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St Margaret's Crossway

An orphange for "friendless little girls"

In 1914 St Margaret’s Orphanage was the only building in Crossway. (It had moved from Willoughby Road where, in 1909 it was described as ‘St Margaret’s Home for Friendless Little Girls’).  It was still there in 1913, though ‘Friendless’ had been dropped from its title in 1910.

St Margaret’s in 1931. Credit: LHS archives – copy of cutting from the Herts Advertiser, 20 November 1931

St Margaret’s was a High Church institution presided over by a tall and severe Miss Croft,* the Honorary Lady Superintendent.  It was run under the auspices of the Holy Family Homes, a Society of Anglo-Catholics. The Society aimed to extend to children the ‘advantages of a real home life’ (Peter Higginbotham).

The girls who had short cropped hair, were easily recognised by their bright red cloaks with hoods made of rough serge, went to school on Church Green, which then catered for children throughout their school life.  They walked in a body accompanied by a member of staff.  As there were then no school dinners, the girls walked back for their midday meal and then back to school for their afternoon lessons.

To supplement voluntary subscriptions the running of the Orphanage was partially financed by the taking in of washing and out of school hours groups of the girls, again accompanied by a member of the staff, were to be seen going to some of the bigger houses in Harpenden wheeling hampers of washing on a four-wheeled trolley, which was wheeled back several days later.  As a result of their laundry work the roughness and redness of the girls’ hands aroused much sympathy from their schoolfellows.

The girls were confirmed much younger than was then the normal practise and attended the 8 o’clock Sunday Communion at the Parish Church.  They did not attend Sunday School or any other of the Church Services, but presumably observed a strict Sunday in the Home.

After Miss Croft – the Guardian’s Home

Some time during the 1930s Miss Croft and her girls departed.  Later the children from the Guardian’s Home in Luton Road moved into the buildings and remained there until they were moved by the County Council into Field House in Townsend Road.

The second group of children wore no distinguishing uniform and lived much less formal lives, and enjoyed games in the playground to which the drying grounds had been converted.

After the departure of the children St Margaret’s was converted into five flats.

*   A child who lived at St Margaret’s in the 1920s –Hazel Inglefield– wrote her reminiscences in the 1970s.  See her page in the section on Childhood.

St Margaret’s in 2011. Credit: LHS archives, G. Ross

St Margaret’s during demolition in 2017. Credit: Old Harpenden Facebook

Construction of 11 flats on the site of St Margaret’s, June 2018. Credit: Jill Toogood, Old Harpenden Facebook

The new apartments September 2019. Credit: John Marlow

Comments about this page

  • I have the sad news of the passing of Mrs Janet Woolner (nee West) in the year 2023. She was at St, Margaret’s Children’s Home Harpenden from the 1940s till it closed 1956 – the Home from Hell as we called it. She lived in Harpenden most of her Life. R.I.P.

    from Mr. Patrick Boyle Ex. St, Margaret’s Home, Harpenden.1946 to 1956.

    By Patrick Boyle (21/03/2023)
  • I am the daughter of Mr & Mrs Harding who  worked at Field House late 50’s to mid 60’s. I don’t know what to say but hope that all those in their care have good memories

    By Judith Robarts nee Harding (28/11/2020)
  • I wonder if anyone has any knowledge of my mother Annie Fletcher who was in this hellhole from a baby in 1926 until she left sometime in the 1940s. l believe she was employed as a teenager by Miss. Sewell, the super after Croft, to help with the younger children. Mother might also have been known as Betty as she was born the same year as the queen. Was there a Westmacott on the staff or committee and did any famous people ever visit? Any help you can give me or surviving relatives of those passed on would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and God bless.

    Ed. Unfortunately records of St Margarets do not seem to have survived, and we think most of the children there moved away. However, we hope your message will be noticed.

    By David Bond (21/05/2020)
  • Well at last, St Margaret’s children’s home is no more thank God, and has been consigned to Harpenden’s History books   I have been to look at the new Flats. I must say they are a lot better than I imagined.

    ed. We have added a photo of the completed apartments above. 

    By PATRICK BOYLE (09/09/2019)
  • I’m Anne and also trying to research the life of Maisie (Marguerite Snell), my grandmother. – do any other photos exist, of Miss Croft, children, the home?  Anything at all really, would add to, flesh out my nan’s life story. Even pics of the home being demolished

    Ed. Unfortunately we have no photos of Miss Croft or the children. We have added a photo taken during demolition of the building which had contained five flats, and a couple of photos during the construction of 12 new apartments.

    By Anne (30/08/2018)
  • My mother, Maisie Snell, was sent to this home in 1911 at the tender age of three years, leaving to go into service at around 14 years of age, so about 1922. Mum never said much about life there, she mentioned Miss Croft, and the girls in red capes delivering the laundry, but it must have been a hard life. I would be interested to hear if any records of the home survive.

