Hidden in Darlington Road, a quiet suburban area not far from the Basingstoke railway station, stands a picturesque building known today as Barchester St Thomas’ Nursing Home, caring specifically for those suffering with dementia.

A beautiful example of Victorian architecture, the building has a varied history from when the foundation stone was first laid in 1879.

The story starts, rather unusually, with eminent Royal Naval officer and Admiral of the Fleet Sir Alfred Phillips Ryder KCB (1820-1888). Following a lifetime of naval service, upon retirement, he became an active member of the Church of England Puritan Society and took to his own to better those who were less fortunate. As part of this commitment Sir Alfred, backed by the Bishop of Winchester, instigated the idea of creating a home to house and help women who were in the grip of prostitution and abuse. He did this by providing them with laundry work in premises such as St Thomas’.

In 1883 Admiral Ryder produced a 120-page paper titled ‘Purity and the Prevention of Degradation of Women and Children’ which was read at the Church Congress meeting in Reading, Berkshire. This very comprehensive paper highlighted the plight of women and their children when caught in the trap of prostitution. He produced 500 copies and distributed them at a cost of one shilling each. The paper also covered the subject of girls under the age of fourteen rescued from brothels in South Hampshire and Portsmouth and questions how effective the church had been in preventing these things happening.

(The full paper can be viewed online at Internet Archive, www.archive.org).

The St Thomas’ Home for the Friendless and Fallen was able to accommodate 48 young women aged between fifteen and thirty (plus staff) and was run by the Anglican order Sisters of Charity organisation. The penitents had to commit to two years and agree to abide by strict rules and regulations. In return for carrying out laundry duties they received board and lodgings as well as training in dairy work, cooking and needlework. The chapel was added in 1884 and by 1885 the home accommodated 60 women from the area and abroad.

Unfortunately, in 1888 Admiral Ryder, suffering from depression, died having fallen into the river Thames at the steamboat pier in Vauxhall.

By 1930, following financial difficulties, the home had been renamed the Mount Tabor Certified Institution and was being run by The Sisters of Transfiguration who took care of people under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act. In 1951 until 1985 it reverted to St Thomas’ in the form of a school for the deaf. Following this for a short while it was used to accommodate the homeless and eventually, in 1989, was earmarked for demolition and redevelopment, but objections by local residents achieved Grade II listing for the chapel, and the residential block was also rescued from the bull dozers.

The change of use by Barchester ensures the future of this beautiful and unique building.