Mary Adams was born in 1930 in Birmingham. The first part of her 1995 memoir recalls her early life when she was sent to a residential school in Hertfordshire at the age of four, transferred to a school in Surrey before the outbreak of World War Two, and then to a convent school in Devon.

Mary was a timid child from a poor background who was frequently bullied, and labelled a “slow learner”. After her parents’ divorce, Mary was sent to a residential farm school in Suffolk where she was beaten and made to scrub the kitchen floor every morning at 5am and where the children suffered ritual humiliation at the hands of the staff.

In part two Mary describes being sent to St Marye’s convent school in Portslade. St Marye’s was the former Portslade Manor, dedicated as a convent in 1904. It was an institution largely shut off from the outside world which held a laundry and was surrounded by extensive land where the residents were expected to work for long, hard hours, or climb into manholes to clean the drains, and faced routine punishment for minor rule infringements.

Mary expected to stay there for two years but when she was in her early 30s she realised she would never leave. Gradually society changed and closed institutions like St Marye’s fell out of favour, and in the 1990s Mary was eventually moved to sheltered housing in Hove. Sadly she passed away shortly after telling her story, but it remains a shocking – though surprisingly forgiving – account of abandoned children and adults in institutions in the 20th century.

Today St Marye’s is home to Emmaus, and this informative blog on the history of Portslade uses some of Mary’s story and provides additional detail on the convent.

Those Lost Years is currently out of print, but you can download a PDF of the original text of the book on a pay-what-you-like basis by clicking here.

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