It all began early in 1888 when a Miss Anson (after whom a room is named in St. Margaret's House) distributed a leaflet in Oxford asking for support for a ladies' mission. Initially called the Bethnal Green Ladies Committee with Her Royal Highness Princess Marie Adelaide, Duchess of Teck as president, St. Margaret's was a substantial house with 15 rooms in a square built around the Museum Green. It was formally opened in October 1889.
COMMUNITY PROJECTS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
Pioneering work included the Children's Country Holiday Fund, the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants, district and hospital visits, a needlework scheme to employ very poor women through the winter months, work helping the clergy from nearby parishes with Sunday School teaching and visiting work houses, as well as nursing the sick, organising sick and relief funds, work for mothers and children and running the clubs for girls.
Eleven years later in December 1900, it was decided to buy number 21 Old Ford Road which belonged to the Females Guardians Association. Arrangements were made to find the necessary £3,600 to buy this Georgian town house of character and charm.
On the morning of February 3rd 1903, the move was made and the new house was officially opened by Princess Henry of Battenburg on the 5th May.
BETWEEN THE WARS
In 1921 St. Margarets House, in financial difficulties, was charging £2 a term for the training of students. It had fourteen residents including the Head and Bursar, six lodgers engaged in teaching or social work, two medical students and one Charity Organisation Society worker. The start of a club for young married women stressing education for citizenship, rather than recreation, proved to be very popular.
In 1924, St. Margarets House started a children's play hours scheme twice a week in the large hall which accommodated over 50 children who would otherwise be roaming the streets of Bethnal Green. In the same year the house took a leading part in launching the local branch of the Industrial Christian Fellowship.
In 1929 the house was very fortunate in securing the services of Eleanor Kelly, a founding member of the Association of Welfare Workers.
During the 1930s St. Margaret's House underwent many changes but the decade began auspiciously with a visit by Queen Mary in 1931. In 1934, during the worst period of unemployment in the East End, the Unemployed Men's Centre was opened. Around the same time, St. Margaret's House was also sending out food parcels to old-age pensioners and the very poor.
In 1938 new initiative schemes such as the Hospital Savings Association and Penny Bank were set up. In the same year a gas-proof room was constructed due to the threat of war.
THROUGH WORLD WAR II TO THE WELFARE STATE
The Bethnal Green branch of the newly formed CAB opened 1st September, the day war was declared. The CAB concept had come about during 1938 with a national plan to establish local advice and information centres if war was declared.
During the war period in the 40s, 5/10 houses in Bethnal Green were destroyed by bombing, however fortunately St. Margaret's House escaped serious damage, despite much broken glass and several near misses. This includes an incendiary bomb which fell on the chapel roof and failed to ignite.
In 1953 the council decided that men could live at St. Margaret's House as well as women, due to declining numbers of female students wishing to take up residence at the house. In 1959 extensive repair and improvements were made to the main house: a new roof and rewiring throughout. In 1961 a new initiative, an introductory course for voluntary workers was commenced.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s St. Margaret's House faced financial ups and downs due to a desire to help the local community and limited finances. But a visit by the poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, in 1975, assisted in raising enough money to help it through the financial crisis.
In June 1993 the settlement again expanded as leaseholder of two adjoining buildings, numbers 15 and 17 Old Ford Road. Fortunately by 1999 St. Margaret's House were able to purchase both properties with funding from both public and private sources. In 2006 we took over the Gallery Café and have since continued to offer a great number of events, vegan food and exhibitions. We now manage 4 separate community projects including the Gallery Café, Ayoka Charity Shop, Yoganest and Create Place as well as continuing our good work supporting community groups.