Mary Ward House History Further Reading

Passmore Edwards amassed a fortune in the newspaper industry and spent much of it on "progressive movements". He was a lifelong champion of the working classes and is remembered as generous philanthropist. In just 14 years over 70 major buildings were established as direct result of his bequests and the settlement in Bloomsbury was one of them.

The building, designed in 1895, was an articulate, idealistic response to the inner city crisis of the late nineteenth century. What makes the house so interesting is that both in its purpose and in its architecture there is a remarkable congruity between the two - it was meant to make people think about class relations. The facade is characterised by unique and varied fenestrations. The white arched opening is the entrance to the building - the stone eggs on top of the porch are symbols of creation. This was the architects Brewer & Smith's first major building, designed when Smith was 29 and Brewer was 24 they went on to design Heal's in Tottenham Court Road the National Museum of Wales.

The Settlement was founded by Mary Ward (1851-1920), a granddaughter of Dr Thomas Arnold of Rugby, and niece of Matthew Arnold, who achieved fame in her lifetime as the best-selling novelist Mrs Humphry Ward. The successful author of over 20 novels that often had romantic or spiritual themes (the most famous of them Robert Elsmere), she also had an enduring impact on public education through the pioneering work she initiated. Her aim was to promote equalisation in society and the building was soon crammed with local residents enjoying the pleasures and opportunities that had previously only been enjoyed by the rich. It was Mary Ward's works with children at the house that was to have responsible for initiating the Play Centre movement in England by providing care and activities for children after school and vacation schools which had a similar function in holidays. Also, in the adjacent building, she organised the first school for physically handicapped children in England.

The house acted as a magnet for ordinary people who not only came to pursue intellectual interest and learn practical skills but to be part of a social and community network that included interest groups such as music, debating, chess societies, self-help groups. A poor man's lawyer service, retraining facilities for the unemployed and domestic economy classes for wives were also included in the programme. Concerts and music were an important part of the House reflecting Mary Ward's belief in the value of knowledge and experience for its own sake. Gustav von Hoist was Musical Director for a time and George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb and Keir Hardie were amongst those who gave lectures.


In her autobiography, published in 1918, Mary Ward refers to the building: "The Settlement C ... ) stands for the liberal and spiritual life, without definitions or exclusions. Up to 1915 it was, like Toynbee Hall, a Settlement for University and professional men who gave their evenings to the work. Since 1915 it has been a Women's Settlement under a distinguished head - Miss Hilda Oakeley, M.A., formerly the Warden of King's College for Women. It is now full of women residents and full of work. There is a Cripple School building belonging to the Settlement, to the East; our cripples still fill the Duke's garden with


Mary Ward House is a fascinating Grade 1 listed building and is one of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts architecture in existence. It was designed and built as a settlement.
The Settlement movement was inspired in the latter part of the 19th century by the philosophy of T.H.Green and started by such profound intellects as Carlyle, Meredith, Tennyson, William Morris, Mathew Arnold and others. The institution of settlement proposed to restore the contact between classes by providing a building in various neighbourhoods where
Young middle-class professionals would live. While working in their usual occupations as barristers, civil servants or architects, they would spend their leisure time with the local inhabitants, who were able to join the settlement and use it as a social club.


Mary Ward House was originally known as the Passmore Edwards Settlement after its benefactor. John Passmore Edwards (1823-1911) came from a humble home in Cornwall, the son of a carpenter - he went on to become a City journalist, MP for Salisbury, editor of a leading
Building every evening in the winter, or sit under the plane trees in summer. The charming hall of the Settlement is well attended every winter week by people to whom the beautiful music that the Settlement gives is a constant joy; the Library, dedicated to the memory of T. H. Green, has 400 members; the classes and popular lectures have been steadily held even during this devastating war; the Workers' Educational Association carry on their work under our roof; mothers bring their babies to the Infant Welfare Centre in the afternoon; there are orchestral and choral classes, boys' clubs and girls' clubs."

Passmore Edwards Settlement was renamed in 1921 after Mary Ward's death. In the 1920s the Mary Ward Settlement became a women's settlement for a time, and concentrated on facilities for children.
Mary Ward House is now held in trust and has been renovated to its former glory. The unique venue operates as a Conference, Exhibition and Events Centre.

Mary Ward was known in her lifetime as Mrs Humphry Ward, a prolific Victorian and Edwardian novelist. Ah yes, Mrs Humphry Ward. I'd heard of her. Her novels are not much read now but were successful in their time and tackled the social subjects and issues of faith and doubt that were beloved of the Victorians. She was also, it turns out, a noted philanthropist and social mover and shaker. Her social work was a mixture of progressive and backward-looking initiatives. As one of the founders of the institution that became Somerville College, Oxford, she helped open up university education to women. She promoted the education of the working classes through the ‘settlement’ movement (which settled students in working-class areas where they worked among the poor). Curiously, she also became a leader of the anti-suffragist movement, campaigning against giving women the vote.
One of her most inspired initiatives was founding Passmore Edwards House in Tavistock Place. This building, funded by publisher and philanthropist John Passmore Edwards, was part of the University Hall Settlement. It housed the first properly equipped classrooms for children with disabilities and was also home to a centre where children could come to play in a safe, warm, bully-free environment. A hall, gym, library, and other communal rooms were provided, and there were also residential rooms for those living in the settlement. Early residents, young professionals who worked during the day and gave time to the settlement in the evenings, included architect Banister Fletcher, now famous for his much-reprinted history of architecture. Gustav Holst was for a while the settlement’s director of music.
The building’s young architects, Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer, themselves lived in the settlement, so knew the background to the settlement movement and grasped the building’s purpose and potential. They proved a good choice. The style the adopted for the building was that fruitful blend of Arts and Crafts with Art Nouveau that proved successful in London buildings for education and the arts at around this time. Smith and Brewer brought together segmental arches, a variety of window

In 1921, a year after Mary Ward died, the house was renamed in her honour.


