West Ham: Philanthropic institutions

Pages 141-144

A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.

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There have been many philanthropic institutions in West Ham. In the town's early years voluntary efforts were directed mainly towards providing elementary schools. (fn. 1) After the formation of the school board (1871) other needs became more pressing. These included hospitals, clinics, and district nursing services. (fn. 2) Poverty and the lack of facilities for recreation and adult education were also urgent problems.

The churches of the different denominations have played a major role in meeting these needs. Christians also created some philanthropic institutions more or less independent of the local churches. These, often sponsored by a university or a public school, took various forms, of which the most important has been the slum 'settlement'. West Ham's most notable settlements have been Mansfield House and Dockland Settlement No. 1, later the Mayflower Family Centre. The Young Men's Christian Association also did good work in the borough, especially through its large club at Plaistow. Some of the larger local firms, for example the Thames Ironworks Co., (fn. 3) provided recreational facilities for their workers. At least two, the Great Eastern Railway and Henry Tate & Sons, built their own institutes, while another was provided by the Carpenters' Company of London. At West Ham, as in other poor districts, the leaders in voluntary social work came mainly from outside the borough. Among them were Sir Percy Alden of Mansfield House and Sir Reginald Kennedy-Cox of the Dockland Settlement.

The institutions described below were of secular origin or, if Christian, were more or less independent of the local churches. Institutions closely identified with particular churches in the borough have usually been described in the sections relating to those churches. Alms-houses are also described elsewhere.

The Eastern Counties, later the Great Eastern Railway Mechanics' Institution, was opened in Angel Lane, Stratford, in 1851. (fn. 4) It held lectures, classes, and penny readings with success, (fn. 5) and opened a day-school. By 1864 it had 450 members and a library of 3,000 books. (fn. 6) In 1877 it moved to new buildings in Store Street, Stratford New Town. In 1881 the institution handed over its school (fn. 7) to the school board, and concentrated on adult classes, mainly in technical and vocational subjects. These were strongly supported by the railway company. The institution's most active period was c. 1900–14. It later declined, and was finally closed in 1946. The building was sold and demolished.

The Guild of St. Alban the Martyr, Balaam Street, was an Anglo-Catholic settlement which came to Plaistow from London in 1876, under the leadership of George Malim, a bank clerk. (fn. 8) The 'brethren' followed secular occupations, but in their spare time wore monastic dress and worked in connexion with St. Philip's church, a mission of St. Andrew's. They lived at St. Dunstan's, formerly Ivy House. They held radical views and in the general election of 1880 campaigned for the Liberals. This alienated many of their financial supporters, and after the election St. Andrew's severed its connexion with the guild. The settlement closed in 1882.

The Carpenters' Company institute, Jupp Road, Stratford, was built in 1886 to serve the Carpenters' estate. (fn. 9) It provided evening-classes in technical subjects, and included a gymnasium and indoor swimming-bath. (fn. 10) In 1891 it became a day-school, but evening-classes continued until the school was closed in 1905. (fn. 11)

The Tate institute, Albert Road, Silvertown, was built in 1887 by (Sir) Henry Tate (Bt.), for his sugarworkers. (fn. 12) In 1904 Sir William Tate, Bt., gave £1,500 to renovate the institute and in 1906 a further £1,200 to endow it. The institute was closed in 1933. The building was sold and later became a public library, but in 1961, when the library moved to new premises, the institute was leased by Tate & Lyle and reopened as a social centre. (fn. 13)

The Stratford Dockland settlement is the successor to the Trinity College (Oxford) mission and St. Helen's House women's settlement. Trinity College mission originated in 1887, when the Vicar of St. John's, Stratford, erected an iron church in Tenby (later Oxford) Road. (fn. 14) This was burnt down, and was replaced by a brick church, dedicated to St. Philip, which was in existence by 1888, (fn. 15) when Trinity College took over the mission. The church was later re-dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and a hall was built beside it, with rooms for the missioner and visitors. A boys' club was built nearby in Great Eastern Road. (fn. 16) In 1898 no. 60 Romford Road was rented as a settlement house. E. G. Howarth, head of the settlement in 1905–9, directed a survey of West Ham's social and industrial problems. (fn. 17) The settlement later moved to Water Lane (fn. 18) and finally to rooms above the hall in Oxford Road. After the First World War the Tom Allen club was built in Grove Crescent Road to commemorate a former head of the settlement. In 1933 a conventional district was formed for the mission. (fn. 19) During the Second World War, however, the church and hall were wrecked by bombing and closed. They and the club in Great Eastern Road have since been demolished. The Tom Allen club survived and in 1943–4 was taken over by St. Helen's House women's settlement. St. Helen's House, Stratford, had been founded in 1896 in connexion with St. Margaret's House, Bethnal Green. From headquarters in the Grove it collaborated with the Trinity College mission. (fn. 20) In 1931 it moved to new buildings in Water Lane. (fn. 21) After the Second World War it was reconstituted as Dockland settlement No. 9. (fn. 22) In 1957 the Tom Allen club was rebuilt with help from Trinity College; a small chapel was added in 1958. In 1969 the club was the headquarters of this settlement, St. Helen's House being the warden's residence.

