Early in 1889 Hugh had to return to Yorkshire, partly because of his father’s death and partly due to illness. However, he returned to London implement the plan to move to 49 Beaumont Square with his four friends in May 1889 (The four soon became three with the departure of Ashbee). Though he now had the responsibility of running an estate, Hugh was determined to hold on to East London as long as possible. These four ex-Toynbee residents continued in the same kind of work, with often the same people they would have worked with at Toynbee, but from this independent house. 49 Beaumont Square became a meeting place for thinkers and agents of reform, many of whom made noted contributions to social reform and the politics of change.
Hugh had to absent himself for much of the summer of 1889, due to having to see to his affairs in Brandsby and to a long spell of illness. During his convalescence in Italy and Switzerland he continued to think through his ideas and some of his friends visited him in Switzerland. among them his old mentor Dr. William Barry, Laurie, Rogers and Hubert Llewellyn Smith, who made this sketch.
His health improved and he was able to return to the East End.
The work of the 49 Beaumont Square community.
Initially, all of them assisted in the running of the “School of Handicraft” attached to C R Ashbee’s Whitechapel Guild of Handicraft in Commercial Street. They were still working with Ashbee in June 1890 and Ashbee travelled with Hugh to Brandsby at that time to help measure up the site for Hugh’s house and estate office. However, Hugh the other housemates did part company with Ashbee, having taken a dislike to his methods. Hugh thought him fraudulent in that he lacked design ability, but he was very persuasive in getting people to do things, for which he took the credit himself. But the four Beaumont Square friends then set up the Whitechapel School of Handicraft in Leman Street. Later the school was moved to a disused Roman Catholic church in Globe Road, where it became known as The Craft School. This school prospered particularly thanks to the guidance of Llewellyn Smith and became an important school for cabinetmakers, wood carvers and plumbers, teaching according to the Arts and Crafts principles of ‘utility’ and ‘beauty’. It thrived until the Great War got underway. Ashbee set up his “Guild and School of Handicraft” in new quarters at Essex House, Bow. Later he moved to the Cotswolds, as is well documented elsewhere.
The Beaumont Square four became firm life-long friends, with whom Hugh continued to converse throughout his life. Hubert Llewellyn Smith was at that time, assistant secretary of the Technical Education Association. A.P. Laurie was a chemist, a very able man and the centre of the ‘advanced’ group and a very attractive personality (HCFC). Arthur George Rogers later wrote books on the condition of agriculture and prices in England and on the business aspects of agriculture.
Laurie taught chemistry at the People’s Palace¹. Laurie collected some boys from his chemistry classes, and these boys formed a small and stable club at no. 49, The Rose and Ring Club². Besides coming to Beaumont Square on set nights for reading, they spent a lot of their spare time there. They went to technical classes at the Whitechapel School of Handicraft and were active in helping to build it up. Hugh was pleased with the way they turned out, and felt that they did well in later life compared to their fellows. The Beaumont Square four had a cottage at Loughton on the edge of Epping Forest, which they used for week-ends and in the summer Smith and the others took the boys on holiday somewhere for a week. Later, Hugh took two of these boys to Yorkshire to help him with his scheme for a reading club and social events, where he found them invaluable. Laurie also started a small factory for the manufacture of artists’ permanent colours at Loughton on the edge of Epping Forest: two or three of the boys from the club found employment there.
Conditions in the house.
Smith, Rogers and Laurie all had to earn money, Hugh was the only one who had even a nominal income of more than £250 a year. On succeeding to the estate, Hugh found that his disposable income declined, now he had responsibilities, but he remained determined to hold on to the East End venture as long as possible. The house operated on a very modest budget. The furnishings were ‘spartan’. They had no carpets except a blue ‘Kalmuc’ strip in the sitting room, laid on stained boards. They had three iron framed armchairs for round the fire, the last comer would have to sit on a rush-bottomed chair and try to squeeze in. They had six or eight rush-bottomed chairs and an oak trestle table for meals and a deal bookcase with cupboards below the shelves. All the floors were stained and varnished and walls were distempered. There were four small bedrooms, three on the top floor and their housekeeper had a bedroom on the ground floor. The housekeeper was an ‘old body who had once broken her wrist’, she was assisted by a charwoman. The broken wrist came into service whenever the old lady dropped something or failed in some duty or other.
