Our Beginning

Our story goes back to the dark days of the 19th century, in the overcrowded streets and alleyways of the London of Dickens. It was there that our Foundress gathered together a small group of like-minded women around her, women who had worked with her, prayed with her and shared her experiences in reaching out to the neediest, the most vulnerable and the most frightened people who thronged the vast metropolis of that time.

We began in 1869, four women who wanted to make a difference knelt before the statue of our lady and dedicated themselves and their ministry to them, it was the first step on our journey of what was in 1872 to become the Poor Servants of the Mother of God.

Her Birth

Frances Margaret Taylor was born on 20th January 1832 in Stoke Rochford, in Lincolnshire. Her father was an Anglican clergyman and Frances was the youngest of ten children. Her happy country childhood came to an end in 1842 when her father died and the family had to move to London. The poverty and the squalor of nineteenth century London came as a shock to her and her compassion moved her to work with the poor.

Frances Taylor as a Lady Volunteer in the Crimea

In 1854 she went to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale’s Lady Volunteer Nurses. The plight of the wounded soldiers, the faith of the young Irish men and the dedication of the Irish Sisters of Mercy inspired her to become a Catholic. She was received into the Catholic Church on 14th April 1855.

Founding of the Congregation

On her return to London she worked with Fr Manning who encouraged her to visit the Workhouses in the area where the poorest of the poor were housed and to acquaint herself with the life stories of those who existed in the crumbling hovels and fetid buildings of the city.

This experience led her to make this work her life’s mission. Her desire to work for and with the poor, led her to found her own Religious Congregation in 1869/1872. They responded to the needs of the time working with the most vulnerable, especially women and children, and recognising and valuing the dignity and worth of each person.

Her spirit and values form the thread which runs through all our work.

She understood the Incarnation, “The Word Made Flesh” as the Father’s greatest gift to humanity. Her response to God’s great love and self-giving in the person of Jesus was her own love and self-giving. Her life story saw that expressed in the service of the poor whom she considered as the companions of Mary and Joseph.

She wished her Sisters to respond with their whole lives to the generosity of the God who left everything to become one of us. “God will have our hearts love and the whole of it” she cried. For her this was the only response worthy of the gift of the Incarnation.

She believed that we are given the hands of Christ to work with, the heart of Christ to love with, the mind of Christ to illumine the world.

She died in Soho in 1900, having left in the word of Fr Scoles SJ at the final oration; “She has left a perfect work…” it is our endeavour to carry on that work, that attitude, that love to all those we serve today.

SMG Central Archive

The SMG archives and heritage rooms at St Mary’s Convent Brentford are currently closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 crisis, and only a limited enquiry service can be offered at present.

However, the archivist continues to monitor communications received by phone, post and email, is continuing respond to any enquiries which are covered by data protection law, and will attempt to respond to any other urgent enquiries as soon as possible.

We regret that the exhibition on St John Henry Newman and Mother Magdalen Taylor is suspended due to the crisis, but it is hoped to reschedule it this year.

The central archive of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God is housed at St Mary’s Convent, 10, The Butts, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 8BQ

Phone: 020 8568 7305

The heritage collections consist of historical records, rare books, library items and artefacts, in a variety of formats, mainly dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

For further information or to make an appointment to visit the archive please contact the Archivist, Paul Shaw.

Email: paul.shaw@psmgs.org.uk

Name of Archive Repository:
Central Congregational Archive of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God

Name of Parent Organization:
Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God

Historical Background:
The order was founded by Frances Margaret Taylor (1832-1900), a Roman Catholic convert from Anglicanism who had served as a nurse in the Crimean War, and whose account of her experiences was published as Eastern Hospitals and English Nurses (1856). Frances Taylor had established a considerable reputation as a journalist and author, being the founder editor of the Catholic periodical The Month (1864-5). One of her most notable works was Irish Homes and Irish Hearts (1867) an account of Irish religious orders and charitable institutions. As Mother Magdalen of the Sacred Heart she was to be the first superior of the order, officially founded in London in 1872, which by the turn of the century administered over 20 houses and institutions, including the Providence Free Hospital, St. Helens. Great assistance was given to the order in its early years by the support of distinguished clerical and lay Catholics, including Cardinal H. E. Manning (1808-1892), and the novelist and philanthropist Lady Georgiana Fullerton (1812-1885). The order was focused upon work in England and Ireland, but also had houses in Italy and France; more recently it has extended its charitable work to the USA, Africa and South America. Houses were acquired in Roehampton in 1876 and 1927, and the Generalate continues to be based there.

