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Bloomsbury Project

Bloomsbury Institutions


Sisterhood of St John Baptist, Clewer

Also known as Sisters of Mercy/Community of St John Baptist/
Clewer Embroidery Room (Gower Street branch)/St Alban’s Mission (Gray’s Inn Road branch)


The Sisterhood was an order of Anglican nuns established on 30 November 1852 in order to continue the work of a widow, Mrs Mariquita Tennant, who had begun giving a home to prostitutes in Clewer, Buckinghamshire

It was supported by the local Tractarian rector, Thomas Thellusson Carter, and its first Mother Superior was Mrs Harriet Monsell; the home became the Clewer House of Mercy (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, entry for Thomas Thellusson Carter)

The Sisters soon expanded their work to cover other geographical and social areas, with offshoot houses in London, India, and the USA, caring for the sick and poor as well as prostitutes

The community continues to exist as the Community of St John Baptist, still an order of Anglican nuns

In the early 21st century, the Sisters moved from their original convent in Clewer to Oxfordshire, and the building was converted to flats; details can be found on a local website, www.thamesweb.co.uk (opens in new window)

What was reforming about it?

Anglican nuns were controversial, and this order was founded solely in order to support a house of rescue for “fallen women”

Where in Bloomsbury

The Sisters opened a School for Church Embroidery at 72 Gower Street, for girls to make a living through church embroidery (and therefore, presumably, avoid prostitution) (Life and Letters of Thomas Thellusson Carter, ed W. H. Hutchings, 3rd edn, 1904); they were listed there in the 1891 census

They also opened St Alban’s Mission at 26 Gray’s Inn Road, which ran night schools, Bible classes, guilds, and other ways of occupying the local poor, preventing them from seeking alternative forms of entertainment

Website of current institution

The Community of St John Baptist are at www.gjm61.dial.pipex.com (opens in new window)

Books about it

The definitive three-part history is Valerie Bonham, A Joyous Service: The Clewer Sisters and their Work (1989); A Place in Life: The Clewer House of Mercy, 1849–83 (1992), and Sisters of the Raj: The Clewer Sisters in India (1997)


Its records from 1849–1993 are held at Berkshire Record Office, Reading, ref. D/EX 1675; details are available online via Access to Archives (opens in new window)

However, there are apparently no nineteenth-century records among this collection for the two Bloomsbury-based institutions run by the sisterhood

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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