In 1892 philanthropist Jean Warrender Price (1859-1942) took over a former oil and paint shop at 333 Westferry Road in order to be able to provide lunchtime meals and shelter to local working girls.
Survey of London:
Cheap hot meals were the mainstay of the Institute’s work, served to anything between 70 and 170 girls a day. In addition to informal counselling, classes were held in dressmaking, cooking and bible study, while a grand Christmas supper (to which young men could be invited) provided a highlight to the girls’ year.
Price was one of a small number of philanthropists devoting time to helping the Island’s poor. To be able to carry out her work she relied heavily on funds and donations solicited from churches, charitable groups and other philanthropists. Some local business owners could be called upon to donate or help, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule (virtually all large business owners did not live on the Island, and most would have nothing to do with the place).
On 21st May 1897, “Miss Jean Price” was interviewed by social-reformer Charles Booth in the course of his groundbreaking survey into working-class life in London at the end of the 19th century (see this article for some of the results of his research on the Island).
He described her as*…
…a bright, cheery, and eminently sensible little woman. She is a keen high churchwoman and lays great stress on the religious side of her work; none of the work must be entirely secular; efforts must be made to fit all to the church or to [illegible]; it is a mistake to carry on such work on purely secular lines. At the same time I could see no signs of any thrusting of religion upon the girls during my two nights.
* I find Booth’s handwriting occasionally difficult to read. Any transcription mistakes are my own.
Miss Price told Booth that when the Institute first opened it was almost impossible to get the girls to eat wholesome food; they would have nothing but cake, cheesecakes, and pastry. And…
…owing chiefly to this food they all looked pasty and anaemic – wiser habits have effected a great change in their appearance. With one or two exceptions they now certainly looked wonderfully healthy.
The girls were summed up by Booth as being of the regular factory type, though much more decent in their behaviour, and none badly dressed. They were apparently devoted to Miss Price, who found them quiet and orderly. She thought it notable that the girls could rarely be induced to play games, but they would have a sing if the mood was right.
One of Miss Price’s co-workers told Booth a ‘curious story’ which he felt illustrated the feeling of ‘this class’ on the question of death:
One of the girls was dying; her friends in the club who when told that there was no hope of her recovery clubbed together to buy a wreath for her coffin; they were exceedingly anxious that she should live long enough to see it and by permission of the doctor went with it to her room. She was immensely pleased and touched.
Between its opening and Booth’s visit, the work of the Institute had expanded to include – in addition to the lunchtime meals and shelter:
- club for young girls meeting twice a week;
- club for factory girls, twice a week;
- mother’s meeting club;
- provident bank;
- coffee tavern.
The building was too small for such so much activity. Booth observed that, when it was busy, some girls would have to dine on the stairs and in the kitchen. He also wrote:
This is all held in a building of inadequate dimensions in the West Ferry Road. In the front is the Coffee Tavern, above which Miss Price and two other ladies live; at the back is the club room, a barn-like structure, long and narrow.
The building was also, like many others in the area, quite dilapidated. Revd. Free of nearby St Cuthbert’s Church described it as a little old-fashioned house, poor and badly built. The neighbourhood was renowned for its slum housing, and was prone to frequent flooding (the water often polluted by oil and other chemicals from local firms). One of Booth’s ‘Poverty Maps’ depicted the area as follows:
In 1904, Miss Price decided that it was time to move to larger and better premises, and letters were written to newspapers to seek donations for the construction of a building somewhere on the Island.
In 1905 enough money had been raised to build new premises on a piece of undeveloped land nestled between East Ferry Road and the arches of the Millwall Extension Railway, immediately to the right of the entrance to Millwall Athletic’s football ground.
Survey of London:
The site was leased from Lady Margaret Charteris for 99 years at a rent of ten guineas a year. The small [construction] budget did not allow for much architectural display, and the facade is severely plain neo-Georgian in style. The ground floor originally contained a common dining-hall and a small dining-room, served by a kitchen and ancillary wing at the rear of the entrance lobby. The coal-house and lavatories formed a separate block at the back of this wing. On the other side, a second, larger, wing contained an assembly room, with a platform at one end. Staff quarters were placed on the first floor. The bay to the right of the street entrance was originally a single storey.
The following photo shows the Welcome Institute in 1905, the year of its opening. Most readers will immediately recognize the building as the premises of the later Dockland Settlement.
Miss Price carried on working at the Welcome Institute until her retirement in 1923, at which time the Institute was closed and the building handed over to the Dockland Settlement organisation. Later, a statue was placed on the chapel staircase to commemorate her years of devoted service.
Jean Price retired to Bath, where she died in June 1942. Her gravestone and memorial can be found at St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick–Smallcombe Cemetery (plot G.J.22). The memorial reads:
In Memory of
MISS JEAN PRICE
PIONEER AND FOUNDER OF
THE WELCOME INSTITUTE, ISLE OF DOGS
KNOWN AS DOCKLAND No 2
SHE SPENT HER LIFE
IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS.
DIED RESPECTED AND BELOVED BY ALL WHO KNEW HER
ON JUNE 28TH 1942
“HE GIVETH HIS BELOVED SLEEP.”
If you are in the area, why not go pay your respects to someone who selflessly did so much for Island girls and women?