Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The building at 187 Bermondsey Street, just two doors down from St Mary Magdalen Church, has a distinctive façade with arts and crafts style lettering that spells out TIME AND TALENTS SETTLEMENT AD 1907 and ionic capitals on top of brick columns. The building is listed by Historic England for its special architectural or historic interest.
Today the building is part studios and part residential but for over 60 years it was home to Time and Talents, an organisation that sought to use the time and talents of young ladies of the leisured classes in the service of those less fortunate than themselves.
The movement started in 1887 when it was thought in some quarters that it was a waste that young educated women of the middle classes were limited to being purely decorative. The name was thought up by Minna Gollock, private secretary to Emily Kinnaird of the YWCA. Time and Talents groups were set up where the girls received Christian teaching that was intended to widen their horizons and develop social consciences. Through carrying out charitable activities, the young ladies would be able to reach their full potential and lead to a spiritual awakening.
The first centre was set up in Edinburgh in 1889 and two years later, there was a total of 21 centres throughout the country with a total membership of 1100. Initial activities included decorating Christmas trees and dressing dolls to give to the poor. Clothing was made for the factory girls in Spitalfields and flannel jackets, toys and pictures were sent to invalid children in London. They translated books into Braille, organised tea parties and ran country holidays for factory girls, made garments for waifs and strays and served dinners at Board schools. The first settlement in London was in Spitalfields which soon moved to Whitechapel where 30 “rough girls” attended. There was however a strong missionary element to the work of Time and Talents and Whitechapel was strongly Jewish. They moved south of the river to Bermondsey at the instigation of a rector in Bermondsey.
The many factories in Bermondsey employed large numbers of girls who worked in terrible conditions and often carrying out dangerous work. Work was often on short time and there were lay-offs and periods of unemployment. Bermondsey was a warren of narrow streets and alleys with houses and tenements that were usually damp and over-crowded. But though venturing into territory outside their experience and often accompanied on their first visit to Bermondsey by their maids, the Time and Talents’ girls rose to the challenge and visited factories at lunch time to talk to the factory girls, sing hymns and distribute flowers. One of the aims was to educate and fit the factory girls into service which Time and Talents considered to be ”a happier and more helpful environment.”
In 1899 they were offered the building at 187 Bermondsey Street which had been a tailor’s shop and said to have been haunted. There was a club room and a smaller room that were used for singing, basket work, stringwork, knitting and sewing. Afternoon classes were held in reading, writing and painting. There were drill classes, cookery classes, health lectures and magic lantern evenings. A penny lending library was established and cheap dinners were served three days a week. There were bible classes and in 1903 seven club members were confirmed by the Bishop of Winchester.
The Settlement building was in poor condition and needed major building works that were completed in 1908. A loan was taken out to pay for these works and due to fund raising from other centres throughout the UK the loan had been paid back by 1911.
A second club was opened in Dockhead in 1903 and a hostel that provided a safe home for 13 girls opened in Abbey Street in 1913, later extended to give a home to a further 16 girls. Care was taken that the rooms were given to those in most need, who suffered the greatest over-crowding at home, those whose parents were alcoholics and those who had no home at all. Sadly the hostel was closed in the aftermath of a bomb in 1940 that flattened the building.
While the initial emphasis was on helping factory girls, over time the work of the Settlement evolved to include welfare work for the whole community including children and the elderly, and the training of social workers was initiated. After the second world war when the welfare state was set up, the nature of the work changed again and emphasis was placed more on neighbourhood services. By 1955, the club in Dockhead was suffering from subsidence and a large amount of money was needed for repairs and, on the whole, it was felt that due to changes within Bermondsey, there was now not so much need for the Club. It closed its doors in 1956 and the building was demolished in 1957. The Settlement at 187 Bermondsey Street was becoming impractical to run and closed in 1961 and a three-bedroomed council flat in Prestwood House, Drummond Road became the new headquarters for a pared back organisation.
In 1980, Time and Talents took over the Old Mortuary in Rotherhithe that had not been in use since 1965. After suitable renovation, a community centre was established and where an active programme is run that includes an Over 60s Club, an Arts and Crafts Group for the Over 50s, children’s drama, Brownies, a choral society, tai chi and yoga classes, and a neighbourhood care scheme for older people. It is also where the Local History Group meet once a month.
By Peaceful Means by Marjorie Daunt gives a full history of Time and Talents from 1887 - 1987.