In 1894, at the request of Bishop butt of Southwark Diocese, the Bermondsey Community provided Sisters, with Mother M Martha Scannell as their leader to take care of orphaned girls in an establishment on Sevenoaks Road, Orphington. The Present Brothers were already caring for orphaned boys, and for six years the Sisters and those in their care used a separate section of the building, St Joseph’s. In 1900, when the number of girls and increased to 230 (from the initial 4!) St Anne’s Orphanage, adjacent to St Joseph’s and St Anne’s school were officially recognised as Orphanages.
In 1907, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, building of a Church between the two schools commenced. When completed, the Church was dedicated to the Holy Innocents and a section of it was opened to the public, thus providing a much-needed religious heart to the then small local Catholic Community.
The girls in St. Anne’s received their early education in St Anne’s Voluntary School and the happy memories retained (and frequently expressed) in adult life show clearly the love and compassion which they experienced while in the care of the Sisters. Life was very fully throughout the year and reached a happy climax each summer when the whole school community enjoyed two-weeks holiday in St Mary’s Bay, Dymchurch.
Although the gathering war-clouds in the late thirties caused anxiety and a certain amount of disruption, the trauma of evacuation was not experienced until 1944 when the school transferred first to St Helen’s and then Coventry.
In 1954, the Voluntary School became St Anne’s Primary, still under the care of the Sisters and within the Kent Education Committee’s jurisdiction. The school was opened to boys and girls of the area, and when the Orphanages were replaced by five purpose-built Family Group Homes the change of status was complete. With help from Southwark Children’s Society, the orphanage buildings were adapted to provide Offices for the Society in the basement, Staff accommodation in one wing, and in another, a spacious Convent which enabled the Sisters to move out of their cramped quarters. Tara House, a part of the main building – was converted to a flat for letting.
When Sisters could no longer adequately combine the role of House Mother with full-time teaching, the Homes gradually passed to the care of lay staff. Later, when the Children’s Society favoured fostering rather than care of children in Homes, the number of admissions dropped and gradually the need for Homes ceased. By 1979, with plans for a new church under way, the site of the old one and of the orphanages with much surrounding land was sold by the Diocese to developers who built a private housing estate. When the New Holy Innocents Church opened in 1981, the clergy vacated their Presbytery in favour of the Sisters (whose Convent, the former Orphanage, was ear-marked for demolition) and moved into the new one beside the Church. Since then, the works of Mercy continue from the Convent in, the so appropriately named Bishop Butt Close.