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Bloomsbury Institutions


Main Memorial Home for Deserted Mothers

Also known as Home for Deserted Mothers/Home for Deserted Mothers and their Children/Infant Home and Refuge for Deserted Mothers/Infants’ Home/Refuge for Deserted Mothers and their Children


It was founded by Mrs Jane Dean Main in 1864 to provide a home for previously respectable women and their illegitimate children

In 1879 it was struggling to raise money to buy a lease of permanent premises; by this time, Mrs Russell Gurney (of Bayswater) had taken over the running of the organisation following the death of Jane Dean Main, and Caroline E. Stephen (of Cheyne Walk) was its Hon. Secretary (The Times, 29 November 1879)

It had become part of the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women (founded by Gladstone) by mid 1894 (The Times, 2 June 1894)

Miss Hinks was its Secretary in 1902 (Post Office directory, 1902)

Despite its success at lowering the death rate of illegitimate children, its mortality rate did give cause for concern in the 1860s; in 1864 four children died in the space of a few days (between 12–15 December) at the home, three of diseased bowels and one of a diseased chest (The Times, 21 December 1864)

In February 1865 the Registrar-General’s weekly return showed 18 deaths in St George’s Bloomsbury, of which 8 were at the home, and the Bloomsbury registrar, Mr Yardley, noted that “the mortality in this house continues to be very great” (Weekly Return of Births and Deaths in London, no. 6, 1865; week ending 11 February 1865)

Dr Buchanan, the Medical Officer of St Giles, inspected the home and recommended daily visits by the Medical Officer of the Hospital for Sick Children, in addition to the visits by the Home’s own surgeon, who visited 3 times a week; however, he also said that the mortality rate should be expected to be high, as the children were generally so “weak and emaciated” on admission (Weekly Return of Births and Deaths in London, no. 6, 1865; week ending 11 February 1865)

This explanation was reiterated by medical officer Richard Paramore of Hunter Street; writing to the Lancet in 1870, he also noted that since October 1869, only 3 of the 48 infants received and retained in the Home until weaning had died, as had only 12 of the 88 put out to nurse, of which one was by an accident (Lancet, 24 September 1870)

Despite the mortality rate, for a while the Home enjoyed a good reputation; it was “said to be carefuly and judiciously managed” according to Charles B. P. Bosanquet, A Handy-Book for Visitors of the Poor in London (1874),

Its approach became, however, hugely controversial, particularly in the wake of the Lady Gooch passing-off scandal of the late 1870s

A particularly scathing article in the Daily Telegraph called it a “confidential refuge for illegitimate infants...a kind of exchange and mart for children, only that the people who come as customers pay nothing for the infants they take away...On the one side are unmarried mothers secretly confined getting rid of their newborn babes with great speed; while on the other are unknown women who take away the children beyound all knowledge, inspection, or control; and Mrs Main is the intermediary in the transaction that begins and ends in the dark” (‘A Ready Market for Babies: The Institution from Which Lady Gooch Obtained Her Child —An Exchange for Unmarried Mothers and Seekers for Spurious Offspring,’ Daily Telegraph, 25 November 1878; reprinted in New York Times, 8 December 1878)

It became part of the Church Penitentiary Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women by 1894; this subsequently became the Church Moral Aid Association and then the Church Welfare Association, a registered Church of England charity (no. 209992) which still supports women and their children in particular

The building at 49 Burton Crescent became in the twentieth century part of the Crescent Hotel, who acknowledge its past on their website: “More than once people researching their family tree have come to the hotel while following up leads from their relatives’ birth certificates”, Crescent Hotel: The History, at www.crescenthoteloflondon.com (opens in new window)

What was reforming about it?

It encouraged the women to become self-supporting

It was also more successful at lowering the mortality rate of their illegitimate children than other similar institutions, mainly by allowing the mothers to keep them for longer and then exercising more control over foster homes (Lionel Rose, The Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Britain, 1800–1939, 1986)

Where in Bloomsbury

It was originally located in Great Coram Street (Lionel Rose, The Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Britain, 1800–1939, 1986); it was there in 1864 (The Times, 21 December 1864) and was listed at no. 35 Great Coram Street (as “Infants’ Home”) in the Post Office directories of 1871 and 1881, under the charge of Mrs Ann Smith and Mrs Sarah Palmer respectively

In 1850 35 Great Coram Street had been the address of Jonathan Jones, Hon. Secretary of the Industrial Home for Indigent Gentlewomen at 5 Harpur Street (Sampson Low, The Charities of London, 1850)

The Home was still at no. 35 Great Coram Street in 1888, according to Dickens’s Dictionary of London of that year

It subsequently moved to 49 Burton Crescent, where it is listed in the Post Office Directory for 1891

In 2004, the Trustees of the successor institution, the Church Welfare Association, were still meeting in St Pancras Church rooms (Annual Report, 2004)

Website of current institution

The successor institution is the Church Welfare Association, cwa.awardspace.co.uk (opens in new window)


Books about it

It issued annual reports, although copies are rare


Copies of its twentieth-century reports are held in London Metropolitan Archives, ref. A/LWC/281–287; details are available online via Access to Archives (opens in new window)

Records of the Church Penitentiary Association from 1852–1951, and of its successor institution, the Church Moral Aid Association, are held in Lambeth Palace Library, ref. MS 3681–3706; brief details are available online via the Lambeth Palace Library website (opens in new window)

This page last modified 25 September, 2012 by Deborah Colville


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