The Penwith Papers

No Better Than She Ought To Be? Cases from the Penzance Preventive and Rescue Society Records 1907 - 1935

The Penzance Rescue & Preventive Society (PPRS), a moral welfare charity linked to the Anglican Church Army, was founded in 1907. All the cases discussed here are taken from their minutes and other records which were entrusted to Morrab Library, Penzance by Jean Redfern, a long-term Committee member.

The society provided a refuge for single pregnant women, as well as working to reduce prostitution, illegitimacy and the spread of venereal diseases. The people involved were well-to-do benefactors who formed the Committee under the long-term President Mrs Bolitho; the young women in need of help; the social workers employed to give them this help; the foster-parents; and the public who needed maids.

Some of the stories are heart-rending and all the cases detailed here were extremely complicated; they show the kindness and generosity of Committee members, and the professional involvement and diligence of the social workers. Since the period studied was before the Welfare State, the records also highlight the pressing need for national social and welfare provision. All places in homes had to be paid for either by relatives, by outdoor relief from the relevant workhouse, or by a charity such as the PPRS Committee. When reading these accounts you have to remember that the views expressed and the language used represent the prevailing attitudes of the time.

The case records are patchy partly due to the necessity for discretion when dealing with young women’s reputations, and partly due to the changing recording methods of the Committee and the social workers over time. The fullest reports come from the early days, and from the 1930s when a log book of cases was kept separately.


One of the first requests for help came from Gertrude in March 1908; she was a maternity case and had a lung problem. She was sent from the Penzance Refuge, to Bovey Tracey House of Mercy, to the Torquay Refuge, to St Mary Magdalene Home (Paddington), and back to Torquay. A place was then found for her at St Olave’s Maternity Home, Exeter and the Committee voted to pay her fee of seven shillings a month for one year. Her condition, however, worsened - so in September she was sent to Exeter Workhouse Infirmary, where she died. The minutes noted: ‘it is hoped (she died) truly a Penitent’.

The Devon House of Mercy for Penitent Females at Bovey Tracey 

(photo courtesy of the Dartmoor Archive)

As Gertrude had been suffering from an infectious disease she could not have been kept at a maternity home, but there appears to have been no other alternative than the harsh conditions of an infirmary. To our eyes, Gertrude’s story is horrifyingly callous; when pregnant and possibly ill with tuberculosis she was shunted to seven different institutions. In addition, no sadness or fellow-feeling was expressed when she died far away from home.


Millicent's story is a happier one. In 1911 she wished to go to a maternity home, and she was supported by relatives who could provide a sum of five pounds. She too was sent to St Olave’s Home, Exeter but they could not find a suitable situation for her after the birth of her baby. Eventually Millicent was helped to go to a ‘good situation’ (‘situation’ being the term then used for a job) in Okehampton, while her child was to be boarded out in Exeter at a cost of four shillings a week. The Committee agreed to pay for the baby’s outfit and one shilling a week for fostering; the balance was to be paid by Millicent and by relations. Later the child was boarded out back in Penzance.

Millicent’s case illustrates the custom of removing girls in trouble from their familiar surroundings in order to give them a fresh start. But it also shows a lack of sympathy in placing a mother and her young child so far away from each other; how often could Millicent travel the distance from Okehampton to Penzance? At least in this case the baby was finally near the grandparents, even if the maternal bond was broken.


In December of the same year Emily was found wandering on the pier by the police; it appeared she had lost her memory. Although not clear, it appears she was admitted to the Refuge where her little girl was born. ‘Unhappily her record is not a good one, in addition to supporting the present infant she has to help towards the maintenance of twins’ but Emily had £1.10.0 in her bag (the equivalent of nearly £100 today) which was used to pay the nurse and for her keep.

Mrs Bolitho wrote to Emily’s former employer, who would not take her back - so she was sent to the workhouse, probably in Madron; in February 1912 she returned to the Refuge and was found a ‘situation’ as a maid while her baby was placed with a nurse – presumably a wet nurse - at Gulval. The good news is that Emily kept in touch and returned for nine days in 1917 for ‘a rest and a holiday’.

 Madron Workhouse in the 1960s (photo courtesy of Morrab Library Photo Archive)

 Madron Workhouse in the 1960s (photo courtesy of Morrab Library Photo Archive)

The Hendra family were helped for over a year. Mrs Hendra ‘has lived a very evil life’ and her youngest daughter Lily, aged 12, was brought to the Refuge by the NSPCC in February 1913; the court found a charge of neglect against her father who was ordered to pay two shillings (under £10 in modern terms) every week as maintenance. The Royal Cornwall Home for Destitute Little Girls in Falmouth was approached but did not accept Lily; as it was proving difficult to find a home for her she remained at the Refuge where she was behaving well. In the autumn she was placed in a home in Devon which reported ‘a great improvement in her’. The last mention of her is at the age of 16 when she was found a place in service on Scilly.

