The Bristol Magdalens

Mary Magdalen (Maudlin) is traditionally, though unproven, the New Testament’s “fallen woman”, who Jesus saved through her repentance, but it was probably by accident rather than design that Bristol’s Female Penitentiary was situated at Maudlin Street.

I came across these records when researching “A Victorian Girl”, otherwise Mary Britton, nee Leighton, my erstwhile next-door-neighbour, whose amazing history, a downward spiral from riches to rags occupied my time a few years ago. Mary might well have been a candidate for the Penitentiary had she not been, as a child, taken in by one of Bristol’s Ragged Schools.

The Bristol Female Penitentiary began after an inaugural meeting on 23rd April 1801 when charitable donations were sought to set up “an asylum for those unhappy females who have been seduced from the path of Virtue and may be found desirous of returning into it.”

The Penitentiary, 1801-1911, had accommodation for up to about forty girls and young women who in a later phrase might be said “to be in need of care and protection”. They usually spent between one and two years resident at the Penitentiary where they were employed in such tasks as shoe-making, needlework and laundering. Those successfully reformed were put out to service. There was a heavy Christian, (Protestant) religious bias and an emphasis on repentance.

Have a look at the index to see if you can spot someone related to you. If your ancestor is named or you can add more details, please contact me.

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