The standard accounts of the life of the founder and the early years of the congregation are given in the following:

Sister Mary Campion Troughton SMG, ‘Memoir of Mother Magdalen Taylor’ (1908, privately published by the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, 1972)

F.C. Devas, Mother Magdalen Taylor (London, 1927)

Mother Mary Geraldine O’Sullivan SMG, Born to Love (London, 1970)

Ruth Gilpin Wells, A Woman of Her Time and Ours (Charlotte, NC, 1988)

Sister Eithne Leonard SMG, Frances Taylor, Mother Magdalen 1832-1900, Servant of God: (Catholic Truth Society booklet, 2009)

Sister Eithne Leonard SMG, Frances Taylor/Mother Magdalen: A Portrait (Gracewing, 2015)

Mission Statement:
The primary function of the archive service is to preserve the central heritage collections, library and archives of the congregation, as the memory of the congregation and its works, guided by the norms and standards of the archival profession and other approved standards and international guidelines where they are applicable; to facilitate access to the archives and heritage collections by the congregation, its employees, associates and clients; and in a wider context to serve as part of the cultural heritage of world Catholicism, and hence to encourage a wider research use, in accord with the views of the Roman Catholic Church as expressed in documents such as The Pastoral Function of Church Archives, (February 1997) produced by the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church.

Include papers of Frances Taylor and her family; records relating to the early years of the congregation, including correspondence with prominent Catholic clergy such as H. E. Manning and J. H. Newman; papers and literary MSS. of Lady Georgiana Fullerton and her husband Mr A. G. Fullerton; records of the various works and institutions administered by the congregation, including hospitals, workhouses, refuges and care homes in Britain, Ireland and continental Europe.

Researchers are admitted by appointment only, on application to the archivist. The archives are generally open during ordinary office hours, but this can be negotiated with the archivist.

External enquirers need to apply in writing to the archivist, and access is subject to the approval of the Generalate (governing council) of the congregation. For those doing extended research in the archives, a letter of introduction, e.g. from an academic supervisor, is generally also required. Postal/phone/e-mail enquiries relating to the history of the organisation and its works are answered by the archive service. Most enquiries need to be submitted in writing, by letter or e-mail. Lengthy research needs to be carried out in person or via an agent.

Enquiries which may require the release of potentially sensitive or confidential material relating to individuals need to be supplied in writing, by post or electronically, and we aim to answer such enquiries within one month of their receipt. An enquirer may be required to supply documentary evidence confirming their identity before personal data can be released, as is required by data protection legislation. Anyone seeking advice on the procedures for release of personal information from the archives should please contact the archivist directly, by phone or email.

The congregational archives have been established and maintained as a cultural and informational resource for the congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, its employees and associates, and access to the collections by external enquirers cannot be presumed. However, the congregation has consistently encouraged and supported academic, genealogical and other enquiry and research into its archives and history, subject to state legislation and the requirement to safeguard the confidentiality and reputation of individuals, as required by canon law and the legislation of individual nation states.

The archivist is happy to answer general enquires on the history of the order and its founder, and to refer students and other enquirers to relevant secondary source materials. Talks and presentations to groups can also be given on request.

Those considering a request for access to the archives should see:

Rules For Researchers (28 KB)

Circular From The Archivist (29 KB)

Services to Internal Users (18 KB)


Born to Love, Fanny Margaret Taylor by Mother M. Geraldine SMG (London, 1970)

Editions Sadifa, Poor Servants of the Mother of God, Frances Margaret Taylor, a story of love and service (Strasbourg, 1985)

A Life for Others by Sr Ida Kennedy (Brentford, 2005 edn)

Historical Notes on Stoke Rochford Church, with particular regard to the links with

Frances Margaret Taylor by Paul Shaw (Brentford, 2006)

A Brief Life of Mother Magdalen Taylor, with bibliographical note,  by Sr Ida Kennedy (Brentford, 2008 edn)

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Brief Guide to the Mother Magdalen’s Rooms by Sr Ida Kennedy and Paul Shaw (Brentford, 2015 edn)

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Brief Guide to the New Heritage Centre (Brentford, 2015)

St Mary’s Convent, Brentford: A Guide to Recent Temporary Exhibitions on the Heritage Rooms by Paul Shaw (2nd edn, Brentford, 2017) Most of the above can be obtained by a donation and contribution to cover postage.