Certain individuals stand out:
Mother Lavinia & Father Scudamore;
Mother Flora & Father Palmer;
Mother Mary & Father Bill Scott;
Mothers Pamela & Sheila & Father David
These are all key players but also the long line of Sisters who faithfully lived out their vows within this Community from the fledgling Sisterhood of three to its peak number of forty or fifty and its smaller number now. Vision was also a key – a vision of the kingdom of God here on earth in vowed life, daily Eucharist and worship and in service of the needy.
House of Mercy
Firstly homed at Shipmeadow penitentiary, near Beccles in 1854, and moving to our Ditchingham site, to the House of Mercy in 1859 prostitutes and girls in need of care formed the primary work of All Hallows Sisters. Drawn out of the slums of Norwich and other parishes in Norfolk and Suffolk, generations of girls stayed in our House of Mercy for a period of rescue, training and rehabilitation. All the girls were trained in domestic chores, and the stronger more intelligent ones worked in the Laundry. This was a large industrial laundry room providing a service to the local area, which helped fund the penitentiary.
Religion was the foundation of the work done in the House of Mercy. The girls attended a daily morning service, and at the end of their stay each girl received a special service of blessing. Some of the girls wished to remain at All Hallows when their two years of training was complete, so a penitent Order grew out of the House of Mercy inmates, called the Third, or Magdalen Order. A distinction needed to be made between these and the Sisters of All Hallows due to their background. They wore brown habits and a white bonnet, and the title ‘Faith’ was added to their baptismal names when entering the Sisterhood. The last member of the third order died in 1954.
In the 1950s the name ‘House of Mercy’ was dropped and the home became registered as St Michael’s House, as a training house under the Home Office. Further developments for the care of young persons were introduced, and in 1965 the house officially became a community Home. Modern methods of group therapy and family meetings were introduced, and self knowledge and self expression through art helped the girls come to terms with their problems and accept their experiences of life. In 1980 it had to close as government funding was withdrawn.
The building now leased to Christian Conference Trust began life as an orphanage school founded in 1862, again by Lavinia. The girls who came were like the girls in Jane Eyre, orphaned of middle class origin. Life was very strict: – Service of Prime at 6.55 am, 8.30 am drilling, lessons till 11.00 am, a break of bread and water, 3.00 pm – 5.30 pm. lessons and, at 6.00 pm Vespers. But the Sisters and staff sought to give the orphans Christmas comforts and other simple entertainments. Funds were low in those days. Full orphans were received for as little as £25 for the year. The orphanage relied on the charity of the local area to provide clothes and funds to keep the place running. In 1903 an industrial school was incorporated into the orphanage, training the girls in domestic service, who were then employed to help in the main orphanage school. After 50 years of service, it became clear that the Orphanage was not paying its way, and so in the early 20th century, it became a fee paying boarding school, and the name All Hallows School was adopted. Under the leadership of Sister Jessie Mary, Sister Ruth and Margaret Barratt, the school grew to take up to 60 pupils. In 1947 the school was split and the lower age range attended the All Hallows junior school, under the control of Sister Maud and then Sister Winifred Edith. Miss Forster modernised the school and brought it into the 20th Century, both academically and socially. Sadly the school work came to an end in 1990, and the buildings became a guesthouse (St Mary’s Lodge) and conference centre (St Gabriel’s).
The agricultural depression of the 1880 hit Norfolk very badly. There was acute poverty, low wages and sickness, causing under-nourished children and destitute mothers. One of the poorest parishes was St James with Pockthorpe. Its reputation was so bad that no other voluntary organisaton would visit or undertake relief work in the area. Our co-foundress Mother Adele, a gentle artistic lady, worked hard in this slum parish, where Sisters had to go out in twos for their own safety. The Sisters opened a crèche to look after children to allow their mothers to work and earn a shilling or two to augment their meagre incomes. They taught carpentry skills to boys They provided food to supplement the bad diets and helped to clothed both parents and children. All was funded by regular appeals for contributions, which were responded to well. When possible, sick children were sent away to convalesce, but still sadly many families were wiped out by typhoid, scarlet fever and influenza. In the 1912 floods, they rescued women and children, and many stayed in the Mission House with them until their own homes were habitable.
The style of mission changes as needs do, but in an increasing secular society, small pockets of caring and prayer continue. We continue to have a presence in Norwich today, providing guesthouse accommodation.
All Hallows Hospital
In 1872 Mother Lavinia set up a cottage Hospital in Ditchingham but very soon the cottage proved to be too small and work began on the present building, which was opened a year later. All Hallows Sisters were trained as nurses and worked in the Hospital.
As the services were directed at the poor, not much income was received for the nursing provided. Although there was surgery and operations performed at the hospital attention was given to incurable diseases and those who needed constant nursing during the last few days of their life. The First World War put a stop to much of the Hospital’s care for local people, whilst wounded and sick soldiers were looked after during a four year period.