Mansfield House University settlement was founded in 1889 by students connected with Mansfield (Congregational) College, Oxford. The first warden was (Sir) Percy Alden (1891–1901). (fn. 23) Two shops in Barking Road, near the public hall, were taken as residences, and a hall was built behind them. (fn. 24) In 1897 a new residential block was built farther west, near Canning Town station, the original buildings becoming the men's club. (fn. 25) Fairbairn boys' club, founded in 1891, and named after the first principal of Mansfield, (fn. 26) moved in 1895 to the present site in Barking Road (nos. 310–16), occupying converted premises until 1900, when Fairbairn Hall was built there. (fn. 27) The settlement provided many welfare and educational services. In some fields it was a pioneer, e.g. in its legal-aid scheme. Under Alden it was also very influential in local politics. (fn. 28) After the First World War the settlement declined and in 1923 had to sell the men's club premises. (fn. 29) (Sir) Ian Horobin, honorary warden 1923–61, brought about a revival. Fairbairn hall was extended in 1931 (fn. 30) and in 1935 new residences were built behind it, replacing the old ones near the station. (fn. 31) A chapel was added in 1938. (fn. 32) By then the settlement had become undenominational. In 1968 the total membership of the Mansfield and Fairbairn clubs was about 900. Fairbairn hall includes a library, theatre, workshops, gymnasium, and canteen. (fn. 33)

The Canning Town women's settlement, Cumberland Road, was founded in 1892 by F. W. Newland, pastor of Canning Town Congregational church. (fn. 34) It has always been closely associated with Mansfield House settlement. Rebecca H. Cheetham, warden 1892–1922, was prominent in West Ham public life. (fn. 35) The settlement was originally at no. 461 Barking Road. In 1899 the Lees Hall, Barking Road, named after its donors, was opened as headquarters and offices. It was enlarged in 1913. (fn. 36) By 1910 there was also a settlement house in Cumberland Road. The settlement's early work included a small hospital (fn. 37) and an out-patients' clinic. Its activities were at first concerned mainly with women and children but gradually widened. Among them was a branch of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants, which was primarily an employment agency. During the Second World War all the settlement's buildings were wrecked by bombing except the house in Cumberland Road, but the work continued. After the war the finances of the settlement deteriorated, and in 1968 it was taken over by the Aston Charities Trust. The Canning Town settlement, as it has since been named, was being rebuilt in 1969 on the Cumberland Road site, to provide flats for old people, with dining-rooms, club rooms, clinics, a theatre, and premises for the citizens' advice bureau. (fn. 38)

The Mayflower family centre, Cooper and Vincent Streets, Canning Town, originated as the Malvern College mission. In 1894 the college erected an iron church, dedicated to St. Alban and the English Martyrs, on a site in Cooper Street given by Peter Gellatly. (fn. 39) Other buildings were later added. (fn. 40) About 1905 (Sir) Reginald Kennedy-Cox, an Old Malvernian, joined the mission as a voluntary helper. In 1918 he became the first lay warden of the mission, and began to build up the Dockland settlements and Malvern College clubs, formally constituted in 1923. Canning Town, called settlement No. 1, was the headquarters of an organization which by 1937 had six branches in the London area and others elsewhere. Kennedy-Cox subsidized the settlements from his own income, secured royal patronage, and raised large sums by appeals to private benefactors and charity dinners and balls. (fn. 41) At Canning Town new club rooms, gymnasium, dance hall, theatre, and swimming-bath were built in 1924–9. The settlement chapel was replaced in 1930 by a new one dedicated to St. George and St. Helena. (fn. 42) A new staff residence for men was added in 1931 and one for women in 1934. In 1937 Kennedy-Cox retired. During the Second World War most of the club activities ceased. In 1947 Kennedy-Cox returned for a few months to reorganize it. By 1957 it was again in difficulties. (fn. 43) It was saved by the Revd. David Sheppard, who reconstituted it as the Mayflower family centre, of which he became warden. He worked there from 1958 until he became suffragan bishop of Woolwich in 1969. (fn. 44) The centre, managed by an undenominational committee, provides facilities for people of all ages, but specializes in youth work and runs a nursery school. In addition to a small staff there are about 20 residents. The residential blocks, in 16th-century style, occupy two sides of a quadrangle. Connecting them at one end is the chapel, designed to imitate Lincoln's Inn hall. When the Mayflower centre was formed the headquarters of the Dockland settlements were transferred to Romford Road, Stratford.

