Passmore Edwards Settlement*

*The Passmore Edwards Settlement was named after the self-made newspaper magnate John Passmore Edwards, the main benefactor of the purpose-built Settlement building which opened at 36-37 Tavistock Place in October 1897.

Extracted from the UCL Bloomsbury Project:

It began in 1890 as one of the first “settlements” run by socially-conscious middle-class educators for the benefit of local working people and their children. The prime mover of the University Hall Settlement was Mary Ward, niece of Matthew Arnold and a bestselling novelist who published under the name Mrs Humphry Ward.

In May 1894 Mary Ward secured a promise of £4,000 towards a new building from John Passmore Edwards, who subsequently raised his donation to £14,000. Using her persuasive skills, Mary Ward cajoled Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford, into looking for a suitable site on his estate and to rent it to her at a favourable rate. An empty site on the far side of Tavistock Square was offered by the Duke of Bedford. The new site, on the north side of Tavistock Place, covered the area of a house previously occupied by the astronomer Francis Baily, who had measured the earth’s density here in 1838–1842 with a grant from the Royal Astronomical Society, and more recently by the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt. At the back the site adjoined the garden of the recently demolished Tavistock House, where Dickens had lived from 1851 to 1860.

The Passmore Edwards Settlement, as the building was known until 1921, was designed by two young Bloomsbury architects, Cecil Brewer, born in Endsleigh Street and a resident of University Hall, and Arthur Dunbar Smith; Smith and Brewer had won a design competition judged by the architect Norman Shaw. Their Arts and Crafts building, which paid meticulous attention to details both practical and symbolic (such as the tree outlined in bricks on the east side of the building and the egg-shaped decorations on the front), has won universal praise from architectural historians; Adrian Forty described the building as an “inspired moment in British architecture”, and a “wonderful example of a social ideal being expressed in architecture”. The building was opened in October 1897 by Mary Ward.

The Settlement was a great success, attended by hundreds of children and working adults from the crowded area to the east of Tavistock Place and the Peabody Buildings built on Little Coram Street in 1884, south of Tavistock Place. Activities included lectures, readings, concerts, cookery classes, billiards, dance evenings, gymnasium sessions, mother and toddler groups, a coal club, sessions for free legal advice, Saturday morning outings for children to museums, the Zoo, Westminster Abbey, and other places of interest.

In February 1899 Mary Ward opened the first school for invalid children in the country in specially equipped ground-floor rooms here. 35–40 children between the ages of five and fourteen attended every day. Mary Ward acquired a horse-drawn ambulance to transport the children between home and school and persuaded the London School Board to provide equipment and a qualified teacher.

Evening Play Centres were inaugurated in the local schools, Manchester Street School and Prospect Terrace Board School, in the poorer Bloomsbury districts to the east of Tavistock Place, including the slum area around Derry Street, between Gray’s Inn Road and Sidmouth Street, where families, many of them Irish, lived in single rooms in multi-occupied tenements.

After reading an account of American Vacation Schools in Harper’s Magazine in June 1902, Mary Ward opened her own Vacation School, the first in the UK, in Tavistock Place at the end of July 1902, attracting 500–600 children a day.

The London School of Ethics and Social Philosophy was also based in the Settlement in the 1890s.

The Passmore Edwards Settlement, managed with energy by Mary Ward until her death in March 1920, was renamed the Mary Ward Settlement in 1921. Its name was changed to the Mary Ward Centre (42 Queen Square, Holborn) in 1970.

The original Settlement building at 7, Tavistock Place is now the Mary Ward House Conference & Exhibition Centre.

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