go there.

Tony Le Sueur, in his part of submission to the Inquiry on historical care homes in Jersey, notes that:

The only known provision that appears to have some relevance to the Inquiry may be the St Thomas' Fallen Woman's Refuge, which is believed to have existed at 20 La Chasse, St Helier. Very little is known of the origin or operation of this home.

The only records seen are two Admission Registers that were apparently located in 1989 in the basement when the property became a States of Jersey provision. The Admission Registers commence with an admission on October 25th 1886 and make clear that the residents were young, single, mothers with their babies, whom the Refuge sought to support whilst the mother determined whether to give up her child for adoption, as evidenced. Many were subsequently adopted.

The St Thomas' Fallen Woman's Refuge is believed to have become Elizabeth House in 1949 when it was taken over by the Elizabeth House Committee (a newly constituted 'Committee of the States') which had been formed by an Act of the States of Jersey on 18th October 1949. As far as can be established from records, its remit remained much the same as before.

When the inquiry examined Tony Le Sueur, a bit more detail is gleaned.

And then under "Other" you deal with the St Thomas' Fallen Women's Refuge and you say that very little is known of the origin or operation of this home, and you deal there with the two admissions registers that you have seen.

Q: If we could have up on screen please TLS6 {EE000044} Just going over the page -- it is not terribly easy to read on the screen. Are you able to help us please by reference to what's on the screen? We have the entry here, 1898; does this come actually from the admissions register itself?

A. It does.

Q. And presumably the name in the top left corner?

A. That's correct.

Q. Then on the right-hand side do you see there a description of the person involved?

A. Yes.

Q. Are you able to read that out for us? It isn't terribly clear on the screen.

A. It says: "An inebriate brought by ..." 2 I can't read that part. It speaks about the period in which she has been a widow, has been a cook. She 4 says she has acquired the habit of drinking while in Jersey.

Q. It may say "intoxication", but it isn't very clear, is it?

A. No.

Q. That is an entry in relation to an individual person –

A. Yes.

Q. -- and then do we see on the left October 1898: "Left the home, it is hoped to return to her relatives."

A. That's correct.

Q. In relation to the admissions register that you have seen, again is this a typical example or an atypical example?

A. I think it is unusual in that this is clearly an older lady in particular circumstances. A lot of the records that I have seen and that I had researched historically have been young women who were placed there to have a child and the support is with the child, and the reference to what happens at the end often references both the mother and the baby and very often they are separated and the baby is sent somewhere for adoption.

Q. And just for the record, what I should have asked you is on the top section we have the date 1898 and then we have the redacted name, the blacked out name, and just under that the letters "42". Is it your understanding that that was the age of the woman at the time?

A. Yes.

Q. Thank you.

A: On looking at the records, the admissions that would have come through St Thomas' Fallen Women's Refuge that later became Elizabeth House, the nature of those arrangements were that the Refuge and Elizabeth House helped the young mother to make a decision about whether she could look after her child and a lot of those children were regarded as illegitimate.

Unfortunately these bare bones are all we have about St Thomas' Fallen Women's Refuge. We don't know how it was founded, or who was in charge.

1 comment:

James said...

A suggestion. You might want to look through the almanacs held at the Coutanche Library, as their annual indexes of notable events may well have mentioned the foundation at some point. It will not be a quick job, but it will be far quicker than scanning all the newspapers!