Mary Ward:

Mary Ward was born Mary Augusta Arnold in June 1851. Her father Thomas Arnold was a school inspector, the son of Dr Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby school, and brother of Matthew Arnold the poet. In July 1871 Mary married journalist Humphry Ward. They had three children: Dorothy (1874-1964), Arnold (1876-1950) and Janet (1879-1956). From the 1880s Mary began to establish herself as a writer and journalist: her novel “Robert Elsmere” was published in 1888. It was a bestseller and secured Mary's reputation, earning her a Ł7000 advance on her next book. Mary Ward continued to write throughout her life, producing novels as well as works of a religious nature including biblical criticism. She also went on lecture tours (including in America, where she befriended Theodore Roosevelt) and devoted much time to philanthropic causes. In 1904 her daughter Janet married the historian G.M Trevelyan. From June 1908, and to much opposition from friends and family, Mary agreed to become the head of the Women's Anti-Suffrage Association, who campaigned against the suffragette movement. She began to produce anti-suffrage fiction which was not successful. During the First World War her reputation was improved by her contribution to the war effort. She was asked by Roosevelt to produce propaganda to be sold in America: “England's Effort” (1916) is credited with helping to involve the United States in the war and was followed by two more books. In 1919 Mary Ward was made a CBE and in 1920 was asked to become one of the country's first woman magistrates. However, over work caused her health to deteriorate, and she died in March 1920.


The Settlement:

Mary Ward's highly successful novel “Robert Elsmere” featured a young Anglican priest undergoing a spiritual crisis, who eventually decides that if faith is to be effective it must meet the needs of the community through good works; in his case through involvement with the “New Brotherhood”, a settlement in the East End of London. The idea caught the attention and conscience of many readers and inspired much debate. Mary Ward was encouraged to attempt to found a Settlement which would give practical expression to the ideas in her novel, along the lines of the Toynbee Hall in East London. She began to raise funds for the project. Premises in Gordon Square were rented and named the “University Hall Settlement”, with the aim of providing “improved popular teaching of the Bible and of the history of religion”, and to secure for residents of the Hall “opportunities for religious and social work”.

There were some religious disagreements among the residents of the Hall and in 1891 a small group secured a separate building east of Tavistock Square, called Marchmont Hall. They ran programmes and clubs for local men and boys, including talks, debates and concerts. To Mary Ward's disappointment, these clubs proved more popular than the Biblical and religious lectures at University Hall, and she decided to launch an appeal to provide a more spacious building which could accommodate the activities of both institutions. In 1894 John Passmore Edwards, a publisher and philanthropist, offered a considerable sum towards the building of a new Settlement. The Duke of Bedford, who owned most of the land in the Bloomsbury area, was approached and agreed to grant land on Tavistock Place, which was considered suitable as it was on the edge of an area of great poverty, Saint Pancras. Architects Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer won a competition to provide the design of the building and construction began in 1896. The building was opened in February 1898, named the Passmore Edwards Settlement after its main benefactor. In her speech at the opening of the Settlement Mary Ward defined its purpose as providing “education, social intercourse, and debate of the wider sort, music, books, pictures, travel”. She continued: “it is these that make life rich and animated, that ease the burden of it that stand perpetually between a man and a woman and the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.


In 1899 the Settlement expanded to include one of England's first day schools for the physically disabled, the Invalid Children's School. Mary Ward was heavily involved in the movement to provide greater care for the disabled, including the provision of better meals and training for employment. In 1902 the Settlement opened a Vacation School, a holiday club intended to keep children off the streets and occupied during the summer. This idea developed into after school clubs, called Evening Play Centres. Both Mary Ward and her daughter Janet were campaigners for the provision of after school activities, and persuaded the Board of Education to provide grants to such organisations, so that by the 1930s around 40 such play centres were open across London. Similarly, both Mary Ward and her daughters were involved in the appeal to preserve part of Coram's Fields, the site of the Foundling Hospital, as a children's playground. The Settlement also ran very popular youth clubs for teenagers.

During the First World War the Settlement was used by Belgian refugees and the Red Cross. A School for Mothers was founded which aimed to provide pre and ante natal advice; and was complemented by a nursery. The Settlement also became involved in the training of teachers and social workers, domestic economy classes, and help for the unemployed.
Mary Ward died in 1920 and in 1921, with the agreement of Passmore Edwards' family, the name of the Settlement was changed to the Mary Ward Settlement (changed to the Mary Ward Centre in around 1970). In the same year a Dramatic Arts Centre was formed at the Settlement, which developed into the St Pancras People's Theatre and the Tavistock Little Theatre. From the 1930s a greater emphasis began to be placed on the provision of adult education and training courses. In the 1940s a Legal Advice Centre was opened, providing legal aid, and later financial advice, to those on lower incomes.

In the 1930s the Settlement felt that the increasing gentrification of the Tavistock Place area meant that their original purpose of outreach to the poor was not being met. It was decided to sell the lease of Mary Ward House and move to a new Centre in South Islington, which was considered an area of greater social deprivation. The Second World War interrupted these plans and the move did not take place. The monies made from selling the lease became the South Islington Mothers and Babies Fund, providing grants to mothers in need living in the South Islington area. The Settlement also supported the Elizabeth Whitelaw Reid Youth Club in Islington.