The staff for the house, Mrs Heared, Mrs Waites and an occasional help who came to char were all Charity Organisation Society cases.
“At the time I took great pleasure in this monastic establishment and in all its austere appurtenances, from the large brown glazed earthenware basins and jugs recommended by Edward Carpenter to the comparatively luxurious iron framed chairs with their indigo cotton covers, which Laurie and Rogers insisted on as a sine qua non, if they were to live in the house.
Notwithstanding these forbidding appearances we were extraordinarily happy at Beaumont Square and life was full of interest. Llewellyn-Smith brought a good many interesting people there to discuss numerous problems and affairs and Laurie also with his various interests attracted a number.”
A centre for thinkers and actors in reform.
Besides their work with the boys, 49 Beaumont Square operated as a meeting place for socially progressive ideas. Vaughan Nash who had since become a resident at Toynbee Hall, visited Beaumont Square often and brought a number of interesting people there, among them Ben Tillett and Tom Mann, leaders of the Dockers Union. Hugh became close friends with Nash. Nash started his journalistic career covering the 1889 Dock Strike, then went on to write on a number of social issues, including the causes of the Irish and Indian famines. He later became private secretary to two Liberal prime ministers and vice-chairman of the Development Commission.
Lord Ripon, a member of the Liberal Government for most of his life, was also brought to Beaumont Square by Laurie. (Ripon had been Viceroy of India from 1880 to 1884, where he instituted a number of education and press freedom reforms, which were popular with the Indian population, but detested by the Anglo-Indians.) He also had an interest in local government. Arthur Sidgwick (1840-1920) a notable Greek scholar from Cambridge, writer of numerous books on Greek poets and poetry, also came to lecture at Toynbee, on the invitation of Llewellyn Smith. Another liberal politician Harold Spender (1864-1926) also visited. Smith was at that time also involved in working on Charles Booth’s investigation Life and Labour of the People of London.
Hugh also met Cyril Jackson and spent some time with him. Jackson was a leading British educationist, he became a resident at Toynbee in 1885 and stayed for 10 years. He abandoned law and dedicated his life to improve educational opportunities for the socially disadvantaged in the deprived industrial community of East London. He became a member of the London School Board from 1891 to 1896 and ran a boys’ club at Northey Street School which aimed to help and support Limehouse Street boys. The Cyril Jackson Primary School stands as an ongoing memorial to his efforts in education. Beaumont Square visitors also included Henry William Massingham, sub-editor of The Star, when it was run by the Irish Nationalist MP, T.P. O’Connor. Hugh describes it as a ‘saucy and smart’ paper which made quite a name for itself during the time it was held by O’Connor, and did a great deal towards winning for the ‘Progressives’ the first London County Council election.
All four residents of this house became very involved with the affairs of the Dockers. They all played a role in the strike of 1889, whether it was picketing or helping with organization or with the distribution of relief. Smith and Nash wrote The Story of the Dockers Strike, told by two East Londoners, published in 1889. Sometimes know as the ‘6d a day’ strike, this strike was a milestone in the development of the British labour movement. The dockers got a lot of support, including that of Cardinal Manning. Besides winning their 6d a day, the strike started a long tradition of strong union support among the dockers. Most dockers joined the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union, which became nationally important, symbolizing the new unions for unskilled, casual and poor labourers, in contrast to the craft unions which already existed. Hugh’s involvement in the strike was in helping to distribute tickets for relief.
The People’s Palace opened in 1886 and was designed to offer education and entertainment to the masses. It had a great hall, a library, a large organ, a swimming pool, a glass-covered winter garden, and offered classes and entertainment. It was very popular, one and a half million people visited it in its first year. The library, administered by women only and open even on Sundays, was visited by about 1,000 people a day, and Wilkie Collins bequeathed his own large library to it in 1889. Its popularity declined, as with Alexandra Palace, and in 1931 a fire destroyed much of it. The remains were subsumed into the Technical college which had grown up alongside it, until it became part of Queen Mary College in 1934. The great Octagon Hall and main frontage, now forms the architectural showpiece of Queen Mary and Westfield College, London.
The Rose and Ring Club took its name from the satirical fantasy novel by William Makepeace Thackeray, published in 1854. This book challenged and satirized the ideals and attitudes of those at the top of society.