Around the sundial
It was around the sundial at the Wills' family home in Wrington, North Somerset that Mary Monica Wills (known as Monica) first spoke of her desire to buy a small rest home for ‘five or six missionary friends’.
That was in 1911 and, over the ensuing years, Monica Wills' original idea grew in scale, with buying a small rest home becoming the building of ‘a purpose-built haven for chronic and incurable sufferers’. A committed High Church Anglican, she was determined that at the heart of the project should be a ‘splendid and very beautiful chapel’.
St Monica finds a home
By the time of the First World War, Henry was renting a house in Clifton to be nearer to the offices of the Wills Family Tobacco Company, of which he was a partner. It was while walking across the downs one day that he identified the Cote House estate (pictured above) in Westbury as the perfect site for the rest home.
The 27 acre site was purchased in 1919 and a charity named the St Monica Home of Rest was established with Henry and Monica Wills named as trustees. George Oatley, a family friend and architect of the Wills Memorial Building on Park Street, was hired to design the buildings.
After the site was cleared, priority was given to the building of the new chapel. The foundation stone for the chapel was laid on St Monica’s Day on 4 May, 1920 and the building of St Monica Home of Rest was finally completed five years later in 1925.
Ladies of 'gentle birth'
At first between 70 and 80 residents were housed in the main house, with Oatley Court being used as housing for the live-in nursing staff. Residents were to be ladies of ‘gentle birth’ and preferably with High Church Anglican leanings.
By all accounts, Monica Wills had a reputation for being very ‘hands-on’. She was known for visiting the site daily and exerted a strong influence on all aspects of the day-to-day running of the home, paying particular attention to the upholding of religious observances.
The Wills' family legacy
Sadly, Henry Wills did not live to see his wife’s dream come to fruition, having died in 1922 at the age of 66. Monica Wills became a Dame of the British Empire in 1925 and was the chairman of St Monica Home of Rest’s first council. She lived on for a further nine years before passing away herself in 1931 and is rightfully credited as being the driving force behind the creation of St Monica Trust.
You can see a replica of the Wills' family sundial in the scented garden at Cote Lane. It is inscribed with the Wills' family motto: 'tempus fugit, caritas manet' (time flies, love remains). A sentiment that is as true to the Trust today as it was then.
More recently, the Trust has developed further sites as retirement villages, each with their own care home on site (with the exception of Monica Wills House): Westbury Fields (2004), Sandford Station (2010), Monica Wills House (2006), The Chocolate Quarter (2017).