The lost buildings of Canning Town Women's Settlement

Sunday 10 March 2024

In the second of three articles on this important local social institution, Aldersbrook resident and historian Jane Skelding traces the various locations occupied by the Canning Town Women's Settlement.

The Canning Town Women’s Settlement was not just a single office or club room. The organisation grew and expanded continuously during its life from 1892-1968. It ran several sites which included residences for workers, offices, medical buildings and even an ex-public house, however, none of these buildings have survived due to bombing in WW2 or later development. This means there are few traces of this dynamic organisation that created spaces for the local Canning Town people to find recreation, education, medical and employment help for over 75 years. This article will trace some of these buildings and their locations to help memorialise this work.

For the first ten years the CTWS did not have a purpose-built home. The settlement rented ordinary houses on Barking Road, and moved around according to size and need. The CTWS engaged in ceaseless fundraising for purpose-built buildings, relying on donations from wealthy benefactors as well as the local women who were part of the clubs. There were three main types of building - residences, work and medical scattered around the area is in the map below.

London Sheet L, Revised: 1913 to 1915, published 1920. Source:here

Lees Hall - Settlement work building 

1916 map shows Lees Hall on Barking Road, Source: here

The CTWS started by renting buildings on Barking Road (135-137), settling on 81 Barking Road by 1898 and this was their main office and meeting place, often referred to as Lees Hall after the benefactor who funded it. The name conjures images of a grand building but was a terraced house which had been refurbished. Unfortunately, this stretch of road has been redeveloped however we do have interior pictures from the Annual Report of 1899 which shows the drawing room and back room of this site.

These are valuable glimpses into the real life of the work. The William Morris wallpaper and furnishings with heavily patterned carpets all follow the model of Toynbee Hall. The settlement wanted the visitors however poor to feel welcome, but also that they are somewhere comfortable which has been decorated with care and respect.

Drawing Room (CTWS Eighth Annual Report, 1899)

In 1899 the settlement bought 81 Barking Road and in 1900 erected an ‘iron hall’ to the rear where larger work parties and gatherings could be accommodated. The outside yard was also used for exercise as in the photo below.

Photo on various websites

In 1915 a final new Lees Hall was built and described in the Annual Report

 “Our ‘new’ Lees Hall is indeed well used, and is more and more becoming a home for our people, who seem always ‘Eager to come in, and loth to go.’ “ It had three floors for work rooms, meeting rooms and classes. “The Parlour, our largest and best Class Room, is delightfully quiet and cosy, and many happy associations already cluster round it.” (p.9 Annual Report of CTWS, 1915)

This hall seemed to endure and was mentioned in Rebecca Cheetham’s memorial in 1939, although no photos have been found. The site seems vacant on maps from the 1950s and in 1962 it was acquired by a Catholic charirty to house out of work seafarers, which is now known as Anchor House (recently renamed to Your Place) and is still a homeless charity (see here)


The settlement workers lived separately from the offices and as with the work buildings it took several years to establish a permanent home. The first residences for the settlement workers were located in rented houses at 457, 459 and 461 Barking Road, another residence was added at 19 St Andrews Road in 1901, and these houses were used until a permanent residence was built in 1908.


This is a picture of the Residence in 1907, by this time several houses had been knocked together. These houses have survived and are still residential terraced houses (see google street view). The same 1907 report says it was too busy and noisy, so new accommodation was sought to build a new residence. 

The Residence (CTWS Sixteenth Annual Report, 1907)

A new purpose-built residence in Cumberland Road, known as the Settlement House, was built in 1908-1909 (pictured below) and was designed by Clapham Lauder. This building has also gone but it was a sizeable property located second on the right as you enter the street from Barking Road.

CTWS Seventeenth Annual Report, 1908

Hospital and Nurses Home

The hospital and nursing homes also started in repurposed buildings until a hospital was built in 1905.

When the Medical Mission was taken over it was housed in repurposed buildings at 520 and 522 Barking Road. The interior photo below shows one of the wards in the Barking Road building where a ward was a large sitting room or bedroom.

'Mary' ward at the hospital (CTWS Ninth Annual Report, 1900)

Balaam Street Hospital

In 1905 a purpose-built hospital was opened on Balaam Street. This picture from the annual report shows the opening of the new hospital with some building detail in the background. A 1947 report states that the building was ‘blitzed five times’ and the work was closed down.

Opening of Balaam Street, probably no 120 (CTWS Annual Report, 1905)

The final Medical Mission was on Quadrant Street, which had acted as a dispensary from 1900. There is still a medical centrea at 113 Balaam Street, suggesting the location in the community was a good choice. 

The Wellington

In 1924 the temperance work of the CTWS took a step forward when they acquired a pub, The Wellington at 73 Bidder Street. It was opened by Lady Astor MP and her infant son David, and one newspaper article account described it as

 “converted into what they call " real public-house." contains a large clubroom with a temperance bar and a canteen for the men and women, and a nursery on the first floor for the children.” It is a public-house, with the one- difference that intoxicating drinks will not be sold”

The London Daily Chronicle gave more information

 “The old saloon bar is now a cheerful room, yellow-washed and furnished with brightly painted chairs. “ We have done everything we can to get colour into our public-house,” said Miss Catherine Towers, the warden of the settlement. “‘We want ‘ The Wellington’ to be the most cheerful meeting place in the neighbourhood.” (London Daily Chronicle - 17 December 1924)

 By the 1930s it was still housing the nursery 9-4.30 every day and had become a meeting place for various clubs and perhaps encouraged men to attend as it had darts, football and even baseball listed as “healthy recreation for the men.”

Sadly, none of these buildings have survived today but, in their time, they were valuable contributions to the health and wellbeing of the local women and children of Canning Town and surrounding areas.

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