St Hilary’s

The first photograph below shows the children, many of them orphans, with their matron Miss Treby, after they had arrived in Walsingham in 1939 from Fr Bernard Walke's parish in St Hilary, Cornwall. There they had lived in what was known as St Hilary’s Children’s Home, in an old pub building called The Jolly Tinner, but had been forced to leave because of the anti-catholic disturbances in the church and parish. They were the nucleus of what has come to be known as Walsingham's St Hilary's Children's Home. The older girl to Miss Treby's right is Margaret, who had been longest at St Hilary. Eleven children arrived with Miss Treby - six boys and five girls. Dick Crowe, who was one of them, can identify them all except one. Fr Patten's potted history of the circumstances of their arrival and the subsequent development of the Home can be read in the extract from the Mirror of Autumn 1957. When they first arrived their home was a temporary one in cottages in Almonry Lane off the High Street, with Miss Struggles, a well- known figure in the village. Fr Walke's Committee had bought two cottages in Knight Street in preparation for them but these could not be vacated in time before the children arrived. When the cost of keeping them in the temporary accommodation became too high they were moved into part of Fr Patten's vicarage. In addition, the war had started and it was unlikely that the necessary building work to adapt their own cottages could be done while that was on. In 2008 Dick Crowe, one of the original group from Cornwall, visited Walsingham for the first time for over fifty years. In his reminiscences he vividly recalled life for the children in the Vicarage days and described his emotions as he revisited his old haunts. Within a few years the Guardians were planning for a more secure Home. In the event of Fr Patten's retirement or death the vicarage would have had to be vacated within months. The Guardians bought land off Wells Road with a view to building there, and the Knight Street cottages were to be let, to provide income. Then in 1944 The Falcons, Highgrove, a house in Wells Road at the top of what is now Cleaves Drive, became vacant and was bought for the children; the cottages were sold. The house had been built ten years earlier for his own use by Mr Dagless, a local builder, whose children were James and Lilian, both well-known local artists and craftsmen who did so much creative work for the Anglican Shrine and further afield. The St Hilary children moved in on 13 June 1945. For years the house was known as The Falcons, and the first children did not think of themselves as ‘St Hilary's’. Dick Crowe's first driving licence gives his address as ‘The Falcons’. Our Lady's Mirror's regular reports in every issue are headed "Children's Home". From the Autumn 1949 issue it is referred to as ‘S. Hilary - The Home’, until finally ‘St Hilary's’ in 1951. As the boys and girls grew and went out into the world, it was decided to accept boys only as new entrants and to maintain it in future as a boys' home. After they left St Hilary's most of the boys and girls kept in touch, often revisiting and staying, bringing their boy- and girl-friends, later their husbands and wives and babies. The picture (below left) shows a typical reunion - this one called a ‘Home on Leave’ supper in the College Refectory in 1953, with Fr Patten presiding over a table of boys mostly on leave from the forces. To this day some of the boys meet up regularly at Walsingham. St Hilary's was always run on a shoe-string, supported by pilgrims and other readers of Our Lady's Mirror; priests and parishes were constantly fund raising, and many parishes and pilgrims provided holidays each year. A regular feature at Christmas was the envelope sent out to all members of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham and others, to be passed round at the Christmas lunch table, filled with money, and sent back to the Shrine. In 1953 a hostel was opened in the High Street to cater for the older boys now at work who needed accommodation different from a children's home. The house - later known as ‘Shields’ - had before the war belonged to the Shrine, and was known then as SS Michael and George. The hostel was run by a well-known local couple, Fred and Pearl Shepherd, the parents of John who years later joined Fr Patten's Community of St Augustine in the College and subsequently became a priest. The Guardians had no alternative but to close St Hilary’s in 1977. Changes in welfare service provision made a home such as this no longer viable. After various other uses by the Shrine it was sold in 2004 and turned into a popular Bed & Breakfast establishment. Since 2008 it has been privately owned. top of page MATRONS Miss Treby (seen in the top picture) came with the children from Cornwall and stayed until 1941. She was followed for a few months by Miss Lewis, who had helped in the Home before. After she left there were a few months without a Matron, when Mrs Underwood and Miss Bacon shared the care between them. Through Our Lady's Mirror Fr Patten made increasingly desperate pleas for help. Finally, in response, Miss Milliken, from St Leonard's, Sussex, took over in 1942. She stayed until 1948. In 1948 a new chapter began for St Hilary's. Miss Jessie Mary (Molly) Bartholomew (known as "Barty" - pictured left) was appointed, and her friend Miss Dorothy Williams (known as "Miss Will") soon joined her as assistant matron. (It is thought that Mrs Dorothy Ferrier, a well-known resident of Walsingham, had introduced Barty to the Shrine.) Together they ran the Home for twenty-one happy and successful years. As a consequence of Barty's ill-health they retired in October 1969, and she died on 7 January 1971. The Home’s 1970 Report contains Barty's obituary. Their successors in October 1969 were Niall and Judy O'Connor, who left in 1971, and after a brief interval two more friends took over - Christine Smith and Carole Baker. In October 1972 what proved to be the last houseparents were appointed: Victor and Elizabeth Terry, with their children Lisette and Nicholas, oversaw a happy last five years before the Guardians were obliged to close the Home in April 1977. top of page