Charities in the spirit and ethos of the school
It might seem curious that a tool to furnish, perhaps, a good workshop, should be amongst our twelve significant objects. I have taken this fine oaken mallet, nonetheless, to symbolize the school charities. It was used on March 23 1933, by HRH the Duchess of York, the future Queen Elizabeth, to open Frances Gray House, a block of flats offering social housing. Its creation was one of the many remarkable achievements of the first Paulina generation. Though the initiative of Miss Gray, the SPGS Union for Social Work had been created in July 1912, with Stepney as its focus. Her sense of urgency over the Mile End Road was characteristic of late-Victorian philanthropy in the metropolis. Miss Gray was, of course, also imbued with a sense of the Coletine tradition, for Dame Colet had lived and died in ‘Stebenhith’ and she is the heroine of the Gray and Holst’s Masque.
Within a few years and in various sites too many to be traced here, Paulinas were presiding over an astonishing array of activities. They ran a medical inspection and baby weighing centre, took children on holiday, and began a reading circle, a Montessori nursery and a ‘poor man’s lawyer’ room, where qualified Paulinas gave legal advice for free. Charity sales were held at St Paul’s where, one Paulina remembers, buns and embroidery that parents had helped their daughters to make or buy were patiently purchased and brought back home. As time went on, the SPGSUSW grew more ambitious. In the midst of war, 1917, Dame Colet House on the Mile End was acquired where boys (‘Wolf Cubs’) were welcomed as well as girls; five years later, it moved to Duckett Street. The thirties saw the opening of the flats named in honour of Frances Gray and we have wonderful photographs of boys and girls ‘cheering themselves hoarse’ (East London Advertiser, 25 March, 1933) to welcome the Duchess of York. Three years later, the Union acquired Langford Cross in Heybridge, Essex, to serve as a holiday home: it had a dormitory for twenty children and a paddock, ‘ideal for camping, used at weekends all the summer’. The next year, Searle House in Ocean Street was opened by the Duchess of Gloucester, who was entertained by one of the new tenants, to the mutual delight of host and guest, we trust: ‘at a homely table with the tea, milk in a bottle, and the teapot on a tin tray. The Duchess looked over the flat. ‘I do like the colour scheme of cream and blue’, she said’ (Daily Mirror, 11 March, 1937).
After the war and for complex economic and cultural reasons, the Stepney work faltered. Eventually, and partly at the instance of the then High Mistress, Mrs Munro, the SPGSUSW was dissolved (1967). Dame Colet House passed under the control of Tower Hamlets and was recently closed and sold in 2012. But the story of the pre-1945 work in Stepney deserves more space than I can give it here and I hope, in the near future, to do it justice. Our charities have, of course, flourished to an extraordinary degree and become global, as exemplified by the visit to Future Hope School, Kolkata in 2012 or this summer’s expedition to the Joshua Village Community in Malawi. What London E1 was to the Paulina of 1912, the world is to her now.
Howard Bailes, Archivist