Guest post by Ruby Wilson
While many Selvedge readers enjoyed the fruits of our Christmas Fair last weekend – shopping, catching up with friends and making Christmas crackers with Cambridge Imprint – we look back at the history and founder of the venue, Mary Ward House...
Mary Ward was a well-known Victorian author, who worked under the pen name of Mrs Humphrey Ward. Her novels tackled issues of faith and morality, typically adored by a Victorian audience. Mary was also an accomplished philanthropist, her most notable endeavour founding Passmoore Edwards house in Tavistock Place.
Mary Ward was deeply invested in the Settlement movement. The movement believed that if the rich were to live and work closely among the poor, social barriers would be broken down. Knowledge would be shared and those not blessed with privileged lives would experience some of the benefits. Thus with the help of fellow social warrior John Passmoore Edwards, the settlement house was born.
The house was located perfectly to champion social change. Close to the poverty of Saint Pancras it represented Mary’s desire to ‘break down the local and geographical barriers that separated rich from poor’. The house was opened in 1898 and the local residents began to enjoy elements of modern society that they had previously been excluded from due to their class.
Lectures, music concerts, legal aid were all available within the walls of the house yet it was education that was to become the settlements greatest asset. In 1899 the house extended to include the Invalid Children’s school for disabled children and in 1902 a Vacation School was also created to keep children off the streets during the summer.
The house was politically ahead of its time as well, providing some of the first antenatal care and advice to expecting mothers and preparing propaganda to involve America in the war. The house is acknowledged as one of the most influential steps taken towards the welfare state. The house was renamed to the Mary Ward House on Ward’s death in 1920.
So as we continue to enjoy the fruits of the Selvedge Christmas Fair last Saturday, let us also appreciate the work of Mary Ward; a woman who made great steps into creating the more inclusive society we inhabit today.