Winnie, another daughter, also sought help from PPRS at the same time; first she was provided with an outfit to wear at her new situation near Truro but, as this was not successful, she went to Truro Workhouse as she had no home in Penzance. A place was found for her at the Friends Rescue and Preventive Society at Clapton until she was deemed fit for service. The Committee voted to pay the £1.1.0 entrance fee.

One year later Mrs Hendra again asked for help and a situation was found for her in a small private Nursing Home for ladies in Hampstead - but only two months later she left her job and went to stay with her married sister near London.


Violet, aged 15, came to the attention of the Committee in June 1913 as it was reported she was ‘living in dangerous circumstances (and) being frivolous’’. A situation was found for her in Porthleven where it was soon noted that she was ‘not giving satisfaction’, so she returned to the Refuge. Mrs Bolitho then offered to pay for three months training at the Girls’ Friendly Society Lodge at Falmouth but after one month, Violet was returned to Penzance as not ‘considered being suitable’. The current social worker, Sister McClement , was prepared to train Violet at a weekly cost to the Committee of two shillings and sixpence wages and six shillings board. Violet still hadn’t settled down by April of the following year and the Minutes note that she had ‘been disobedient & troublesome’; she had to leave the Refuge. Violet’s name turns up again in July 1916 when she was suffering from shock; it was agreed that she would stay for a short time at the Refuge and then be taken to the Workhouse Infirmary.

  Girls’ Friendly Society Lodge at Falmouth

 Girls’ Friendly Society Lodge at Falmouth (extracted from Google Street View 2017)

Jessie was found in a state of drunkenness and taken to the Refuge with her four-week-old baby in 1914. After five weeks in the Refuge she left to get married, but continued to have problems with drink. Two years later, being pregnant, she again applied for help but was found unsuitable for the Maternity Home at Redruth, probably because this was not her first pregnancy and also because it was considered her husband’s duty to care for her. The following year he turned her out due to her drinking and kept two of the children with him, while the five-month-old baby went to a foster mother. Because Jessie refused to go to a Home, the Committee tried to help her by finding suitable work - but she, too, was found ‘unsuitable’.


The Committee helped The Kenython family through a tragic period. First Eunice came to the Refuge in 1917 in order ‘to be away from the influence of a bad home’. She was sent to a training home for domestic servants at Salisbury, and her father paid all expenses.

Then Mrs Kenython and her other four other children asked for help, and were sent to Madron Workhouse. The following year she reappears, needing help after two of her sons died in one week - possibly from influenza during the 1918 pandemic. Mrs Bolitho helped her until she was strong enough to take in sewing again, and could support herself and the two remaining children while they all stayed at the Refuge; Mrs Kenython was then able to pay fourteen shillings for her board.

Susie’s story is a happier one. In 1918 she was found a place as Assistant Matron at St Gabriel’s Home near Wimborne in Dorset. In 1919 she must have left St Gabriel’s because, after some correspondence, she returned to the Refuge. Later at Salisbury Police Courts she was bound over for theft for six months, but although the Committee offered to send her to a training home she chose to live with her cousin in Wales who agreed to report on her conduct monthly. Susie was enabled to make a new start, spending her holidays back at the Refuge and able to pay for her board. Her last entry states that ‘she is doing well.’


The Tredavoe family were stated as not being a rescue case, so the family may have qualified because the vulnerability of the children, Edward and Willie.

Mrs Tredavoe asked for help in February 1919 when in a bad state of health, and was sent to Madron Workhouse Infirmary, while Edward and Willie were found a foster home. When Mrs Tredavoe died in October of that year, her husband was expected home from Germany - although it was also noted that he was at sea.

By February the next year Edward, aged four and-a-half, was found ‘very neglected & ill’ at his foster home so he spent six weeks at the Refuge until he recovered. Mrs Bolitho paid for suitable clothes for him. He was sent to a home in Windsor (possibly a children’s home for pauper children operated by Windsor Union), paid for by Mrs Tredavoe, and there ‘the little fellow is doing well’.

Willie, aged 12 ½ , also had a hard time; ‘a cripple’ he was sent from the Refuge to the Workhouse.

So the two young boys lost their mother and were separated from each other as well; we don’t know whether they had contact with their father.


