Womens’ University Settlement

Originally based at 44, Nelson Square was the Women’s University Settlement, now Blackfriars Settlement. Founded by women at Cambridge University in 1887, its aim, said one of its founders Henrietta Barnett, was to “promote the welfare of the people of the poorer districts of London and especially of the women and children.”

The areas around Nelson Square suffered much poverty and associated housing and health problems. With huge energy these women set up Saturday Morning Schools for local children, evening clubs for the young and evening classes for school leavers.

In collaboration with several nursing associations, the Settlement established a home for district nurses in the area and took over responsibility for the Invalid Childrens’ Aid Association. Over the years they also in worked on apprenticeship schemes and continued to work with mothers and babies, particularly on health issues.

During the Depression years they established clubs for unemployed men and women and infant welfare projects. During the war years they helped to evacuate local children and set up canteens for war workers.

Stained glass depicting the Settlement in Christchurch, Southwark
Stained glass depicting the Settlement in Christchurch, Southwark

Post-war, the Settlement continued in Nelson Square until they moved to their premises in Rushworth Street. There, many useful projects continue including: youth clubs, a club for blind people, mental health support and support for older people.

Their fine tradition of public service continues to help and improve the lives of many local people, including Nelson Square residents.

Click to visit the Blackfriars Settlement website for more on the history

Southwark News article on Blackfriars Settlement

Women outside the Settlement in Nelson Square (from Southwark News article)
Women outside the Settlement in Nelson Square (from Southwark News article)

Houses numbered 44-47, Nelson Square, which originally housed the Settlement, are the only original houses surviving in Nelson Square. Despite being listed on the Compulsory Purchase Orders (below) after the war, the four houses remained as the home of Blackfriars Settlement. Numbers 44-46 had been combined into one.

One of the founding members of the Settlement was Helen Gladstone, the daughter of Prime Minister Gladstone. She has given the name for the 1960’s tower block situated just next door to the old Settlement buildings.

Details of ownership in the Nelson Square compulsory puchase orders, National Archives, Kew
Details of ownership in the Nelson Square compulsory puchase orders, National Archives, Kew
44-47, Nelson Square. Photo: Juha Repo
44-47, Nelson Square. Photo: Juha Repo
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