Posts Tagged ‘St Saviour’s Home’

Mother Agnes’s School for Girls at Knostrop

April 1, 2016

One School We Haven’t mentioned: Mother Agnes’s School for Girls at Knostrop

This is the story I have been wanting to air ever since I started The East Leeds Memories site. Now with the help of Mr Fred Harding, son of Merle, one of the pupils and Mr Stephen Savage whose book on Agnes Logan Stewart is the authoritative work on the institution I am able to write this account. This story draws extensively on Stephen’s research including the pictures, but mainly on the the memories of four of the former girls who attended the institution: the sisters Rose and Doris and the twins Merle and Averill. This story needs to be written down as the St Saviour’s Home closed its doors in 1940, nearly three quarters of a century ago, and it is about to pass beyond living memory. This story is quite long but I hope you will stay with it. It is very doubtful that any member of that old school still with us will be ‘surfing’ this site but I’m sure there are some among us who may have had tales handed down from girls who did attend ‘Mother Agnes’s. If this should be so please leave a comment on the site at the end of the story so we can have a ‘follow up’. Please remember to ‘click’ on the pictures to enlarge.

St Saviour’s colloquially known as ‘Mother Agnes’s’ was an institution set up in Knostrop, East Leeds, by Agnes Logan Stewart in 1872 for girls from broken homes. Agnes Stewart was a lady of independent means and boundless energy. She set the institution up for girls from her own resources and staffed it mainly with sisters in holy orders. She wore the habit of a sister herself but was not actually in holy orders. She later was also responsible for setting up St Hilda’s School for boys in Cross Green Lane, also in East Leeds.

mother agnes for blog

My own mother, born in 1906 attended the school as an ‘out girl’ along with lots of local girls who could have a private education for six pence a week. I still have a bible given her by the sisters on her twelfth birthday. I wish I had asked Mother more about the school but when you are young you are always busy, busy, busy and when you come to realise you should have asked more it’s too late and they are lost to us.

The memories I am able to provide here are however of a much later date, shortly before the Home (they liked to call it a home not an orphanage) closed down completely in 1940. The actual private school had ceased in 1924 after which the girls’ educational needs were transferred to St Hilda’s School on Cross Green Lane.

knostrop institute 1920

The major memories recorded here are those of Mrs Doris Harris (alas now deceased) who was a resident in the home in the late 1930s for seven years This is an abridged version of Doris’s story as the full version is too long to put on this site. Doris was born in London in 1929 her sister Rose was born a year earlier. The story which Doris’s children encouraged her to write begins when men in white coats took their mother away in an ambulance and Doris and Rose were left cold and alone.

st saviour'sme colour


Doris’s memories

.           Rose and I went to these people in black, with black hats on (nuns I later found out). Then it was a long train ride. I had something to eat in a box but I wanted my mum. I couldn’t eat. It was getting dark going through lots of tunnels, and it kept stopping and starting. Then the door was opened. We were in Leeds in Yorkshire and it was very dark; then a lady in black lifted me out and put me in a car. Rose was already inside. Then there was a high wall and a gate opened. Then a lady with white hair who we got to know as Sister was standing there. I was given a cup of white stuff to drink. I had never tasted milk. It was warm nice milk and I was put by a fire to get warm on my own. This of course was a children’s home. The home was called St Saviour’s C of E Children’s Home. As new girls arrived at the Home older girls were given the job of caring for the new younger ones. My carer was Hazel, who was about eleven. When I got there she helped me make up my bed and made me hurry up so we could spend more time in the playroom. She helped feed me. Not long after we got there we were taken into a room, put on a chair in the middle of the room and had all our hair cut off. I cried so much that Sister sent for Hazel. She took me to the playroom and read me a story. After that we always had our hair cut before it could get long. The whole time we were there our hair was cut like boys.