    Ed: as far as we can tell, no records of this home have survived

    By mal (04/02/2018)
  • My name is Michael Chappell I was at the home when Miss Hewitt was matron. If anyone knows me please  email 

    By Michael Chappell (15/01/2018)
  • My mum, Marie Harding, was at St Margaret’s from 1931 for approx 12 years.  I would so love to hear from anyone who knew her or hear anything about the home at that time please.  Mum passed away three years ago and had told me nothing at all. I just want to try and understand her childhood as much as possible.  Of course photos of around that time would be wonderful too. 

    I know very little about my late mother’s childhood other than that I believe she was born in St Margarets – or close by.  Her mother Florence Harding was very young and lived at St Margarets with my mother, Marie, for a few years before my mother was briefly fostered.  Florence Harding then seemed to disappear from the radar.  My mother, Marie, was returned to the Home after a short time and stayed there until she was eventually adopted by Mr and Mrs Matthews when she was around 14 years old.

    Thank you so much x

    By Denise Smith (01/12/2017)
  • I am glad this home is down, it was the home from hell. We were slippered, caned, shouted at; it took me  well into my thirties before I could pour water over my head, due to having my head pushed in water so often.

    it was not a Christian home, this was the home  from hell, and I hope I can rest my many ghosts.

    By Janet Woolner (05/10/2017)
  • Well at long last St Margaret’s has been demolished and so will go all the Bad Memories to do with this Horrible Place – the Pain & suffering we all had as young children while living there. I say  & so do I expect other Children who were there at that time.

    Time say Good Riddance. 

    By Patrick Boyle (26/09/2017)
  • Please note that St Margaret’s is presently being demolished. A planning application for a huge building with 11 flats right across the frontage will replace it. I strongly object and one of my objections to St Albans District Council concerned whether or not Harpenden History Society had been advised of the demolition of this historic building having been the site of a religious institution and orphanage before this road was even made up. It is the oldest building in this street -Cross Way- probably here first. Has the Victorian Society been advised?

    So last chance to see some of it this week as roof is coming off apace now.

    Ed: The Local History Society is not informed of applications to demolish buildings even when they are in the Conservation Area. Unfortunately, outside the Conservation Area there is no system for ‘local listing’ of notable buildings, unless they qualify for listing by English Heritage. We share your concerns, and are pressing councillors to find ways to plug this gap in planning legislation.

    By Rev Linda Williams (19/09/2017)
  • Does anyone remember my mother, Marie Harding, there around 1931 to 1940 please?

    By Denise Smith (20/01/2017)
  • I and my sister Deborah Tait were in St. Margaret’s Nursery 1960 – 1964, I remember Miss Cook. We were in Field House 1964 – 1966,and remember Mr & Mrs Harding also their daughter Judy. Then Peter Mellows? & his wife. We went to Church Green School (St Nicholas). I would like to hear from past residents of these homes. I have a weak left arm & leg which might help people remember me.

    Bridget Tait-Murphy (nee Tait) 

    By Bridget Tait-Murphy (06/08/2014)
  • My name was Anne Wilson. I was at Harpenden Children’s Home 1949 -51 aged 4-6.

    ed. We think she was at the National Children’s home – see her comment on that page

    By Anne Ransom (12/07/2014)
  • The editors have recently added a new page about Field House, and have moved or copied all the comments about Field House to that page.

    By Rosemary Ross (05/02/2013)
  • My name is Paul Gilkes I stayed at Field House Children’s home in Harpenden from 1971-1979. It was run by a nice couple called the Coopers. Arthur Cooper who looking back was another Arthur Daley and Mrs Cooper whose name I believe was Dorothy she was quite firm but fair.

    By Paul Gilkes (19/01/2013)
  • I lived at Field House on Townsend Road in Harpenden in the mid 1960’s. I appreciated the wonderful, caring experience. The home was managed by Peter and Celia Mellor and a great staff. I remember all the children (I was one of the older kids there). Sweet memories. Feel free to contact me with your thoughts/experiences.

    By Anne Conklin (14/01/2013)
  • I’m trying to research a children’s home I stayed at in Harpenden. It was called Field House. I was there between 1980-1985.

    By paul dunn (21/09/2012)
  • “Hallo” Mr. Eric Smith. Nice to see you have left a message on the St Margarets Children’s Home Blog. So you were at Field House Children’s Home in Townsend Road Harpenden. In 1951 I was also at Field House, but a bit later 1956 to 1958, but run by a different couple. If you wish to contact me, please let me know.

