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Georgina King Lewis and the first Ruskin House

The Croydon of the 19th Century was, as today, a thriving retail centre. Fairs and markets abounded, as did prostitution and drunkenness. It was said that, at the turn of the 20th Century, £10,000 a week was spent in Croydon's taverns. For the early labour movement, then, it was natural to meet in the town's public houses, in this environment.

The Temperance movement had traditionally been very strong in Croydon. One keen believer in the temperance movement was a Mrs. Georgina King Lewis. She felt that trade union and related meetings in public houses were wrong. She decided to provide a place specifically for the purpose of meetings for the labour movement in an alcohol-free environment.

She did so through the Croydon United Temperance Council. A trust was created, and Mrs. King Lewis spent £1,200 of her own money. The sole condition with the gift was that no intoxicants be sold on the premises. The old County Temperance Hotel in Station Road, West Croydon, was bought. Mrs. King Lewis renamed the building Ruskin House and it opened in 1912.

Councillor P. A. Cosedge presided at the opening of Ruskin House. A few years later he volunteered for the Great War, and died at the front in November 1914. Other guests, including Mrs. King Lewis, spoke, and the Croydon Trades and Labour Council presented her with a complete set of the works of John Ruskin to express their gratitude.

The first Ruskin House was hugely successful. It was described as one of the greatest temperance achievements in the history of Croydon. Meetings took place every night wherever space was available. Indeed, requests for meeting space were frequently turned down. Many Trade Union branches, friendly societies and the Labour Party all held their meetings here.

So great was the success of Mrs. King Lewis' idea, that the trust was handed over to a company to administer, which sold the building when it was clear that a more spacious venue was needed. With this, the movement took the much larger premises in Wellesley Road that were to be the second Ruskin House. Thus the generosity of Mrs. King Lewis lived on, and continues to do so.

Edwardian Croydon

Pope Pius X
Photo copyright 1914 by Underwood & Underwood

Georgina King Lewis 1847-1924

"Friend of the Oppressed"

Georgina King Lewis followed in the grand tradition of philanthropic Victorian Quakers. To quote her obituary in the Croydon Advertiser, December 13 1924, she left behind "the practical results and inspiring memory of a wonderful life of discriminating service for others."

Mrs. King Lewis was a member of the Stoughton family; her father was a Congregationalist preacher, her brother the Stoughton of Hodder & Stoughton, the publishing house.

As well as her involvement with the first Ruskin House and the Temperance Movement, "she had been on missions of war time succour to Boers and Bulgars, and in furtherance of anti-slavery had helped to move Governments, as well as privately interviewing Pope Pius X."

Her work with the needy began with the cabmen of Ealing, where she helped to build a Mission Hall. It was when she was 54 that she felt a calling to leave Britain for the concentration camps of South Africa, where she endured spartan conditions with the Boer women and children.

Her belief in God and temperance never faltered. But when she died, aged 77, "her body was worn out." Her funeral was attended by councillors and clergy, and representatives of Ruskin House.

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