As the days went by I soon learned the routine: when a bell rang everyone did something. Everything went by the time the bell rang. We had to know what to do by the bell. The first one was at 6 a.m. on a morning to get out of bed, perform on our potties on the landing and then go out and wash, clean our teeth, dress. Next bell was at 7.30 a.m. By then we should be downstairs in the playroom. This was the time to go to the chapel for morning prayers. At 8 a.m. the bell was for breakfast in the refectory. The 8.30 bell was to be ready for school. At 12.30 we had dinner, at 1.15 back to school. At 4.30 p.m. it was tea time at 5.15 it was bath time and at 6.30 it was lights out until morning.

I must tell you about our clothes. Our sheets, nighties, knickers, and school dresses were made of men’s serge suiting, which was rather rough. We think this came from the mills around us. We were each given a number to use on our toothbrushes, flannel and clothing; mine was 19. The house we lived in was quite large and the grounds were all round. In the grounds we had a large rhubarb patch stretching the whole length of the garden about 50 feet wide. At the back of the house was a large yard where the chickens ran free. This went half the width. We had about thirty chickens; they had the free range of a large piece of the back garden. In the spring there were little pens for the baby chicks with a mother dotted here and there.

Then there was a high fence. My dormitory had eight beds and a very big window. After lights out we got out of bed and played in the middle of the floor, listening all the time in case anybody came. There were eight helpers: Matron Terry, whose room was next to our dormitory, then Sister’s room on the next landing. The rest of them were at the back of the house, but were often sent to check on us if they heard any noise. More fun was had playing hide and seek under the beds, in the wrong beds, dares to run out onto the landing. Then we would hear the goods trains passing the windows all day and evening. We would count the wagons and say what was on the sides: NE, LMS, GWR and SE.

School was the place I did not like. I was three when I first went there. Hazel took me in a pushchair. Because I couldn’t count I had a dunce’s cap put on my head and had to sit in a corner with my face to the wall. [This must have been St Hilda’s School]

st hilda's school for blog

Rose’s Memories: I have some very happy memories of the area and St Hilda’s School: Miss Powell, Mrs Duckworth and Mr Child. My favourite teacher was Mr Hardman in the juniors. My school mates in the infants were: Sylvia Hill, Peter King and Stella Couplan and a girl with the surname of Thistlewood. At Christmas we had a very large Christmas tree set up in the infant’s hall. The partitions were rolled back so everyone could see it decorated up with candles and celluloid toys, one year one of the candles caught the toys alight and we all had to run out. The candles were not lit the next year. There was also a small bag of sweets for every child donated by a named benefactor – I can’t remember his name. I liked Mr Child (he was always suffering from being gassed in the First World War. He left me with the memories of a very kind man if he asked a question and not many put their hands up he had a favourite saying: ‘Come on you half baked tea cakes. Put your hand up and if I pick on you and you don’t know I will tell you.’ And he always walked about the classroom with a huge bunch of keys – rattle, rattle, rattle. In the juniors there was Miss Fewster – not my favourite. The next class up was Mr Hardman. Everybody liked him. He had a voice that held everyone’s attention. It could be a story or poetry he brought everything to life.

On the way back to the home from school we would cross over Cross Green Lane and into the road at the side of the rhubarb triangle field On the left there was the blacksmith, he was ways busy in those days horse and carts was still a lot of transport system. In the winter when there was frost about the horses had trouble sliding about on the cobbles. Then further down the road past the cottages, then the ESSO oil works to Saviour’s Home (the institution). Then the Gurneys Gate House then further down past our wall and round the corner was the house we used to call the ‘haunted house’ [The Humbug House] as one of the children had looked over the wall from our garden and seen a window open and something white moving about. They say the Home closed in 1939 but in fact we left in July 1940. A group of us from Saviours would go for a walk on a Saturday afternoon past the waterworks over the fields and into the woods. Sometimes we went all the way to Temple Newsam it was occupied then and sometimes we would go inside and hear tales of the ghostly ‘Blue Lady’.

