The Home of Comfort was founded in 1896 by Mother Emma. But who was Mother Emma?
She was Emma Marrett Day, born in Scotland in 1847, of a scholarly family. She went to London in her 20s and was set apart as a Deaconess at Southwark on 3 September 1874.
"A Deaconess is a woman who after a period of preparation and training is solemnly set apart by the Bishop. She is duly commissioned and licensed by him to do the work to which he shall appoint her. Her life and all that she has is dedicated to God's service. She is the servant of the Church and work only and absolutely under the parochial clergy and is one of the Church officials".
She worked for a time at the London Deaconess Institution and from there went on, with others, to establish a branch house in Dorking. Next, she went to Aldershot where she started a crèche in Eagle House, which she made a centre of much activity for the children. Then, at the request of the Bishop of Winchester, Bishop Harold Brown, she started a Training Home for Deaconesses at Farnham. There she did pioneer work for young women of the town and also founded a Rescue Home for Children.
In 1884, having heard of the many problems and huge population of Portsmouth she elected to come here, bringing 2 or 3 more Deaconesses with her. They rented two houses in Victoria Road, Southsea and continued their good works amongst the poor and needy. Meanwhile, Mother Emma raised a large sum of money from the Diocese, also contributing generously herself, she established St Andrews Home in Fawcett Road, Southsea as a Training House for Deaconesses. The foundation stone was laid on All Saints Day in 1889 by Mrs Harold Brown. This stone is still visible today in Fawcett Road from what is left of the original buildings now forming part of Priory School.
Next Mother Emma set up St Andrews Children Home in Southsea. This was later taken over by The Waifs & Strays, now The Children's Society. A Laundry Home for unmarried mothers and their babies followed, then a Rest Home on the Isle of Wight. Mother Emma was a remarkable woman blessed with warmth, imagination, dynamism and good common sense. She had, with all her deep religious feeling a keen sense of humour and a love of independence. She was a leading light in all Church and social reform work in Portsmouth and inspired many to dedicate their lives to the service of God.
She became very concerned about the many lonely people who had no one to care for them towards the end of their lives. In London there were at least 3 Homes for the Dying run by Deaconesses but there was nothing comparable in Portsmouth. There was no provision for those, who although not wealthy, could nonetheless afford to pay something towards their upkeep. So, with the Bishop's permission, she raised a large sum of money and was able to buy a house called 'Dowran' in Victoria Grove, Southsea. Here she set up The Home of Comfort for the Dying to cater especially for those such as missionaries, Church workers, nurses and others who had contributed much to the life of the community. This home was especially dear to her and she worked untiringly for it. Although forced by ill-health to retire from most of her duties in 1912 she remained responsible for it until the end of her life.
She spent her last declining years in rooms over a shop in High Street, Portsmouth. Here she died on 13 February 1920. Mother Emma's funeral service was held in the Chapel of the St Andrews Home from where her coffin was pushed on a hand cart, followed by the Deaconesses in procession, to Highland Road Cemetery where she was buried. Her grave was found in 1966 in a somewhat neglected state with the cross lying on the ground. The Home of Comfort arranged for it to be tidied up, covered with white chippings and the cross replaced in a vertical position. Mother Emma's name could be seen quite clearly with the names of the other 3 Deaconesses buried in the same grave and with the motto of the St Andrews Home "Serve the Lord with gladness".
With thanks to Mrs Elaine Bullock for providing this information and much more of her research and photos to The Friends of Highland Road Cemetery.