Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Arthur’s Mission is an attractive building in Snowsfields, Bermondsey. It has a large plaque in the middle of the front elevation with the inscription ‘ARTHUR’S MISSION SNOW’S-FIELDS 1863 – 1893’. There are three further plaques: a small one inscribed ‘FEED MY LAMBS’ and two further ones that commemorate the laying of stones in the new building on 9 May 1893 by Mr Thomas Hoyland on behalf of the teachers of the old Snow’s Fields Ragged School and by Mr S R Pearce, Superintendent of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Sunday School, to commemorate the Ragged School work carried out in the neighbourhood.
By the time the foundation stones were laid, the Christian-based Ragged Schools had been superseded by the schools of the London School Board built in part to secularise education, and the former ragged schools now concentrated on mission work. The plaques on the side of the building point to the opening of the former ragged school in 1863 with a connection to the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
Mr Hoyland was interviewed by the investigator for the Charles Booth Survey into Poverty in London in February 1900 and gave an account of the origins of the new building in Snowsfields. The mission started in a small way in a badly adapted building close by. A rich and sympathetic lady was introduced to the mission and, seeing the difficulties they were working under, paid for the new building to be built and equipped. No clue is given to the identity of the lady, nor who Arthur might be. But a year earlier, a children’s convalescent home had opened in Bognor, called Arthur’s Home. This had its origins in similar circumstances where everyone involved was sworn to secrecy other than the information that the lady had recently lost her son and built the holiday home in his memory. Perhaps her son had gone by the name of Arthur and perhaps the same lady was behind the building of the new Mission building, going by the name of Arthur’s Mission, in Snowsfields.
Alternatively, the name given to the Mission derives from The Idylls of the King by Tennyson which narrates the story of King Arthur and Camelot, and very popular at the end of the 19th century. Arthur's Mission within the poem has been described as "a commitment to the divine command to realize his highest calling in this world through an attempt to make humanity more aware of its full capability" which is in keeping with the work of the Mission.
The Charles Booth investigator reported that the Mission comprised a good set of rooms, the largest holding 300-400 people, with several smaller rooms for small meetings and classes. He found however that the upkeep of the building was poor, with little that was warm and bright about the building. This he considered a shame “as the work is chiefly for children to whom warmth and prettiness appeal with special ease and on whom the effects of beauty and cleanliness are likely to be stronger and more durable. It is true that one room had been decorated for some entertainment but this did not detract from a general effect of barrenness and discomfort.” He reported that some of the equipment in the gym was broken.
The Mission was affiliated to the Ragged School Union and concentrated its work on children and young people to avoid clashing with other Missions in the neighbourhood who aimed their effort towards adults. Activities for the children included:
•Sunday School that recorded good attendances
•Prayer Meetings and Bible Classes
•Band of Hope
•A Club for working Girls was held during the winter months who were taught how to make warm clothing.
•The Boys Brigade whose headquarters were at the Gospel Lighthouse Mission in Borough.
•Meetings for local disabled children, several of whom had been given boots and had been sent to Holiday Homes by the Shaftesbury Society.
In addition, a Winter Treat was held for about 200 children and in the summer, the same amount of children were taken to Buckhurst Hill for the day.
Today the building is well preserved and used as architects’ offices, in keeping with Bermondsey’s regeneration in the 21st century.
Main source: Booth’s Notebook B278 and the Annual Report for Arthur’s Mission (1898) found within the volume.