I wonder if they still have Children’s Day at Roundhay Park? I got a mention once for my good hand writing (not any more) arthritis has taken its toll but I’ll be ninety in a couple of years.

I was at St Saviour’s for seven years and we were treated very well, always well fed and well clothed, holidays by the sea every year for one month at a time About 1990 I had been on holiday in York and coming home on the motorway I said to my husband shall we go to Leeds and see the Home? We had no bother finding it but being Sunday morning no one was about. I was so sorry to see such a lovely home and the drive up to the front door full of barrels I wished I hadn’t seen it but my memories of the grand entrance up to the front door remain.

I have enjoyed writing this – hope you enjoy the read. Rose Williams (formally Harris).

Back to Doris’s Memories

In the refectory at meal times the children (all girls) about 25 of us sat at long tables down two sides of the room. A large round table was in the middle for the staff, and Sister would go onto a platform by the big bay window to say prayers and tell us anything she thought would interest us. She told us all about General Gordon of Khartoum; she was his god-daughter. She told us about when she went to Africa as a missionary and nurse and about all the starving people in the world and the depression. She always asked if we liked her food. We only ever had milk or water to drink. We had porridge or egg for breakfast, meat and veg for dinner, stewed fruit for pud, bread and dripping or butter and jam and cake for tea, hot milk in the winter cold milk in the summer. On Sundays we had two sweets and an orange or apple in the afternoon.

The gardener, Mr Gurney, sometimes asked us to help with the school garden. When we went for a walk we were always told to look round us to see if there was anything different. We usually went out of the gate, crossed the road and through a path next to the farmer’s field, then along the bi-pass with all the horses and carts on. There were very few cars, just a few buses; we would sit down for a rest by the side of the road among the daises. Sometimes for a treat we went under the bridge by the river [Gibraltar Lane?] We had to have two staff than as our ages, were: 18 months to eight years. It was a good job we had two staff for one day Lydia, aged three fell in the river. Miss Rees put down her bag and jumped in to get her. Two men working on a boat had seen Lydia fall in and they jumped in as well, Lydia was lifted out dripping wet and crying. The men went back to their boats and Miss Rees was soaked, her shorts were sticking to her legs. Then we all held hands and carried on walking. By the time we got home we were all dry.

When we went out there was always eight or nine of us; people stared at us, we just held hands tight and walked on. We heard them say, ‘Poor little orphans’. Their children pulled faces at us and tried tripping us up or kicking us. We just got closer together and the helpers got round us until their parents took them away. We got called lots of nasty names at school and church but Sister always told us to just walk away from them. The boys were best as they were much kinder and punched the girls for us.

In the classroom when I was eight or nine I always sat next to a boy. None of the girls would sit next to me as I was from another world. They did not understand us, even some of the teachers didn’t seem to understand us. Some treated us like babies without any brains others just tried to pretend we were not there. But we got used to it all, OK we were different from them, we had short hair, we had special clothes and we talked together. There were 25 or so of us, we had plenty of food to eat, central heating and water for baths from the taps. A lot of them didn’t have much food, none of them had proper heating or lighting and many had to go out into the garden to the toilet. We lived in a big house behind a high wall and big wooden gates.

When things got too bad Sister sometimes opened the gates and let some people in to see how we lived. When I was about six I was once invited across the road to a cottage for tea. They had three monkeys in a cage by the table; they stretched their arms out and took the food off my plate. I jumped up and ran out and had to ring the gardener’s bell to be let back home. I was very frightened, Mrs Gurney called Sister and she took me to her room, sat me in the big armchair and Miss Clouting, the cook, brought me some warm milk.   Sister told me she went to see Mrs Smith and I wouldn’t have to go there anymore.

