FOR more than 100 years, a sisterhood of nuns ran a children’s home in Bournemouth.

The House of Bethany orphanage stood in St Clement’s Road, Boscombe.

Now the Sisters of Bethany are inviting anyone who remembers the home to join them in a celebratory service to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the Reverend Mother Foundress. The service takes place on Monday July 29 at St Clement’s Church, Boscombe.

Born in 1824, Etheldreda Anna Bennett was the youngest daughter of William and Ellen Bennett of St Marylebone, London. In 1830 the agricultural depression of high unemployment and great poverty, Pythouse Park, the home of her uncle, John Bennett, an MP and magistrate, was invaded by hundreds labourers.

Threshing machines were destroyed and John was injured by a stone thrown by a rioter. Many were arrested and tried at a special assize at Salisbury, and some were sentenced to transportation.

By 1845 Ethel, as she was known, had lost two sisters to a fatal disease, a childhood friend and her mother had also died, leaving her to care for her father. These events made an impression on her.

In 1851 her friend Harriet Brownlow set up the first home of All Saints Community of Sisters of the Poor.

Ethel joined as an ‘out-Sister’ and after her father’s death trained as a novice in 1864. Two years later she professed as a Sister and left to found her own Society of Bethany in Clerkenwell.

Mother Etheldreda started the Sisterhood with one companion, but others soon joined her in the small house in Lloyd Street; poverty stricken area of tenement houses.

She set up the Sisterhood ‘to provide a place to which laywomen might come for retreats and to share for a few days the prayer and quiet of a religious community’.

Her motto was ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength’.

“In 1872 the Sisters of Bethany bought a piece of land at Springbourne, sufficient for building a children’s home and convent,” said the Reverend Mother.

“The orphanage with accommodation for 100 children was completed and blessed two years later, and a convent wing added in 1880.

“Apart from the usual school curriculum, the older girls were trained in housecraft, needlework, laundry and secretarial work. All the children had dancing and musical training, winning many awards at local musical and dance festivals.”

By the late 1930s large orphanages were no longer needed, and the building was altered to provide more accommodation for ‘retreatants’ and other guests. The Children’s Infirmary, a separate building, became St Gabriel’s Convalescent Home for children.

“During the war the house received a direct hit and damage to the orphanage was extensive. In 1950 restoration work was completed and five years later St Gabriel’s was altered and re-opened to receive elderly ladies no longer able to manage in their own homes,” said the Reverend Mother.

In 1962 the Mother House in London closed, the building sold to the YMCA. The House at Bournemouth became the Mother House.

The Sisters helped out in several local parishes, including St Francis and St Clement’s.

In 1986 the Sisters withdrew from work in Bournemouth. The Mother House is now at Southsea.

When the Reverend Mother Foundress died in 1913, her body was brought from London to St Clement’s Church, Bournemouth, for the funeral, attended by 40 of the Sisters and 50 of the children from the orphanage. She is buried in the churchyard along with 16 Sisters and 19 children.

Contact the Sisters of Bethany or call 02392 833498 for more information.