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21 September 2012

Mothers' days: Caring for destitute pregnant women

IN the late 1800s, giving birth outside of marriage carried massive social stigma. No maternity facilities were provided for single mothers apart from those of the local workhouse, where many of those disowned by their families or employers ended up.

With nowhere else to go, babies born in the workhouse often grew up within its harsh regime.

This situation changed in Hackney in 1884, when the Salvation Army opened a home specifically for poor and destitute women at Ivy House, on the corner of Mare Street and Richmond Road.

So many of the women arriving at Ivy House were pregnant however, the Salvation Army soon dedicated the place to the care of unmarried mothers-to-be. Midwifery training was also provided, with the first student qualifying in 1889.

Not only did the training programme grow, so did the hospital, establishing new premises in the area including a children’s home known as The Nest at 10 Springfield Road, Upper Clapton, and later a mother and baby home called Cotland next door at number 11.

By the early 1900s, the facilities at Ivy House were no longer adequate, so the Salvation Army looked for a site where they could build a new maternity hospital, eventually deciding upon a site at 1-7 Maitland Place in Lower Clapton Road.

The site already consisted of a row of semi-detached houses dating from 1824, which were now linked by archways which gave access to four (later six) colonnaded one-storey ward blocks built in the former back gardens.

Offices, reception rooms and quarters for nurses were located in the houses themselves. Now known as the Mothers’ Hospital, the building was officially opened by Princess Louise on 18 October, 1913.

The ward blocks each consisted of a fully equipped delivery room, a kitchen, bathroom, and three small wards.

Although the original gardens were lost, new trees, shrubs and flowerbeds were planted between the blocks, 
whilst each ward had French windows opening onto the lawns and the colonnades provided a pleasant seating area.

The blocks were individually assigned for unmarried women, poor married women, Jewish mothers and special cases, but during the First World War this was expanded to include the widowed or destitute wives of servicemen, and later any service wives.

After the war, all discriminations were abandoned and the Mothers’ Hospital became open to all.

Queen Mary opened a new nurses’ home in June 1921, taking time to meet many of the women and babies. Reporting on the Royal visit, the Hackney Gazette noted that: “One of the most pleasing features of this hospital is the attention and love bestowed upon the unmarried mother.

“The Salvation Army realises that at such a time human nature needs an environment and influences that will help, uplift and strengthen.”

The Second World War saw patients and the midwifery school evacuated to the Midlands, although the Mothers’ Hospital continued to serve the
needs of those unable to leave London.

An air-raid shelter was built and new mothers encouraged to become mobile quickly so they could get to the shelter easily 
if necessary. This had an unexpected beneficial side-effect in that the exercise helped reduce the number of cases of thrombosis and other post-natal problems.

A bomb did hit the hospital in September 1940, and although nobody was killed two ward blocks were destroyed, leading to an acute shortage of space, not helped by a wartime increase in pregnancies among young unmarried women.

The NHS took over the management of the Mothers’ Hospital in 1948, although Salvation Army members still numbered among the staff, and a religious element survived with hymn singing in the wards every Sunday.

After a century, during which it oversaw more than 123,000 live births, the Mothers’ Hospital finally closed in 1986, when all maternity services were transferred to the new Homerton hospital.

Today, the site has been redeveloped into the award- winning, gated complex Mothers’ Square, which consists of private housing alongside Lilian Karpin House providing supported housing for the over-55s, and Maitland Lodge, which cares for adults with learning disabilities.

This article was compiled by staff from the Hackney Archives service, for more info visit: www.hackney.gov.uk/archives

A new mother signs the birth register at a Hackney hospital

A new mother signs the birth register at a Hackney hospital

A new mother signs the birth register at a Hackney hospital View of the Salvation Army hospital c1925

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