The only times we had to be quiet was for meal times or chapel. In the chapel we had a long narrow carpet to kneel on. We would pick bits off it and roll them into balls to play with when we got bored. I never knew how my clean clothes got into my basket under my bed and the dirty ones went but they did about twice a week in the winter and every day in the summer. You see in summer we spent all day outside getting as dirty as we could, even at school we got dirty. I often leaned on the rails watching the horses and on market days the cows and sheep going along the road. There was a farm across the road from the school. He had chickens and geese. If we asked him nicely we could go and pick his daisies, they were longer than ours and we could make them into daisy chains. Sometimes he asked an older girl if someone would like to collect some of the apples and pears. The ones that had fallen to the ground didn’t taste very nice but I think we had them made into pies.

Christmas time was good. We were each given sixpence to buy Christmas presents and were taken to Lewis’s in Leeds at a time when the store was not generally open, to make our choices. I always bought my sister a pencil, a rubber and a notebook and a card for each member of staff. On Christmas Day we all went to church in the morning, then home for Christmas dinner, pudding, and nut and fruit juice to drink, and then into the big hall where we normally went on rainy days but now decorated with a big Christmas tree. The sisters came in all dressed up with Father Christmas carrying a big sack. Everyone had a present from the bag and one off the tree. Then all the sisters joined in the games. Then the carol singing – all the children had tinsel crowns and the older children had candles. Then we went back to the refectory for tea with Christmas cake. When we got to bed Matron Terry read us a Christmas story.

We were not always goody-goodies – like all children we were naughty and watching 25 children in a huge house must have been difficult. We often had fights and if they got bad we were separated and made to sit outside Sister’s room holding hands until Sister said we could go up. We often hurt each other; my sister had very bad eyesight. She took off her glasses to wash her face and once when she said the shoes that I was cleaning were not shiny enough I sat on them and broke them; I was aged seven. Then I stood at the door shouting at her. She slammed the door on my hand and took the top of my finger off. I went to Sister who poured Iodine on it and made me sit outside her room until it stopped bleeding.

Sometimes we were called into the small wooded area in the garden where we had rope swings on the trees. Mrs Rees told us there was treasure buried there, so we got sticks and searched for it. Sometimes we sneaked in there when we were not supposed to. If the gardener caught us we had to help him weed the garden. Always when we were naughty we were punished. We didn’t like washing our faces twice or watching the others play and not been allowed to play ourselves.

On saint’s days we went to St Saviour’s Church about a mile away. We would walk there and back. Sometimes the local vicar came to our chapel for a service or to baptise new children. If any of us were ill he came to see us in the infirmary. The infirmary faced the railway and the sister’s always let the train drivers know if we were ill. They played a tune for us on their whistles and waved to us as they went by. I seemed to spend a lot of time in the infirmary. There we had white sheets and nighties. One day when I was seven another doctor came to give me a vaccination. He pulled put a long needle and told me he was going to put it into my arm and out the other side. I cried; Matron Terry held my arm and then laid me down with a teddy to sleep.

We never knew what a mum and dad were like and although we had the material things we needed we never had any love but we were happy. On our birthdays Sister stood on the platform and wished the birthday girl happy birthday and the birthday girl went up and stood beside her while everyone clapped. Sometimes parents came. When it was Daphne’s birthday, in about 1938, her mam came and gave her candles and matches, a silly thing to do. That night after lights out she gave us the candles in bed and lit them. Then we heard someone coming upstairs, so we blew the candles out but there was a bright fire light in the dormitory. We were frightened and thought someone had set the bed alight. Audrey, a helper, came running in and shut the window. A big factory on the other side of the railway was on fire and smoke was coming in through the window.

