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Bloomsbury Institutions


Anglican Sisterhood of East Grinstead

Also known as Society of St Margaret (East Grinstead)/East Grinstead Sisters/St Katherine’s, Queen Square/St Saviour’s Priory, Society of St Margaret/School of Ecclesiastical Embroidery


The Society was founded by J. M. Neale in 1854 in East Grinstead, Sussex, as a order to nurse the poor (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

It opened a Hospital in Queen Square in the 1870s, and subsequently added a School of Ecclesiastical Embroidery in the next house

Ecclesiastical embroidery was a highly skilled craft requiring years of practice to perfect, and able to earn its practitioners up to £50 per annum

The boarders at the time of the 1881 census included the now-forgotten author on women’s rights Emma Hosken Woodward

The nuns were by then much more well-known for working in East London (Hackney and Spitalfields) after cholera epidemics in London; they later built a Priory in Hackney, which after rebuilding in 1976 remains their headquarters

In 1890 The Times reported the appointment of Rev. J. Stafforth as chaplain to the East Grinstead Sisters at St Katherine’s, Queen’s [sic] Square, in succession to Dr Littledale (The Times, 19 July 1890)

Dr Richard Littledale, who was a controversial pro-ritualist clergyman associated with J. M. Neale, had died in January 1890 at his home, 9 Red Lion Square (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

A memorial to Dr Littledale in the form of an oak reredos in the chapel at 32 Queen Square was said to have been completed in 1891 (The Times, 26 March 1891)

According to its listed building information, the surviving no. 33 Queen Square was altered around 1890 for St Catherine’s [sic] Convent, which was presumably an extension to the existing premises

No. 32 Queen Square was demolished in the twentieth century; no. 33 Queen Square survived, although restored after fire damage, and retained religious motifs and an inscription from the 1890 development

Around the same time, apparently, the Chapel to which The Times refers was built behind the houses in Queen Square; it also survived, including stained-glass windows, but was converted into a laundry for the National Hospital

The nuns all converted to Roman Catholicism in the early twentieth century and left the Queen Square premises, taking its altar and the reredos with them to Farnborough Abbey, where these items still remain today (see www.farnboroughabbey.org/church/index.php)

In 2005 the National Hospital was given permission to demolish the Grade II listed building at 33 Queen Square in its entirety to redevelop the site for better hospital facilities

The Society of St Margaret itself continues to provide care work and offer spiritual aid to local communities in the UK and Sri Lanka from its convent in East Grinstead

The Priory built in London by the Society is a focus of community work, as much of its original nursing mission has been superseded by the NHS

There is also an affiliated American association, which runs religious and community events and which established a convent in Boston in 1873

What was reforming about it?

It was one of the first Anglican orders of nuns, founded at a time when such institutions were distrusted as being too similar to the ways of Roman Catholicism

Where in Bloomsbury

A Hospital run by the order was located in Queen Square in the 1870s, according to Edward Walford’s Old and New London, vol. 4 (1878); the Royal Blue Book for 1905 lists this at no. 34

The nuns also ran a School of Ecclesiastic Embroidery at no. 33 Queen Square, where they took in boarders (Alfred Harmsworth, ‘What Shall I Be?’, Young Folks Paper: Literary Olympic and Tournament, 8 October 1887)

The Royal Blue Book of 1873 lists the sisterhood themselves at no. 32 Queen Square, and the Royal Blue Book of 1879 adds the School of Ecclesiastic Embroidery at the same address

Website of current institution

The London base of the Society of St Margaret is at www.stsaviourspriory.org.uk (opens in new window)

The convent in East Grinstead is at http://communities.anglicancommunion.org (opens in new window

The affiliated American association is at www.ssmbos.com (opens in new window)

Books about it

There is a brief history online (which does not mention Bloomsbury) at www.stsaviourspriory.org.uk/background.asp (opens in new window)


None found

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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