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Sarah Robinson (1834-1912)
Within a month of landing in Portsmouth in 1864 the men of the 69th Regiment
lost all their pay they had earned in India. Wine, women, song and being
mugged was the cause of their painful homecoming.
On returning to Aldershot the news of their misery reached the ears of Sarah
Robinson, the leading welfare worker for all the troops stationed at the
garrison. This formidable lady wasted no time in packing her bags and heading
south for the den of iniquity, the devil’s own citadel. Asked why she chose
Portsmouth Sarah replied ‘It’s the worst place I know of, the wretched women
here are far bolder than anywhere else, they seem an older, uglier and more
By 1872 she had assessed the seediness of the situation and set about the
arduous task of obtaining headquarters so that she could offer the troops a
safe sanctuary from the perils of wild women and demon drink.
The War Office gave its support, but she faced tough opposition from the
clergy, who blocked the offer of a site from the War Office. Undeterred Sarah
put down £100 deposit for the vacant old Fountain Hotel in the High St.
Sarah enlisted female volunteers with strict rules; “neatness of dress and
hair, no beads, bangles or frippery to be worn”. All must be teetotalers. It
opened on the 10th Sept 1874.
More opposition came from the local publicans and the “wretched girls” of
Portsmouth. So the cry went up that Miss Robinson was “injuring the trade of
the town. She was pelted with mud and bricks were thrown through the windows
of the institute. She responded by extending the institute through buying two
“objectionable houses” adjoining it.
Soon afterwards she brought an ex-warehouse at 88 Queen St and transformed it
into the Sailors welcome. (Three years before Aggie Weston started her work in
More outrage followed after she acquired the notorious Sir John Falstaff
public house in Nobbs lane, and re-opened it as the Blue Ribbon Coffee Tavern.
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