One day in 1939 someone had phoned Sister and she took us out into the garden. Then we heard it, it was an air ship coming over very low. The people inside waved to us as they went by. Then it circled round and went by again. Being a large group of children we had the advantage of attracting things like this. In the winter, as we were in a valley the snow often came higher than the windows, so we couldn’t go to school until the gardener and the older girls and staff dug us out. There was no central heating in the individual classrooms at school. There was a coal boiler though that warmed the big room and the milk. The school was at the top of the hill. The playground sloped down and the boys made long slides in the snow from top to bottom. There were railings and then a drop into the field so young the young children went into the field to play because it was so slippery. [It obviously was St Hilda’s School]

Nearly all the children had a parent to visit them and take them out but the twins (Averill and Merle) had no one, so once a year Sister took them out for the day.


Averill and Merle too returned for a nostalgic visit to the Home and there was article in the Yorkshire Evening Post in the 1990s

orphanage pic part

After an absence of almost 50 years, twin sisters, Merle Harding and Averill Thomas, recently visited the Leeds orphanage where they had spent the first years of their lives. The sisters whose maiden name was Williams were evacuated from St Saviour’s orphanage at age six in 1940 and write: The present owners of the Home which of course is no longer used for that purpose are: T.H. Fielding and sons, they kindly allowed us to visit their premises and in fact Mr. Don Fielding and his wife with typical Yorkshire generosity spared us over two hours of their time to take us round their big old house.

We had a wonderful day down memory Lane with a trip which began with us going to St Hilda’s Church where Father Nunn showed us round – much of it still unchanged since we were children. We saw the site of the recently demolished St Hilda’s School and recalled the names of two of the teachers: Miss Powell and Mrs Duckworth and just a few of the children who attended the school back in 1939 came to mind: Mavis Hill, Noel Jarrett and a little blond girl with curls called Molly, who lived near the school.

The area around St Saviour’s Home has changed dramatically with new roads and an industrial estate being built but we understand the home itself had preservation order on it and is basically the same as we saw it in 1940 apart from the gardens [preservation order or not it’s gone now and a window making factory on the site]. Some of the paintwork in the rooms is still recognisable despite the premises being used by the Home Guard during the war and we even went into the chapel and saw the original pews and the organ. [When in the ownership of the Fielding family they always strived to keep the chapel sacred].

When we lived there with some 16 to 20 girls Miss Mary Rudge (pictured) was in charge she was always known as Sister Rudge, The daughter of a general in the Indian Army she was a god daughter of. Gordon of Khartoum, a great family friend and devoted her life to helping girls who had no families. She had a close connection with a religious order based in St Leonard’s on sea in Sussex and we visited her there shortly after the war. She died in the summer of 1960 with only two elderly ladies and my sister and I at her funeral, a lonely and sad passing for a great lady.

We also remembered on our visit to Knostrop, Mr Gurney and his daughter Marry who lived in the lodge, now also demolished, also Mr and Mrs Armitage who also lived the grounds too and understand Mr. Armitage he is now aged 90 and living in Wetherby.

So many memories were evoked by our return and we wondered how many of the children we knew at the orphanage and at St Hilda’s are still alive. In those days we wore shorts like boys and had our hair cut like boys too.

Is there anyone who can recall these memories, we would love to hear from them. We moved to Wales in 1940 and this was our first visit back.

(At the time of writing the twin sisters are still living in Wales)

st saviours composit pic


Back to Doris’s story

Sister sometimes went to visit someone in Brighten and then it seemed she was gone a long time Matron Terry was in charge when Sister was away, she didn’t seem to be quite in command as Sister was and we seemed to get away with more tricks. [I like the sound of Sister!]

When we got back from holiday one year, I’d be about eight, Sister seemed to be telling us about a man called Hitler, but we didn’t understand. That year at Christmas we went to church and we had to pray for the people Hitler had hurt and it seemed terrible. In assembly at school the headmaster said prayers for all these people. Lots of aeroplanes were going over all night and day and lots more goods trains going both ways.