Another family helped from 1919 to 1920 were the Dodmans. First the elder daughter – Florrie, aged 20 - came as a maternity case and was helped in her own home; she was seriously ill after the birth so she and the baby stayed at the Refuge for three weeks. The baby’s father was summonsed for maintenance and agreed to pay seven shillings and sixpence a week.

Meanwhile Mrs Dodman was admitted to the Refuge being ‘in a very bad state through drinking’. The family’s plan was to sell their house and join Mr Dodman in America, so Florrie and her baby, Mrs Dodman, and her younger daughter Olive, aged 12, all stayed at the Refuge while their house was being sold. Mr Dodman sent money for their passage and the social worker accompanied the whole family to Southampton to set sail for America to join him. Later a letter was received from Mrs Dodman saying all were well, and thanking the Rescue Committee.

This family were helped in several ways during the twelve months they were on the books: they were given lodging for two adults, one child and a baby and nursing care for Florrie; correspondence with Mr Dodman was carried out on their behalf; Mrs Dodman was helped with her drinking problem; and finally the social worker enabled the family to journey to Southampton.



Helston Waifs and Strays as it is today (extracted from Google Street View 2017)

In 1932, Cyril was sent to Waifs & Strays – the closest was in Helston - but could not stay because no money had been sent for his upkeep. A PPRS member met him in Truro and took him to Helston Workhouse. The social worker asked Dr Barnardo’s to take him, although this would have meant a move to Devon. Meanwhile, Cyril was examined by the Refuge doctor and passed as physically and mentally fit for the home. But Cyril’s case does not end well, as he was refused acceptance by Dr Barnardo’s due to the fact that his mother ‘has lapsed a second time’. So Cyril remained in Helston Workhouse; his mother, who was in service on the Isles of Scilly, was to be informed. It is impossible not to wonder what became of Cyril after such a poor start in life.


Lily, a child, came to the Refuge at the same time as Cyril. She was then sent to the orphanage and industrial Home of the Sisters of Bethany in Bournemouth which her father, a Mr Carn, was supposed to pay for. He had, however, sent no money and neither was he answering correspondence. Lily’s family situation was complicated, as it was reported that her mother had had a third child whom she had placed in a foster family in St Austell. Her mother then suddenly left her situation in Torquay and moved to London to get married; she needed to make a successful claim against Lily’s father so that the police could ‘recover some money from him’. However, she did not pursue this - and the patient Sisters of Bethany were still not receiving regular maintenance payments eighteen months later. To sort this out the social worker, Miss West, went to St Austell to get Lily’s mother’s new address and forward it to the Sisters. The Sisters then wrote threatening to return Lily to her mother, whereupon a cheque was received with a promise to pay in future.


Pearl, who was pregnant, must have been a local girl originally although the first location mentioned in connection with her was Weston-super-Mare Workhouse; from here she went to Exeter (possibly the Workhouse) which occasioned correspondence between Deaconess Porrit and the Committee. She must have given birth in Exeter because at this point the records state that her baby was stillborn. Although she received Maternity Benefit to cover the cost of the midwife, she still had to pay £1 for the burial. She was allowed to stay in the Refuge (now called the Home) for three weeks to recover.

This sad story happened in 1933.


 Exeter Workhouse (courtesy of © Derek Harper)

 Exeter Workhouse (courtesy of © Derek Harper)

Finally, Annie’s case also began in 1933 - and it would appear that the social workers became quite fond of her, as a lot of trouble was taken to help her, and full records were kept. She is first mentioned when she calls for clothes in May, but we don’t know whether this is for herself or for her child. She started work at Opie’s Hotel (probably the Temperance Hotel in Penzance run in 1919 by Mrs Opie), but continued to visit the Home several times a week, presumably for company and support; she was taken to the dentist three times that year. In the following February her child was sent first to a Waifs and Strays home and then fostered out. The social worker and Committee members made many phone calls on her behalf, finally securing a situation for her, possibly at Yeovil Hospital. Before leaving she was examined and obtained a medical certificate, and was visited by her parents and then in March 1934 ‘.... Annie left by the 10 am (train)’.

We don’t know whether Annie took her child with her or not. Such were the harsh times.

These are just some of the many moving cases the PPRS helped at a time when the opportunities for girls were so limited, and before contraception became readily available.

Notes and further reading:

A deaconess a was a non-ordained ministry for women in some Protestant churches, whose role it was to provide pastoral care, especially for other women.

See also our On This Day December 2nd and August 14th at  (both accessed December 17th 2017)


The Penwith Papers:

Penwith Local History Group
The Penwith Papers:

Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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