RUSKIN HOUSE

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New Ruskin House, Wellesley Road 1919 - 1966

By the end of the Great War, the needs of the Trade Unions and Labour Party had completely outgrown its premises in West Croydon. Hundreds of Croydon Trade Unionists had lost their lives in the war, and a Ruskin House Memorial Fund was set up in their honour. It had been "determined to make the Memorial the useful form of a new and enlarged Ruskin House upon the walls of which it is hoped in time to inscribe the names of all those who, members once, have fallen in the War."

It was considered that £3,000 was needed to buy premises and furnishing. Trade Unions put money forward, but there was also a very public appeal. The Fund Committee welcomed "subscriptions, small or large, from all who would like to embrace this opportunity of showing how, in memory of the noble dead, class, rank, and difference of opinion can be forgotten."

By 1919, a residence in Wellesley Road, 'Netherton', on the corner of Poplar Walk, was bought by the Fund and was to be Ruskin House until the 1960s. Ruskin House now had a proper constitution and management committee, the members of which came from across the Unions.

Once opened, Ruskin House contributed to a period of growing success for the movement in Croydon. Between 1920 and 1930, the Labour Party employed a full-time agent and Secretary. George Stubbert was to also occupy this role again from 1945. Croydon Labour Party became Croydon's largest political party, and its vote and presence on the Council increased accordingly. After 1945, the Labour Party won a majority of the councillors, although the 'Ratepayers' and their conservative allies held control through the aldermanic votes. Samuel Roden was the first Labour Mayor in 1942.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Rees-Williams became Labour MP for Croydon South (now Croydon Central) in 1945 with a majority of 3,503. However, he was to later defect to the Liberals. Marian Billson, a Croydon solicitor, was the parliamentary candidate for Croydon North, and it was alleged that she was not elected because many sacks of forces' votes remained uncounted in the Town Hall basement.

Documents from the 1930s and '40s show a very active movement, with whist drives, socials and dances, political rallies and meetings, and even a Ruskin Repertory Theatre with suitably themed performances.

One of our old members remembers, "being taken on several occasions to the old Ruskin House in Wellesley Road, as a child of some eight years old in the early 1930s. My parents were Labour Party members, Trade Union members and also Co-operative Guild members. There were meetings all through the week of various Labour movement groups. There were socials held in the very large room at the top of the House. Co-operative Day (Rainbow Flag) was celebrated in the garden. The Croydon Repertory Theatre next door used a downstairs room as a dressing room, and actors ran across to the little theatre in costume and make-up."

"From 1941, as a member of the Young Communist League, I attended our weekly meetings at Ruskin House, and also monthly socials. Mr. & Mrs. Venables, the caretakers, lived in the basement flat and were very kind to us. As social secretary, I often arrived early to prepare and was always given tea and a chat when I knocked for the key."

In the 1960s, Croydon town centre underwent another substantial period of re-development. It was decided to widen Wellesley Road, and a casualty was Ruskin House. The House was purchased by the Council and demolished. Yet again, the movement had to search for a new home. It was then that Coombe Hill House was bought at auction by Councillor Jim Walker on behalf of the Management Committee.

 

The first President - H. T. Muggeridge

Henry Muggeridge, known as 'HTM', was one of Croydon's most distinguished Labour Party members. He was a Croydon Councillor and later MP for Romford, and of course the first President of Ruskin House. Perhaps he is best known as the father of Malcolm Muggeridge, the broadcaster and celebrity Catholic convert. This has proved fortunate to historians, of course, as much biographical information of HTM is in the public domain.

HTM was born the son of a Penge undertaker on 26 June 1864. When the family was abandoned by his father, HTM left school and began work as an office boy in the City. The little money he kept for himself was spent on books, and it was his avid lunchtime reading that led to a keen interest in politics. His second job was again as an office boy for a firm of shirtmakers, where he stayed until he retired. He eventually became Company Secretary, but had turned down a directorship, as he felt it was at odds with his political principles (or prospects?).

In 1893, HTM married Annie Booler, the daughter of a Sheffield factory foreman, and they had five sons, Malcolm being the middle child.

One of Malcolm's most quoted memories of his father is of his visits to the market in Surrey Street, where he would set up his platform and spout forth his views on the need for socialism: "Now ladies and gentlemen. It's His Majesty's Government, His Majesty's Navy, His Majesty's Stationery Office, His Majesty's this and His Majesty's that. But it's the National Debt. Why isn't that His Majesty's? We'll gladly let His Majesty have that, won't we?"

His early interest in politics at first led to joining the Penge Liberals, where he campaigned for local facilities. By his late twenties, he was a socialist, and joined first the Fabians, then the ILP. An excellent public speaker, he founded and became secretary of the Croydon Socialist Society in 1895, and stood for the Council in Norwood in 1896 and '97. He was not to be successful until November 1911, although Croydon had already had several Labour councillors.

HTM remained a Croydon councillor until 1930. He was instrumental in getting Croydon's first council houses built, and campaigned for Trade Union rates of pay for all municipal employees. Although he stood for Parliament in South Croydon (now Croydon Central) four times, he finally became MP for Romford in May 1929. He lost his seat in October 1931, and returned to Croydon Council in 1933. He was to retire in 1940, at the age of 75.

 

The 1919 Committee

Henry Muggeridge was the first President of Ruskin House. The members of that first Committee were:

  • Vice-President: C. Allison of the National Union of Railwaymen (now RMT)
  • Secretary: W.J. Gibbins of the Association of Carpenters, Cabinet Makers & Joiners No. 2 (now UCATT)

Committee:

  • C.D. Charman of the National Union of Railwaymen
  • Mrs. C.A. Ford of the National Union of General Workers (now GMB)
  • J. Hawke of the Amalgamated Association of Carpenters, Cabinet Makers & Joiners No. 1
  • C.H. Hodge of the National Union of Clerks (later APEX, now GMB)
  • W. Inwood of the Railway Clerks Association (now TSSA)
  • A. Iyyard of the Operative Society of Bricklayers (now UCATT)
  • W. Moon of the Association of Carpenters, Cabinet Makers & Joiners No. 2
  • W.J. Nealon of the National Union of Clerks
  • H.Phillips of the Painters National Amalgamated Society of House & Ships Painters and Decorators (now UCATT)
  • H.A. Sidey of the National & Local Government Officers Association (now UNISON), and Labour Councillor

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