Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Browning Hall Settlement attached to the Congregational Chapel in Browning Street, Walworth was established in 1894. The Chapel opened in 1789 in what was then called York Street and it was where the poet Robert Browning was baptised in 1812. The street was subsequently renamed after him. Mission settlements grew up in the late 19th century in the poorest and most deprived parts of London where those from more privileged classes, driven by a strong Christian faith, sought to alleviate the chronic suffering of the poor. They lived within the community they sought to serve and worked alongside the poor to improve living conditions from within. The Browning Hall Settlement was established in 1894 under the wardenship of F H Stead assisted in the first nine years by Tom Bryan who later became mayor of Southwark.
Browning Hall's first report described the area: “the narrow alleys, the low cottage slums, the piled-up dungeons of tenemented blocks, the squalor and sordidness that deaden the eye and stupefy the soul.” Activities at Browning Hall were wide-ranging - educational, social and practical - and included:
•Short courses and reading circles for adults, that covered Shakespeare, poetry and history
•A savings bank, that included a Christmas groceries savings club, the Goose Club, which had over 10,000 members by 1908.
•A Poor Man’s Lawyer service where the greatest demand was for advice regarding matrimonial issues.
•The Browning Tavern that served meals and non-alcoholic drinks
•A Boy’s Brigade and Boy’s Club
•Summer holidays for adults and children were arranged in Whyteleafe, Surrey
•A medical mission was set up and the Settlement, particularly Tom Bryan, campaigned regarding public health issues.
•Formal training in social work was established, one of the first courses in the country.
Many of these activities took place at a building on the corner of Walworth Road and Browning Street, now called Herbert Morrison House. F H Stead was an ardent supporter of the Labour Movement and campaigned for the introduction of old age pensions. He organised a conference concerning the introduction of pensions at Browning Hall in 1898 which was attended by union leaders and officials, and others from a non union background, including Charles Booth, that extended the reach of the conference beyond the trade union movement. After 10 years hard campaigning, the government introduced old age pensions.
Herbert Morrison House, named after a prominent early Labour politician, became the Labour Party headquarters until 1928 when the party took offices in Transport House, Smith Square. They returned to Walworth Road in 1980 when a terrace of 7 houses built at the end of the 18th century was altered to form a new HQ. Renamed John Smith House after the sudden death of the then Labour leader in 1994, the Labour Party decanted north of the river again to Millbank Tower in 1997.
The former Labour Party Headquarters in
The original Browning Hall, the chapel in Browning Street, was demolished in 1978 following extensive damage from a serious fire. All that remains is part of the burial ground.
The York Road Chapel Burial Grounds