I was now the next in line to be a carer. Just after Christmas a new baby arrived, it was early in 1939. She could just walk. Her name was Elizabeth. Sister called me into her room and said that even though I was still in the young dormitory I was old enough to be a carer. My carer, Hazel, was holding this little girl, she had big blue eyes just like my doll. Sister said Hazel would help with her too as I mustn’t carry her. We took her down to the play-room; it was too cold to play outside. She liked crawling around on the floor and all she could say was ‘Mummy’. We soon taught her to play she liked the rocking horse. When I had to feed her it was before my dinner was ready. She spit it out so Sister gave me warm milk for her in a cup and soup on a spoon. She wet her knickers sometimes. As Hazel had left school now she looked after her while I was at school; I had to make her bed while Hazel stood on the other side helping. I had to wash her and clean her teeth in the mornings and of course get her potty trained. By the time summer came she was cleaning her teeth and making her own bed, so I played with her more. I took her into the lobby on Saturdays and let her help clean the shoes and showed her how to slide down the banisters when the sisters weren’t looking; how to pick up stones in the yard and make spider houses – no spiders ever went in! She wanted to eat earth, I told hazel and she told me to keep putting toys in her hands so she couldn’t pick up earth, or to play ball with her. Then it was holiday time again, off we went to Whitby. Hazel stayed by Elizabeth and me. Elizabeth wanted to look out of the window. She had seen horses and cows before but sheep were new, she thought they were dogs. When we went up to Sleights she was put into old clothes so she could eat bilberries and pay with the sheep. She soon started making their noises, she sounded so funny.

[What a beautiful relationship must have developed between the carers: Hazel-Doris-Elizabeth. I wonder if they ever met up later in life?]

At the end of August we came back from holiday and went to church. On the way home we passed the refectory window to get to the door. Sister was leaning out of the window; she told us the war had started and to hurry into the refectory as soon as we had taken off our coats. Then she said we must get the benches out from the tables and sit in a circle round her, as she wanted to talk to us. She said we were at war with Germany and showed us on the map where Hitler had invaded. She said she did not know what was going to happen but that she would tell us everything we needed to know. A policeman came to speak to us in the afternoon; he told us what was good and what was bad. He said he had spoken to Sister and it was decided that Sister’s hall downstairs was the safest place from bombs, so if there was an air raid we were to go in there until the all clear. We didn’t quite understand but he said someone would take us there and bring us back. My father arrived but he was helping saw up wood to go on the windows. The older girls helped take food and blankets to Sister’s hall. We had all gone to bed and there was still noise from downstairs when we went to sleep.

Quite suddenly in the middle of the night, Sister, Matron Terry, and Audrey came in the dormitory and told us to get dressed. We all went downstairs; it was still dark all the others were there. We sat on pillows with blankets around us. Miss Rees had gone outside with father to see what was happening. Then quite suddenly this noise started outside. I was nursing Elizabeth and we were all crying – it was so loud. Sister said that’s the All Clear, now we can go back to bed. The next day we stayed in bed late.

While I was at the home Sister always told people that I was kept with the younger children because I was a delicate child and she often asked me if I was happy with the younger ones. I said I was happy.

This is the end of Doris’s life at the Home in Knostrop. Her next entry, not for this account, concerns her life back in London with her father and the cook from the Home who became her stepmother. Unfortunately she speaks of beatings for not being able to keep up to their requirements. All in all I find it hard to read this account with a dry eye.

Fielding’s no longer own the site of St Saviour’s Home. There is now a window producing company on the site. All the original buildings are gone except the pointed roof building which was Mr Armitage’s house, the square building behind which I’m told was the old school room and some of the boundary wall. While Messer’s Fielding were in charge of the site they always kept the chapel sacred and the bell which used to summon the girls to their various duties in carefully maintained in their own home. Sadly we have lost Doris but I have recently been in contact with Rose and the twins Merle and Averill and I am happy to report that at the time of writing they are still very much with us and in spite of a strange start to life they have all had satisfying careers and raised their own fine families.

Thank you ladies for sharing your memories with us.

St aviour's Home map