The Society of St. Francis (Church of England), Balaam Street, is the successor of the Society of the Divine Compassion, founded in 1894 by Hon. J. G. Adderley (Superior 1894–7), H. R. Chappel, later Father Henry (Superior 1897–1906), and H. E. Hardy, later Father Andrew (Superior 1912–16 and 1924–35). (fn. 45) The S.D.C., which was monastic and Anglo-Catholic, became responsible for the mission church of St. Philip, Plaistow. (fn. 46) It was originally housed in Meredith Street but later moved to Balaam Street. In 1901 the society established printing and watchmaking shops at Plaistow. (fn. 47) For many years Father Andrew wrote and produced Nativity and Passion plays which won more than local recognition. In 1953 the society was dissolved. Its premises and work were taken over by Franciscans from Cerne Abbas (Dors.). (fn. 48)

The Church of England Missions to Seamen institute, Victoria Dock Road, Custom House, was in existence by about 1900. (fn. 49) In 1936 a large new institute was completed on and in front of the old site, and this became the headquarters of the Missions to Seamen. (fn. 50)

The Bancroft's boys' club, Prince Regent Lane, Canning Town, was founded in 1911. Until 1965 it was financed entirely by the old boys' association of Bancroft's school, Woodford. New premises were built in 1939 on the corner of Alnwick Road. (fn. 51)

The Young Men's Christian Association was active in West Ham by 1884, when it helped to build the Conference Hall, West Ham Lane. (fn. 52) In the present century its main centres have been at Forest Gate and Plaistow. It had a branch at Forest Gate by 1906 (fn. 53) and in 1913 erected a hostel in Woodgrange Road. (fn. 54) That building was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War and was finally closed in 1959. (fn. 55) Red Triangle club, Greengate Street, Plaistow, was opened in 1921 at a cost of about £100,000. (fn. 56) It included a theatre, swimmingbath, gymnasium, and sports ground, and was very successful until the Second World War. It was closed and sold in 1956. The proceeds of the sale of the Forest Gate and Plaistow premises were used to build a new Y.M.C.A. hostel at Walthamstow. (fn. 57)

Durning Hall Christian community centre, Earlham Grove and Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate, replaced an earlier Durning Hall, founded about 1885 at Limehouse (Lond.). (fn. 58) Premises in Woodgrange Road were registered for worship in 1953, (fn. 59) and in 1959 the main buildings of the centre were opened in Earlham Grove, containing a church, hall, offices, gymnasium, and chaplain's flat. A hostel, with shops below, was later completed on the Woodgrange Road frontage. Durning Hall, which is undenominational, is administered by the Aston charities trust, founded in 1930 by Miss Theodora Durning-Lawrence. It caters for all age-groups. The church of the Holy Carpenter, designed by Shingler and Risden Associates, has a fine altar wall of stained glass.

Anchor House, Barking Road, Canning Town, is a large residential club for seamen opened in 1962 by the Roman Catholic Apostleship of the Sea. (fn. 60) It stands on the site of Lees Hall (Canning Town Women's Settlement) and adjoining properties.

Among institutions narrower in scope is the John Barnes Memorial home for old people, Hamfrith Road. (fn. 61) About 1888 John Barnes of Stratford started private charitable work among old people. Friends joined him and in 1904 the John Barnes Philanthropic Society was constituted. About 1908 the society opened an old people's home in a house in Keogh Road. (fn. 62) It proved too small and by 1917 (fn. 63) a larger one had been taken in Hamfrith Road. An adjoining property was later acquired, and in 1932 a new home was built on the site.


