Peering into the settlement: Bermondsey Settlement

Bermondsey settlement was established in 1892 by the Rev. John Scott Lidgett with the support of the University of Cambridge and the Wesleyan University Society. According to Lidgett, Bermondsey was the least known district in London. It was often overshadowed by the cries of Outcast East London. ‘Down here in Bermondsey there is nothing between heaven and hell—the Church and the public-house’, reported one working man to Dr. J. B. Paton. 

The declared objects of Bermondsey Settlement were:

1. To bring additional force and attractiveness to Christian work.

2. To become a centre of social life, where all classes may meet together on equal terms for healthful intercourse and recreation.

3. To give facilities for the study of literature, history, science and art.

4. To bring men together to discuss general and special social evils and to seek their remedy.

5. To take such part in local administration and philanthropy as may be possible.

6. And so to do all this that it shall be perfectly clear that no mere sectarian advantage is sought, but that it shall be possible for all good men to associate themselves with our work.

This was reinforced by an impressive and architecturally stunning settlement house, designed by Elijah Hoole (who also built and designed Toynbee Hall).

In 1984 Deborah E. B Weiner noted that ‘Unfortunately no plans or photographs of Bermondsey Settlement survive’. This was all the more harrowing because the settlement house was demolished in 1969, having closed two years prior in 1967. Yesterday, however, I was reminded once again why I love Harvard University Library Open Collection Programme. What Weiner did not know in 1984 was that Bermondsey Settlement had sent a number of panels to Harvard’s 1903 Social Sciences fair. These panels were mainly made up of photographs, which provide a vivid and rich picture of settlement life. For me it is also a wonderful research aid which has enabled me to peer into another settlement house and to think about how it functioned as a home for both the working and middle classes.

Here are some of my favourites  

Figure one: ‘Girls’ Gymnastic Class’, 1903. HUAM312840soc [download here]
Figure Two: ‘Mothers’ Meeting (Settlement)’, c.1903. HUAM312843soc [download here]
Figure Three: ‘Literary section of Guild of the Brave Poor Things’, c.1903. HUAM312845soc[download here]

Figure 4: A talk on the theory of music. Drawing-room. c.1903. HUAM5796soc [download here]
Figure 5: ‘A resident’s room’, c.1903. HUAM5830soc [download here]
Figure 6: ‘A Picture Exhibition’, c.1903. HUAM5795soc [download here]
Figure 7: ‘A Classroom’, c.1903. HUAM5837soc [download here]

4 thoughts on “Peering into the settlement: Bermondsey Settlement

  1. Not quite true that there are no photographs of the Bermondsey Settlement: I have one or two. I lived there for 3 years 1955 to 1958.
    Alan Sillitoe

    1. Thanks Alan for comment. I should clarify that this observation is made in reference to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I’m chuffed to hear that you might have a couple of photos! I hope you plan to deposit them with a local library or archive or maybe online. As a historian of the early history of the movement, I’m keen to think more about archives of material created by settlers, workers and users of these centres.

  2. My family also have photos of the Settlement. My dad was Warden there in the late 1950s to early 1960s and both my brother and I were born there

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