Quite a different sphere of work developed when Sister Gwyneth took charge in 1933. The maternity section grew. Mothers from surrounding villages came to have their babies at the Hospital. After 35 years Sister Gwyneth retired and the Hospital was put in the care of Sister Frances in 1968. She was not a nurse, therefore Sister Joy became Matron. Her concern moved back to the terminally ill patients, and the maternity ward soon discontinued. Since the deaths of Sister Joy (1976) and Sister Frances (1980), the Sisters from the Community have continued to care for the patients and relatives pastoral needs. Today the Sisters are few in number and the Hospital is staffed by a professional lay team.
In 1994 the Community took over the operation of a 38 bedded residential home now known as All Hallows Nursing Home, providing long term nursing care with respite beds available. The Day Treatment and Therapy Centre was built and opened in May 2004 in the grounds of the Hospital.
In May 2007 it was announced that the Sisters were to promote an independent charity. A registered charity and a company limited by guarantee was then formed: All Hallows Healthcare Trust.
While all this was going on, the call to go to the Indians in W Canada came in 1881 from a new Bishop of British Columbia, Bp Sillitoe. So, several Sisters travelled across Canada on the Canadian Pacific Railway to Yale. Recently, one of-the descendants of a pupil in the school we set up wrote to say she had Sister Amy’s original trunk.
Althea Moody, a Canadian woman, returned to train as a Sister and we have her sketch book of her return journey from Labrador to Yale in British Columbia. Mission work among the Indians, a Canadian and Indian School, was built and recently, we have had a correspondence with Jennifer Iredale who found embroidered, falls and frontals in St John’s Church, Yale, and has recorded the work. Sadly, in 1920 the Sisters had to be withdrawn, but It is good to re-connect.
Here at home in the convent built in 1877, an embroidery school was at work. Some of our vestments are made by Sisters and they also trained women in this work. We seem to have supplied frontals to a number of churches in East Anglia and we also worked one for Ottawa and for Truro Cathedrals. Again, in 1969 this work had to close.
The theme of dying and rising is part and parcel of the Christian story and this is true of our Community. But there were stirrings abroad in the wider Church.
The Vatican II Council had a reverberating effect – not only in the R C Church but also in the Anglican Church. New liturgical texts, modernised Offices and a sense that there had been a seismic shift affected Anglican religious communities and the Community of All Hallows was not immune.
There was a questioning of and a restlessness with the old ways of doing things and perhaps, by our very geographical isolation, we were not fully equipped to meet the challenge. Sadly, a number of Sisters left and some died so adjustments had to be made. The administration of the hospital and school was handed over to a lay head and matron and gradually Sisters were withdrawn
It was becoming obvious that the call for retreats and spiritual renewal from the laity was greater than the need to run institutions. So under Father Scott’s direction, Sisters were sent on Individual Guided Retreats and training courses and St Michael’s House became a centre for retreat work. Hospitality too for guests, lay and clergy, opened up.
In time, pastoral care in our hospital and at the new venture Adele House, a residential home for the elderly, became an important outlet.
As our work in Norwich shrank, the Community had to decide where our priorities lay and our future direction for All Hallows. Though St Michael’s work had closed, we were able to continue with girls and small children at Little Portion (once owned by two Franciscan Sisters). Numbers of battered wives, girls on probation or others waiting for a court sentence found a refuge there. This seemed to be going well so when a building development took place in the 1980s, three flats were bought as half-way homes for young women to gain home-making skills before leaving. Sadly, owing to a key Sister leaving, we had to close the house.
Rouen Road guesthouse
The other focus in Norwich was our house in Rouen Road near St Julian’s. The hall became a Julian Centre and the influence of Robert Llewelyn and Michael McLean meant our house became a focus for Julian lovers from all over the world and, under the leadership of Sister Pamela it still is
Also, for seven years, a Sister worked in the Cathedral as a pastoral assistant.
Sometimes, the work of an individual Sister bears fruit in unexpected quarters. One of these was the prison work at Blundeston, a high security prison, by Sister Winifred Mary. For 25 years, Sister visited the prisoners in the evenings. She was given a room to interview them, she helped in Chapel on Sundays and preparing for the Sacraments – she numbered among her acquaintances Ronald Cray and other notorious inmates. But she had no fear of any of the prisoners and so was respected by her ‘lads’. After she retired, she was awarded the MBE, also nicknamed Member of the Blundeston Elite. Right up to her death in 2009, her correspondence to lifers and ex-prisoners occupied most of her time.
M Lavinia would rejoice to see the fruits of her vision but at the very centre for her, and for us, is God. We offered our lives to God as she did – and we are not many, and at times frail but here to be used. We are helped enormously by our Oblates and Associates and the huge number of Staff, helpers and friends. It’s like a wagon wheel – God at the centre – the Community reaching out to the rim along the spokes of our various works and all returns to God from whom comes our strength.
In M Lavinia’s own words “There is a Rock under the foundations of our life which shifting circumstances do not affect.”
Sr Violet CAH