Wilhelmina Brodie Hall

Wilhelmina Brodie Hall

1845 - 1939
Wilhelmina was born in Eastbourne in 1845 to Dr David Hall and Anna Brodie. She was the youngest child and lived at various addresses in Eastbourne.


Guardian at Eastbourne Workhouse, early proponent of foster care


Little is known of Wilhemina’s early life and education as most of the records refer to her male relatives. She was the granddaughter of a vicar of Eastbourne and the daughter of a doctor.

The family lived at Elm Cottage, South Street, Eastbourne, now confusingly the site of 68-70 Grove Road. Although she spent some of her childhood living with her aunt Anne Brodie at The Gore,(now Gore Park Road and Gore Park Avenue) and in 1861, at the age of 15, she is recorded as living with her parents at 24 Marine Parade, Eastbourne. There is no record of her until 1891 when she was back living at the Gore in 1891 with her aunt Lydia Brodie.

By 1901 and 1911 she appears to be a boarder at Merlins or Marlynn, 5 Devonshire Place, Eastbourne. In 1925 she had moved to 14 Ennismore Garden Mews, Knightsbridge, London, and in the early 1930s at Osborne House, Royal Parade, Eastbourne, a private hotel, then from 1936-1939 at Havenwood, Peaslake near Gomshall, Surrey.


Conditions in Eastbourne workhouse were horrendous and despite the records of Guardians’ Meeting we have scant knowledge of how paupers felt about their days there. Food was scarce, work was hard and pregnant, single women were put on a starvation diet for 9 days after a delivery of a child as a deterrent against the workhouse as a place to be confined. It was in this context that Wilhomena first became a Guardian and then a Board member as soon as women were allowed to be elected, in April 1883. She wanted to change things.

Within six months she had built up a ladies committee which made child placements or fostering their ‘especial care’ and paid particular attention to staffing. On 11 May 1883 – “It was resolved that Miss Hall be asked to accompany Mrs. Ashby a nurse round the wards with a view to being better enabled hereby to judge her capability for the office.” Miss Hall subsequently informed the Board that she was not very favourably impressed with Mrs. Ashby, still she might possibly not make an unsatisfactory office.”

On 28 September 1883 she drew the Board’s attention to the very unsatisfactory state of the accommodation for the children in the Workhouse School, and asked whether ‘any better provision could be temporarily made.’ She started fostering by first contacting the President of the Princess Mary Training Home and Lady Fanny Howard’s training home in Eastbourne and persuaded the Board to send children out to Canada to be fostered.

To read Maureen’s full research click here


This was a lady I had never heard of but she comes from a very well-known family Her grandfather and father did a lot of good for Old Town. She was a very formidable lady and I would imagine she was more intelligent than most females of her generation. She approached things like a female lawyer. With what was in her genes from the Brody family I think she followed their lead in doing good for the town. I enjoyed researching her but half the time was finding information about the male part of the family and I think she was probably overlooked.

Maureen Copping

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Reading the book Barracks, Workhouse and Hospital by Dr John Surtees.

Research conducted at the Keep, Falmer, archives at the record office on the Eastbourne Workhouse by Genealogist Mathew Homewood behalf of the researcher.

At the record office there are two children’s case books 1906-1914 which detail around 200 children individually and their placements. There are also registers from the 1880s to the 1920s showing children fostered, boarded out and sent as apprentices, servants etc.

Copyright has been granted to Maureen Copping for her research.



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