The contents on this page remain on our website for informational purposes only.
Content on this page will not be reviewed or updated.

Perhaps inspired by the TV show which aims to make well-mannered ladies out of some decidedly un-ladylike females Local Pages' historian John Taylor has been delving into similar attempts almost 100

The wayward servant girl and mystery of the missing purse
'The Fenny Stratford Branch of the Diocesan Society for the Refuge of Girls,' has seemingly long been demolished.
but these contemporary views of the High Street would have been a familiar sight to any wayward young ladies.

Many of those sent to the home would have been housemaids. However, there is no suggestion that 'Florrie/ who is dressed in the typical uniform of the time, was anything other than completely respectable.
It was only 100 years ago that the sight of an aeroplane flying over the town was sufficient to bring the locals out into the streets and make front page news.

However, excepting mysterious orange balls, nowadays it does not merit a glance.

A further indication of the changing times is that the popular press now carries 'personal ads', reflecting society's re-adjusted outlook on accepted moral behaviour.

On the continuing subject of wayward young ladies it is opportune to recall the story of 'the Fenny Stratford Branch of the Diocesan Society for the Refuge and Reformation of Girls.'

This had been opened on Tuesday, May 26, 1914 at 10 High Street, and 'for preventative and rescue work amongst girls' was run in connection with the North Bucks Association of the Oxford Diocesan Council.

In charge of the home was Miss Frances Cother, the lady superintendent, and she gave a talk to promote her work at the Wing Parish Room on the upbringing of children. Due to the mired state of the roads only about 40 participants turned up.

Nevertheless, Miss Cother remained committed to her work, not least the case of a 26 year old housemaid who, at the Bucks Assizes at Aylesbury in January 1917 pleaded guilty to the charge of having concealed the birth of a child at Bletchley on October 7,1916. The infant's body was discovered while she was in the employ of a local household.

Said to have an excellent character for honesty, integrity and morality, the girl had been in service for most of her life and fully intended to tell her mother about her condition as soon as she knew.

However, finding her mother was grief stricken at the death of one of her brothers killed in the war, she felt unable to bring any fresh misery and so remained silent.

Following the discovery of the infant's body, hidden in a drawer, pending her trial the girl was placed on bail in the home and during this three months Miss Cother noted she performed her housework duties very satisfactorily and would be taken back onto the home if required.

Indeed, partly because of this opinion the judge took a lenient view at the trial and having lectured the girl about the need to provide for the birth of a child allowed her to go, on her own recognisance, to come up for judgement if called upon to do so. No doubt this was a verdict that greatly pleased Miss Cother although her views were less favourable regarding another girl, described as a cigarette packer, in her charge, who was brought to the Special Sessions on June 8,1917.

Aged 16, she was taken into the home on May 19, but on May 29 was alleged to have stolen a leather purse from Miss Cother containing 6s 2d, a medallion and pawn ticket.

The girl had been put to work cleaning the steps and then the passage, but on reaching the room where Miss Cother was having breakfast, she asked if she could dust the front room first.

Permission was duly given, but a while later having heard no movement in the room Miss Cother became suspicious, and upon investigation found that not only was the girl missing, but also her hat.

Also missing was Miss Cother's purse, which had been left in a bag on the table in another front room, where the girl had no reason to go.

At 4.30pm Miss Cother reported the loss to the police and, in the company of Inspector Callaway, later in the day went to Bletchley station to identify the girl, who had been detained by one of the railway officials.

On being asked by Miss Cother for the whereabouts of the purse, the girl admitted the theft saying that 'I was looking at it at Woughton' - but said that she had now lost it.

However she still had the medallion, which she produced from her pocket.

It had first been on May 7 that the girl attracted the attention of the police when a police sergeant found her wandering at the railway station at Wendover.

Feeling compassion he took her to his house to be attended to by his wife while he made enquiries but this hospitality was then abused when some ten days later the girl stole some clothes and a purse containing 17s 6d and left the house in the middle of the night.

She was soon caught near Great Missenden and having been charged before the Aylesbury magistrates was convicted and bound over in the sum of £5 being then taken to the home in Fenny Stratford.

Despite refusing to provide any details about herself the complete history of the girl was nevertheless revealed when her photo was sent to the Enquiry Department, London, for on consulting their records they were able to forward all the necessary information.

In fact it appeared that she had been more 'sinned against than sinning,' but even so would remain in custody to appear at the next Quarter Sessions for Bucks at Aylesbury, on June 25.

As warden, Miss Cother's dedication was recognised in June 1917, when the annual meeting of the North Bucks Association of the Oxford Diocesan Council for Preventative and Rescue Work expressed their deep gratitude for the work she had done for the past three years.

The home was full during the past 12 months with girls staying a night or two to a couple of months or more.

In many cases it proved the beginning of a new life for them but perhaps not the 16-year-old servant girl accused of stealing from Miss Cother.

At the Bucks Quarter Sessions on Monday, July 2nd, 1917, she pleaded guilty and was sent to a Borstal for three years.

Also accused of stealing was another 16-year-old servant charged with the theft of money, jewellery and clothing from the Rev Field, of Milton Keynes Village.

Mrs Field said she employed the girl as 'cook general,' but gave her a month's notice on July 23rd. On August 21st she asked the girl to complete some work but on refusing was told to pack her bag and go.

This she also refused, and Mrs Field sent for Miss Cother.

The girl was asked what the matter was but no reply seemed forthcoming.

When opening the girl's box several stolen items were found.

Following the arrival of a police constable other items were discovered in her handbag and at the ensuing proceedings the prisoner pleaded guilty but said nothing further.

It was decided she should be sent for trial and dealt with under the Borstal system.

Towards the end of the year it seemed that Miss Cother was to leave the home, for the Oxford Diocesan Magazine reported: "We cannot speak too highly of the way in which she has carried out her difficult duties."

"She has been a real power of good amongst the girls and by her patience and sympathy has gained their entire confidence."

Miss Cother had a change of heart for she was back at the home to have her patience further tried by a case in June, 1918.

This concerned a 21-year-old woman in the RAF who in early May attempted to strangle herself at Halton.

Some four years earlier she threatened suicide having given birth to a child but after being in the RAF for a few months her conduct had been good. Having no idea what to do with her the case was sent to the Bucks Assizes.

Her friends were unable to influence her behaviour.

In fact since leaving school she was a constant source of trouble to her respectable parents from Surrey who did not attend the trial saying they had done all they could for her.

Miss Cother, under whose charge the woman was accommodated, refused to take her for longer considering the prisoner was not sorry and might commit a similar act.

It appeared the girl had been reprimanded in camp and was afraid 'certain things' might be made known to her parents.

The judge sentenced her to three months in prison.

In Aylesbury, on Thursday, June 20th, 1918, Miss Cother presented an account of the work which had been performed at the home.

The chairman said the premises had been run for £250 a year which proved excellent value and during 1918, 69 girls were admitted with 14 sent to service, three to other refuges, 16 to 'long Homes,' 17 returned to relatives, three to the infirmary, and one to prison. Fifteen girls spent their holiday at the home!

Additionally, seven babies were admitted with their mothers with four baptised while at the shelter.

Nevertheless, by May 1919, Miss Cother left the parish and the Fenny Stratford Home disappeared into the mists of time.

Judging by the state of some of the young ladies seen spilling out of the local hostelries at chucking out time, perhaps now is the moment to seriously consider a swift reintroduction of such a facility!