The Settlement Movement began in the early 1880s as a response to the urban poverty and social problems caused by industrialisation. Settlement Houses were established which offered social services to the urban poor and campaigned for social justice and equality. University graduates were invited to live at settlement houses in return for their work. Both the Mary Ward Settlement and Blackfriars Settlement, which is now a subsidiary of the Mary Ward began in the late 1880’s as part this movement.
The original founders of both Settlements were women. The founder of Mary Ward Settlement was the best-selling Victorian novelist Mrs Humphry Ward, she had an enduring impact on public education through the pioneering work she initiated at the Settlement. Originally called the Passmore Edwards Settlement in honour of its patron and highly regarded Victorian philanthropist the settlement was renamed in 1921 when Mary Ward died to recognise her role as the driving force behind it.
Blackfriars Settlement as original called The Women’s University Settlement and was founded by women from Girton and Newnham Colleges at Cambridge University, Lady Margaret and Somerville Colleges at Oxford University and Bedford and Royal Holloway Universities. Among them, Helen Gladstone the daughter of the Prime Minister and Octavia Hill, housing reformer and founder of the National Trust.
Mary Ward’s declared aim was to give access for all to ‘the hundred pleasures and opportunities that fall mainly to the rich’. She described this open access to education where people from all backgrounds work and learn alongside each other as “equalisation”.
Similarly at Blackfriars the objective was to “promote the welfare of the poorer districts of London, more especially of the women and children, by devising and advancing schemes which tend to elevate them, and by giving them additional opportunities in education and recreation”.
The Settlements acted as a magnet to local people who paid their small annual membership fee not only to pursue intellectual interests and learn practical skills, but to be part of a social and community network that included interest groups such as music, debating and chess societies, and self-help groups like the coal club, boot club, and mother and toddler groups.
It was to be Mary Ward’s work with children at the Settlement that was to have the greatest influence on the educational system in the UK and beyond. She was responsible for initiating the Play Centre movement in England by providing care and activities for children after school and Vacation Schools. The first school for physically handicapped children in England opened in 1899 at the SettlementLearn more about Mary Ward today