The following is a personal history of life at Princess Mary’s Village Homes in Addlestone during the early 1950s. Do you want to share your memories? If so please e-mail us: [email protected]
The following text remains the copyright of the author and may not be used in whole or part without prior written permission.
“I was a child at Princess Mary’s Village Homes from April 25th 1949 [the day after my 10th birthday] to 1953. During four loveless years there, I was powerless to do anything about the appalling abuse I endured at the hands of the matron in whose care I was placed. Due to the fact that my mother was deemed incapable of raising me in an atmosphere of care, I was sent to PMVH under a Care & Protection Order, but the kind of care I received would be unimaginable to most people today. That PMVH was Dickensian is an understatement.
Between the ages of 10 to 14, my life consisted of endless punishments for crimes I never committed nor even understood. One such punishment was being made to wash, by hand, in cold water, the sheets of the girls who wet their beds. This had to be done in the back yard of our cottage before school each morning, regardless of the bitter cold temperature outside. I was also made to clean out the drains with my bare hands, which quickly turned blue and became very painful. I was ten years old. No one told me about menstruation, and when it happened, I was so terrified of punishment that I hid my coarse calico knickers in the overhead cistern of the outside WC. To my relief, for once I wasn’t punished.
Princess Mary’s Village Homes consisted of several little cottages set around an oval lawn; each cottage was home to around 10 children, and each had its own matron; the idea being to create a family atmosphere, with matron acting as mother. All well and good unless your proxy mother turned out to be a mother from Hell! I am writing a book about my experiences, which have left deep emotional scars. During World War Two and for some time afterwards, it was all too easy for children to slip through whatever community health care existed at that time. Thus it was that no one realised I was deaf until I was eleven years old. After lengthy treatment for multiple ear perforations and chronic ear infections, my hearing improved. Punishments were frequently for disobedience, yet no one had considered the possibility that I couldn’t hear.
After treatment, my deafness improved, and I seemed to keep out of trouble, but the punishments continued, and matron became ever more inventive. Regularly accused of losing things, my glasses, my school beret or other items would be hidden, and I would have to stay up until very late looking for them. Of course I never found them, but the following morning the missing items would be found exactly where I had left them. Sometimes I would be made to sit on a hard chair in my nightdress, shivering with cold in a draughty hallway until matron went to bed. I would often fall asleep and end up on the floor, and she would pick me up roughly and put me back on the chair. I was so tired that I was often confused about where I was. In fact I was confused most of the time, and the sad truth is that in those days, children were afraid to complain.
I would like to contact other girls who were at Princess Mary’s Village Homes between 1949 and 1953, and at Stepgates Secondary School, Chertsey, when Mr. Jackson was the headmaster. We had a wonderful music teacher there, who brought joy to my erstwhile miserable existence. I would be grateful for any information, links, photographs, etc, concerning the school. In particular I would like to access my own reports while at PMVH. Can anyone help? I am fortunate in that I eventually found happiness, and few would believe my history, but I am still haunted by my time at PMVH, and the pain of the abuse I was subjected to only now seeks catharsis, albeit late in the day. At the time, the only way I could survive was to imagine that it was all a nightmare from which I would soon wake. At the time it felt as if the real world existed outside of me; a world I ached to belong to, but couldn’t because I had been labelled ‘bad’. Only via films, books, and by observing others can I know something of what it means to have a carefree childhood. However, a wry sense of humour and a gift for understanding why things happen the way they do, has helped me to accommodate this chapter in my life, and has somehow kept me on the right road as an adult.”
Author’s name withheld – please use the comment form below, the “contact us” link at the bottom of the page or the “Ask a Question” link at the top of the page if you want to share your own experiences.
Surrey History Centre holds many records and documents related to Princess Mary’s Village Homes, find out more.