  • 1. See pp. 145–50.
  • 2. See p. 111.
  • 3. V.C.H. Essex, ii. 595.
  • 4. White's Dir. Essex (1863), 616.
  • 5. Essex Standard, 1852, 1855, 1858, passim.
  • 6. Ibid. 5 Feb. 1864. The institution's records, from 1859 to 1946, are in W.H.L. For the work of the institution see J. R. Soar, 'The historical development of technical … education in W. Ham' (London M.A. thesis, 1966), chap. iii.
  • 7. For the school see p. 149.
  • 8. J. S. Curwen, Old Plaistow (1905 edn.), 72–3; P.E.M., P. Thompson, 'W. Ham Gleanings': Some Religious Orders of modern times (MS. note); A Franciscan Revival, ed. A. C. Kelway, 15. For Malim see Kelly's Dir. Essex (1878 and 1882).
  • 9. Old Carpentarians, Story of the Carpenters' Co. Tech. Sch. and of the Old Carpentarians.
  • 10. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1890).
  • 11. Ibid. (1906). For the school see below, p. 154.
  • 12. W.H.L., J. Russell, 'Hist. Tate Institute, 1887–1933' (TS. 1951).
  • 13. Inf. from Mr. F. Sainsbury.
  • 14. Paragraph based on: Trinity Coll. Mission, 21st Anniv. Commemoration (1909); Chel. Dioc. Chron. Dec. 1941, p. 140; Essex Churchman, Jan. 1958; Bk. of W. Ham, 170–1; Dockland Settlements, Ann. Reps. 1947–64; inf. from Mrs. M. Wilkinson.
  • 15. Wilson & Whitworth's Stratford &c. Almanack (1888).
  • 16. Kelly's Dir. Stratford (1894/5).
  • 17. E. G. Howarth and M. Wilson, West Ham (1908).
  • 18. Wilson & Whitworth's W. Ham and Stratford Almanack (1914).
  • 19. E.R.O., D/CPc 256.
  • 20. Howarth and Wilson, W. Ham, 391.
  • 21. Chel. Dioc. Chron. Dec. 1930, June 1931.
  • 22. The numbering of the Dockland Settlements was discontinued in 1957.
  • 23. Mansfield House Univ. Sett. Report on Some Specialized Activities (c. 1951).
  • 24. E.R. i. 68–9; Cong. Year Bk. (1892), 208–10.
  • 25. London, 9 Dec. 1897; Cong. Year Bk. (1898), 160–1; W.H.L., Mansfield House Rep. 1908.
  • 26. Andrew M. Fairbairn (1838–1912), see D.N.B.; W.H.L., Mansfield House Rep. 1903, p. 18.
  • 27. Mansfield Ho. Handbk. (1936), 6.
  • 28. See p. 104.
  • 29. Mansfield House Mag. xxx (1923), passim.
  • 30. Architect and Building News, 13 Mar. 1931.
  • 31. Inf. from the Warden, Mansfield House.
  • 32. Chel. Dioc. Chron. Jan. 1939.
  • 33. Inf. from the Warden.
  • 34. Paragraph based on: E.R. i. 68–9 and ix. 39; Canning Town Women's Settlement, Ann. Reps. 1915, 1930, 1938, 1939, 1950–65 and Magazine, Sept./Oct. 1924, July 1925, July 1926, Mar./Apr. 1940, Mar. 1941, June 1942, Spring 1946.
  • 35. W.H.L., News Cuttings 20 and 26 Dec. 1939 (obits.).
  • 36. Stratford Express, 22 Mar. 1913.
  • 37. See p. 111.
  • 38. Inf. from Revd. J. Froud.
  • 39. Char. Com. File 102871: Copy of Letter from P. Bayne, Archdeacon of Southend, 22 Nov. 1923, describing origin of Malvern Coll. mission.
  • 40. Paragraph based on: Fifty Years a Borough, 264; Sir R. Kennedy-Cox, Autobiography (1931) and Dockland Saga (1955); B. Tinton, My Twenty Five Years in Dockland (1946).
  • 41. Cf. Stratford Express, 9 Dec. 1938; Tatler, 10 May 1939.
  • 42. Chel. Dioc. Chron. May 1930.
  • 43. Dockland Settlements, Annual Reps. 1947–58.
  • 44. For the Mayflower Centre see: D. Sheppard, Parson's Pitch (1964); G. Burton, People matter more than things (1965); D. and J. Hewitt, George Burton, a study in contradictions (1969).
  • 45. Paragraph based on: A Franciscan Revival, ed. A. C. Kelway; Life and Letters of Fr. Andrew, S.D.C. ed. K. E. Burne; inf. from Fr. Alban, O.S.F.; Essex Churchman, Mar. 1962.
  • 46. See p. 121.
  • 47. Cf. Sainsbury, Eight Hundred Years, 27.
  • 48. For the Franciscans at Plaistow see Observer, 10 Feb. 1957.
  • 49. W. Besant, Shoreditch and the East End, 63; cf. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1910).
  • 50. Chel. Dioc. Chron. June 1936, p. 90.
  • 51. Inf. from Hon. Sec. Bancroft's boys' club.
  • 52. See p. 137.
  • 53. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1906).
  • 54. Bk. of W. Ham, 170.
  • 55. Inf. from Y.M.C.A. Metropolitan Union.
  • 56. Bk. of W. Ham, 166; Fifty Years, 266.
  • 57. Inf. from Y.M.C.A. Metropolitan Union.
  • 58. Paragraph based on: inf. from Revd. J. Froud; Durning Hall, Souvenir of Opening (1959).
  • 59. Worship Reg. 64129.
  • 60. Inf. from the chaplain, Anchor Ho.
  • 61. Paragraph based on: W.H.L., Pamphs., J. Niedermann, A silent but beautiful work (1904); Bk. of W. Ham, 164; Jn. Barnes Old Folks' Memorial Homes, Ann. Rep. (1948).
  • 62. Cf. Kelly's Dir. Essex (1908).
  • 63. Ibid. (1917).