In the early part of the 1880's, poverty in London had risen to endemic proportions and public concern had become widespread. In 1883 the University 'Settlement' movement began, prompted by the Rev Samuel Barnett's call for the university-educated young to 'settle' in area of the worst poverty. Barnett insisted they follow in the line of 'visiting' societies run by middle class women in the previous decades which had done much to raise the issue of the practices in workhouses in order to become familiar with the conditions of the working classed since only then could they gain a better appreciation of their needs. Alice Gruner began lecturing to the female students of the new women's colleges at Oxford and Cambridge on these issues along with Henrietta Barnett and the student bodies of Newnham and Girton established a joint committee. The organisation's aim was to 'promote the welfare of the people of the poorer districts of London and especially of the Women and Children, devise and promote schemes which tend to elevate them physically, intellectually and morally, and give them additional opportunities for education and recreation'. Other women's colleges at Oxford rapidly became involved with this and, in 1887, the first branch of the Women's University Settlement was opened in Nelson Square in Southwark.
The Executive Committee of the Settlement consisted of six members from Girton, Newnham, Lady Margaret Hall and Dr Octavia Hill, the housing and health reformer. They initially organised a Saturday Morning Schools for local children where they were taught simple games then organised a series of evening clubs for the young in the 1890s to extend general access to education. In 1891, a Junior Girls' Club was set up under the group's auspices and a Junior Club for school leavers followed soon after. In 1893, this was expanded into a series of evening classes known as the Acland Mixed Club for male and female school leavers. The educational focus also encompassed taking on the first students of its own. In 1896 a Joint Committee for Lectures was set up with the National Union of Women Workers and the Charity Organisation Society to give lectures on charity and social work influenced by the experiences of their workforce. This led in 1890 to an organised 1-year program of courses and practical work that evolved, under the direction of the COS, into the London School of Sociology at the London School of Economics in 1903. Female students training in social work took up residence to gather practical experience while the Pfeiffer Scholar was established to help students to study in this area of work.
In the 1890s, the Settlement was also concerned with health in the area. In collaboration with several nursing associations, the WUS established a home for district nurses in the area and took over responsibility for the Invalid Children's Aid Association. This increased activity made it necessary to expand their premises to the next house at 46 Nelson Square as the first classes and employment register for disabled children were opened. Activity in this area also expanded when the St Crispin's Workshop opened, specialising in boot-making by disabled children in 1897. Employment services became an increasingly important issue as time went on: in 1900 a Registry and Apprenticeship Scheme was established which was broadened three years later when this became a registry for work for all school leavers. What they had achieved was showcased in an exhibition by what had become the Apprenticeship and Skilled Employment Association in 1910. However, health remained a major area of work for them and in 1907 and Infant Welfare unit was set up in conjunction with the Borough Council and Health Society. During the First World War, child health remained an important focus despite staffing problems as war work took up personnel and in 1918 the Settlement opened a Baby Clinic to help mothers. They also began their association with the children's Country Holidays Foundation soon after. However, at the end of the war, the university settlement suffered financial difficulties. St Crispins closed and 20,21 and 22 Nelson Square were sold off soon after being bought. Nonetheless, they were still able to start socially focused projects such as a Girl Guides Company. In 1924 a Workers Sub-committee was established followed by a nursery school and a Mother's Club section in the Acland Club in 1927; a Women's Section was also created the following year. 1928 also saw the beginning of the Poor Man's Lawyer that later became the Legal Aid Association. The work with children also continued as a nursery school council was set up in 1929.
After 1929, the Depression began to affect the work and direction of the Settlement. The following year, the Acland and the St Mary Clubs merged. Two years later a club was opened for unemployed men followed by one for unemployed women the following year. In 1933 an Infant Welfare Project was established. In 1935 the hospital Saving scheme was set up. The Settlement were able to buy and equip a new club house at 27 Nelson Square in 1936 but by 1938 it was necessary for Dr Maude Royden to launch an appeal through the BBC. This allowed the group to run a Youth Welfare Centre and a Citizen's Advice Bureau that ran for six years. War interrupted their work once more that year and affected the Settlement profoundly. In 1941 they were one of the organisations that administered the evacuation of their area and they also established canteens for local workers during the Blitz. The nursery was evacuated to Surrey although the Baby Centre continued. However, on the 9th September, large amounts of damage were suffered when Nelson Square was bombed. Major restructuring of the organisation took place after the Second World War. In 1947 the Executive Committee became a Council of twenty-two that was elected at the AGM and contained representatives of local organisations. The Clubs that continued from the pre-war period were given their own boards of management in 1952. With the beginning of the Welfare state, the Settlement's role became increasingly social with a Young Mother's Club, a Young Dad's Group and Youth Clubs all being opened between 1950 and 1956. In 1958 the settlement undertook two major surveys: one on the aftercare of ex-prisoners and another on the social conditions in Southwark. The following year another major initiative working with the mentally handicapped began with the opening of the West and the Lucky Black Cat Clubs. However, in the new post-war world, many of the older activities were either curtailed or brought to an end: for instance the Acland and St Mary's Clubs finally closed their doors.
In 1961, the Women's University Settlement was renamed the Blackfriar's Settlement and another new constitution was put in place to reflect the increasing number of male staff and strengthened links to the local community. Its new aims were, 'to promote the welfare of individual persons, families and communities in London and elsewhere by all practical means, an in particular by the provision and maintenance of a residential or other centre or centres in Southwark or elsewhere and the fostering of community activities'. Links remained with universities through resident students undertaking practical training there during their courses. The focus of the organisation emerged in the new sub-groups: in 1962 the Crusoe Club for the blind was opened, followed by the Blackfriars Family Councillors Project (BFCP) in 1965. Also in 1965, another major re-organisation of the group took place. The projects, which by this time had been organised as two units grouped around preventative and caring work, were each given their own unit committees to bring together Council members, senior staff and representative for volunteers to take policy decisions which were then put to the Council. In 1968 these unit committees were once more replaced by six project committees and the overall structure of the Blackfriars Settlement was changed to include a co-ordination committee of officers, project committees chairpersons and senior staff to carry out policy. From 1965 to 1968 also took part in the Experimental Federation of South London Settlements. However, their financial problems continued and it was necessary to curtail their work in 1967. Despite this, by 1969 they were able to open the Blackfriars Youth Centre at the St Alphege's hall in Rushworth St. The work of the Blackfriars Settlement continues to date in the area of North Southwark and Waterloo.
From the guide to the Records of the Blackfriars Settlement, 1887-1973, (The Women's Library)
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