Rescue Society for Females


Photo - Greenwich Heritage Centre. This was taken just before the house got its final heave-ho


Now, as regular readers will know, family history is my least favourite subject – I don’t much enjoy my own family history and I generally have no interest at all in other people’s. If an email comes in saying ‘My great uncle George lived in Greenwich, can you tell me…’ I’m afraid it gets starred for later and I try to pretend it’s not there until I feel so guilty I finally have to answer it. Even then I’m scared that merely answering it will only encourager les autres.

If I’m honest the following began as such a question. But the concept was curious. It’s been niggling at me for months and yesterday’s post about Maze Hill House reminded me about it. 

“The census of 1871 shows my husband’s great great grandmother (Sarah Hillen) as an inmate of the Rescue Society House Maze Hill. When I look at the way the census records have been recorded it would appear that the Rescue Society House was next door to Vanbrugh Castle and separated from the George Inn by a couple of cottages. Have you ever heard of the Rescue Society House on Maze Hill, and do you know if the original building still stands?”

My first port of call was Booth’s Life and Labour in London – a gigantic survey done at the end of the nineteenth century – the one that culminated in the famous Poverty Map, but which also came with, I believe, 17 volumes. I only own one of them, the conclusion, though the rest of it is online. Booth’s normally pretty good (if rather scathing) about charitable efforts to save the poor, but he’s pretty silent on Maze Hill – just talking about the Maze Hill Congregationalist church (“has a quiet, comfortable congregation in which the lower middle class predominates”) though I also note that St Georges, which I mentioned yesterday as being built by the soap magnate Soames was “severely Evangelical and not well attended.”

Apart from that, nada.

Of course. I should have known. I should have gone to him first. Neil Rhind. I’m telling you – you need to get his Blackheath Village and Environs II,  the I Ching of Blackheath. Pester the Bookshop Blackheath to reprint it. It will answer any question you have. Except possibly the one about the meaning of life. 

The terrifying-sounding Rescue Society for Females was situated in Mayfield Lodge – one of the Big Five mansions that saw a sorry end in the 20th Century. By this point, as you can probably guess, the poor old pile was in its ‘latter days’ and had definitely seen better times. It was originally built in the 1730s, and had seen a succession of interesting inhabitants, at least one of which I intend to devote a post to sometime, so I won’t bother with for now. 

Like so many places in Greenwich, Mayfield Lodge went in and out of favour (I guess much like the town itself – it’s never been  totally posh or appallingly poor) and it wavered between being a private house and a school of varying sorts, though the first time it was used as such, it was the Maize Hill Establishment, a boarding school for young ladies, who had to come from good stock – they were expected to cough up 30 guineas a term and provide their own silver knife, fork, spoons and six towels…

BTW a news sheet was launched around the back of that area around the same time and by the same family (the Hartnolls) that owned the school. The news sheet was launched in 1833 as The Greenwich, Woolwich and Deptford Gazette - printed at a small press behind the George Public house next door. It was Tory-biased, but had a Liberal rival – the Greenwich Patriot (frankly both sound more interesting than anything we’ve got now). The Greenwich, Woolwich and Deptford Gazette eventually changed its name – to The Kentish Mercury. Nuff said.

 The Hartnolls left Mayfield Lodge in 1845 for Brixton, though John Hartnell stayed on in Greenwich. When he died in 1870 he’d been editing his newspaper for over 36 years.

But I digress. The question was about The Rescue Society for Females. It was opened in 1861 in Mayfield Lodge, and was in operation for at least 20 years. It had a matron, an assistant matron and, variously, between 13 and 22 ‘servants’, aged between 16 and 23. Neil Rhind isn’t sure exactly what these girls had been rescued from (he suspects prostitution) but I’m guessing these must have been a better class of fallen women – if I recall, the Union workhouse, down the road where the empty Heart of East Greenwich is now, was for the ‘women of irreclaimably bad character.’

And indeed, it would seem that Lynn’s ancestor wasn’t irreclaimably bad. Sarah does seem to have been rescued by the Rescue Society. She married in 1872 and headed off to rural Queensland (Australia), where she produced many children, by quite a few fathers. She died, aged 49, on Lord Howe Island off the coast of NSW.  Lynn tells me that quite a few of the 300 or so people who live there now are her descendants.

Mayfield Lodge didn’t have quite such a happy outcome. Neil Rhind loses track of the Rescue Society by 1882, but the house limped on as a private home for a while, as number 27 Maze Hill. It was eventually demolished in 1906. The numbering system means that the house that stands there is now 119.

the attachments to this post:

Photo - Greenwich Heritage Centre. This was taken just before the house got its final heave-ho
mayfield lodge

6 Comments to “Rescue Society for Females”

  1. darryl says:

    C’mon Phantom, let’s relaunch the Greenwich Patriot. You know it makes sense.

  2. Ebspig says:

    Yes, count me in as a founder-subscriber for the Greenwich Patriot.

    Was there a formal connection between Gladstone, sometime MP for Greenwich and S.W. Lancashire, and champion for Fallen Women, and Mayfield Lodge?

  3. No quite, Ebspig. I think you’re talking about Soapy James Soames who lived down the road at Maze Hill House – he allegedly gave up his own political future to enable Gladstone to become the Liberal candidate in 1857

  4. EnglishRose says:

    While we’re about it, let’s relaunch a Rescue Society for Females! Daily rations of chocolate and champagne compulsory; dashing knights on white chargers issued to all damsels in distress and an endless supply of pumpkins ready to be turned into coaches at the flick of a magic wand.

    Oh dear. Have I been drinking too much mulled wine again…..?