    By Patrick Boyle (27/08/2012)
  • I was at Field House when it opened in 1951. We were moved from Stevenage to Harpenden because the facility there was unsuitable for purpose. It was supervised by Bernard and Paula Ward for the first three years. It was a wonderful place to grow up.

    By Eric Smith (24/06/2012)
  • Wonderful – what a lot of names you have remembered. Let’s hope we get a few replies. Anybod out there mustn’t be afraid to contact us. 

    I have found Isabelle’s list of all the children in St Margaret’s in 1952 - the only name I can see that’s missing is Michael Spears or Shears. I see you were in the cricket team with many of the boys you mentioned - I hope you scored well!

    By Mrs Janet Woolner (10/02/2012)
  • Here are some names of children who were residents in St Margarets childrens home in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    Janet, Valery & Derick West. Patrick Boyle. Tommy Wright. Roger, Russell, Kathleen & Audrey Butcher. Dennis Howes. Peter & John Reynolds. Michael Collins. Jane & Susan Dilnot. Rita Stapleton. June & Margaret Papper. Doris Murfitt. Bobby Clark. Brian Hill. Petro, Kenneth, Alfred, David & Judy Langton. Melvin & Sereeta Edmunds. Michael Chappell. David Spicer. Billy Rogers. Tony Lines. John Hewitt aged 10 months. Ann Bexfield. I’ve probably missed one or two.

    So if you find this website and you were there don’t keep it in. Some have never spoken of their childhood even to their families so if you feel like making contact you’re with friends. Tom.

    By Tom Wright (29/01/2012)
  • This page is very interesting.  I did not realize St Margaret’s was so old.  I have heard it may be going to be pulled down, so some of my ghosts will be gone.

    By Janet Woolner (10/01/2012)
  • Janet, you were right - I didn’t wear glasses, but I had blonde hair.  The Langhtons were taller than us.  As for Micky Chapple, I was told he was moved to a place called Burnt Oak in north london.  And I always thought it was John Reynold or were there two brothers? 

    I have been back.  The old railway station & line has all gone - there are houses where the railway line used to be.

    By Patrick Boyle (10/01/2012)
  • I do remember Patrick Boyle but I cannot remember Patrick wearing glasses.  Now the Langhton children did.  What happened to them, also the Butcher children, Mickey Chapple, and Peter Reynolds?

    Patrick, you were right in saying it was “the home from hell”.

    By Janet Woolner nee West (09/01/2012)
  • Patrick Boyle, I’m sure your name rings a bell.  Did you have siblings in the home as well? I’m seeing this tall lankey kid with glasses, fair hair, thin, (wern’t we all). I must dig a few photos out. Tom Wright.

    By Tom Wright (26/12/2011)
  • Blimey, don’t the memories come back, not that they ever went away. I find it astonishing that after Miss Croft left all was well and every one went away happy as larry!! Rubbish!  What about the years after, up to the closure by Police and the Council [in 1955]. I remember Miss Hewitt – how could any one forget her? - and Mary Baker.  The Police couldn’t find her, nor could I and I did look for a long time.  OK I know you can’t get closure on something like this - only Alzheimer’s can do that. 

    By Tom Wright (21/12/2011)
  • My memories of St Margaret’s go back to the 1930’s when my father, “Bill” Gaskin, used to go there to cut the children’s hair. The matron at that time was a Miss Sewell and each year there was a day outing to one or other of the East Coast seaside towns. Many of the children used to attend Victoria Road school.

    By Colin Gaskin (30/11/2011)
  • Well this was a long time ago but you never forget the Terrible cruelty as a child we all received at St Margarets Children’s Home in Crossway.  I was there for 10 years till they closed it down in 1955.  If they did this today they would be locked up.  After it was closed I was moved to Field House in Townend Road Harpenden.  It was run more like a family home should be.  It was run by a husband & wife with children. I was there for 2 years – what a difference!

    (I don’t Know if any one remembers me still.  If so, contact the site.)

    By Patrick Boyle (20/11/2011)
  • Adding to previous comments on St Margarets, I cannot remember going to school at Manland.  I have a school photo taken when I was 5.  This I got through a cleaner who recognized me when I was doing home nursing, but what was wonderful about this lady, she had the address and phone number of the one person who was so kind to us - Isabel - who my husband and I went to see in London.  She had not changed from the lovely person I remember of her, and her memories of St Margaret’s were as vivid as mine.  So if there are any ex-children from the home please write.

    By Janet Woolner (07/08/2011)
  • When St Margarets was taken over as a County Council home in 1948, my brother and sister were admitted there.  Our memories were dreadful of the cruelty we received and remain with us to this day. The National Children’s Home in the Oval was a much more homely and friendly place, no cruelty there.

    By Mrs Janet Woolner (26/07/2011)

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