Durning Hall in Earlham Grove is one of Forest Gate's most used "public spaces". Here we look at the background and history of this important local social and care facility.
|Durning Hall, Earlham Grove today|
The Aston Charities Trust began its formal life in the nineteenth century, co-ordinating the philanthropy of the Durning, Smith and Lawrence families, whose charitable work was concentrated in London's East End from the late eighteenth century. Their work included the establishment of the Canning Town Women's Settlement and the first Durning Hall, which was built as a community facility in Limehouse, in 1884.
|The original Durning Hall, in Limehouse.|
Thanks to Aston-Mansfield for use of photograph
|Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence - charity|
founder - who performed the opening
ceremony of original Durning Hall, in 1884
Their various charitable foundations operated a Sunday school, a savings club and a coal club. They offered food, clothing and shelter for the needy. They also provided a Barrow Club - aimed at supporting street traders (costermongers - who sold fruit, vegetables etc from hand carts, on a mobile basis) by helping them purchase their vehicles.
The charities attempted to help the young, by hosting Scouts, Guides and Boys' Brigade groups, together with a boys' brass band, and dressmaking and needlework classes for the girls.
The original Durning Hall hosted an orchestra and an amateur dramatic club, which doubled up as a reading class, helping actors to learn their scripts. The organisers of the Hall encouraged debating activities and hosted discussion and lecture sessions, for the erudition of its users.
The Scout group they encouraged survives today, in Forest Gate, and is known as the Busby Scouts, named after one of its founder members, William Walter Busby. He came from Sherrard Road in Forest Gate and helped establish the local scouts troop in 1908.
Busby signed up to the "West Ham Pals" (13th Battalion, Essex Regiment - "The Hammers") in 1915 and was soon promoted to the rank of acting Captain. We will feature the Forest Gate connections of this Battalion in a future blog.
|William Walter Busby MC, founder of the scout|
troop who meet at Durning Hall, who was
killed in action towards the end of the
Battle of the Somme, having been
awarded the MC for his bravery on
the first day of the battle.
The Busby Scouts originally met in a building Forest Lane in the inter war period, which was paid for and supported by a Durning Lawrence family trust.
In 1930 the jumbled collection of trusts and endowments controlled by the Lawrence and Durning families was consolidated by Theodora Durning-Lawrence into the single Aston Charitable Trust.
|Theodora Durning-Lawrence, under|
whom the work of the Aston Charities
was co-ordinated, in the 1930s
Forest Gate was badly hit by bombing during World War 11, which will be the subject of a future blog. Among the local bomb damage was the local YMCA, situated next to the railway station, and the Regal Cinema, next to that, on Woodgrange Road (see here for a history of local cinemas and that of the Regal, within it).
|Durning Hall charity shop, Woodgrange|
Road today. Site of former Regal cinema
and for a while HQ of local Busby
Scouts (see door handles to the shop)
The Aston Charities were on the look-out for a new premises for a Durning Hall, from which to operate their various activities, at the end of the war. They took over the site of the destroyed Regal cinema and adjoining shops in 1948.
One of the shops, number 59, still somewhat battered, became the new home of the Busby Scouts, with the Aston Trust as their landlords, and it remained a scouts shop until after the youth group formally moved into the new Durning Hall, in 1959. A relic of this part of the story remains on the door handles of the charity shop on Woodgrange Road - see above.
|Opening ceremony of Durning Hall,|
Earlham Grove, 1959. Thanks to
Aston-Mansfield for the photo
Forest Gate's old Whitehall School was knocked down, in the early 1960's, to be replaced by what is now the Forest Gate Community School. During the two years' of the new school's construction, Durning Hall provided temporary teaching accommodation for over 200 pupils. The Hall later became a temporary health clinic, during the eighteen months it took to construct the Lord Lister Health Clinic, on Woodgrange Road.
|Durning Hall used for emergency classrooms,|
while first Forest Gate Community school
was being constructed, in the 1960s
Meanwhile, in 1967, the ACT acquired the old Canning Town Women's Settlement, whose premises had fallen into disrepair. They cleared the site and built Lawrence Hall, a 64-unit social housing complex and social centre. This was sold to Springboard Housing Association in 1990 and the proceeds were used to build the Froud Centre (with St Michael's church), on Romford Road, in Little Ilford.
|Rev Jimmy Froud, Warden of Durning Hall|
from 1959 - 2002, after whom the
Froud Community Centre
in Manor Park is named
Footnote: For further information, including the current activities of the Hall, see the Aston-Mansfield website, here and The Aston Story book, by Evelyn Ray Keen.