The idea of establishing a place to house those who needed“rescuing from sin and destruction, the increasing multitude of fallen women”, can be traced back to one person – Henrietta Louisa Farrer, later the wife of Rev. Henry Sidney Lear, Bishop of Salisbury.
Permission was given by Canon Sharp to commence her project in Horbury, and a rented cottage on Millfield Road was secured for the purpose. After opening in 1858, the House was always full and in 1862 it was decided to build a new House of Mercy to house thirty or forty women penitents.
On the 27th March 1862, Canon Sharp told the Council of the House of Mercy that a plot of 4 acres of land had been bought for £600. Plans and costings had been prepared by architect, Mr Henry Woodyear. Sufficient funds were in hand to commence the north and west wings plus the water tower (the green roof). The new House of Mercy was opened on 14th September 1864. On 4th August 1870, the foundation stone of the chapel and south wing was laid by the Earl of Beauchamp. During 1877, a small detached building was erected as an infirmary or isolation block. In 1882, the Council decided to complete the quadrangle of buildings with the east wing. Plans were accepted from Mr. J. T. Micklethwaite, the architect of Keble College & Westminster Abbey. The east wing was completed in 1884, enabling 72 girls to be accommodated.
In May 1880 a small High School was built in the garden, at the cost of the sisters. By 1884 there were 50 pupils and by 1902, a house was bought adjoining the Convent grounds to house boarders. Both the school & this house were greatly enlarged in 1908 but closed in 1914. By the end of 1949 the Approved School was discontinued. In its place a boarding school for ‘maladjusted’ girls aged 11 – 16 was established. In 1950 it opened with only 2 girls.
Also in 1949, a Preparatory School was opened in the same buildings as once housed the High School. This was dedicated to St Hilda. It eventually became part of the Silcoates Foundation in 1993.
The buildings are now occupied by Hall Cliffe School, part of the Witherslack Foundation & caters for children age 8-16 with complex learning needs.
The remaining sisters of the Community of St Peter now live a short distance away on Hall Cliffe Road. To the left of the main gateway is the entrance to the ‘Penny Ginnels’ (Penny from Penitentiary, the name given to the House of Mercy by many). These will take you to Tithe Barn Street.