Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
On a side street to the east of the southern section of Blackfriars Road, above a café called Caffe Deniro, the words HOPE MISSION are chiselled into stone on the front elevation of a late Victorian building and is one of the few remaining signs of the many missions set up to help and educate the poor in the area. Though the houses that faced directly onto Blackfriars Road were mainly classified on the Booth Poverty Maps as well-to-do middle class and those facing onto the side streets as mixed (some comfortable, others poor), the houses in the courtyards and narrow streets between were classified as poor, very poor or even semi-criminal, and this was particularly so in the areas at the southern end of Blackfriars Road.
The Hope Mission was opened in about 1897 in Friar Street (now the eastern end of Webber Street). The mission was given this name, not for motivational or aspirational purposes, but because it was founded by Lady Hope. Born Elizabeth Cotton in 1842 in Tasmania, she became Lady Hope upon her marriage to Sir James Hope in 1877. She was involved with evangelical work within the temperance movement from an early age and lived a full and varied life which included inventing a bandeau which secured a woman’s hat without the need of a hat pin.
Lady Hope opened a mission in Nelson Square in around 1895 which offered mothers’ meetings, sewing classes, Sunday School for children and mission services. The mission was taken over by Miss Martin (whose first name seems to have been lost to history) soon after it was set up and four years later it was clear that larger premises were required. A site was acquired in Friar Street and the new mission built, described as a light, airy building, with a hall that seated 200 on the first floor over two large class-rooms and an apartment for the caretaker to the rear. The new hall cost £1400, most of which came directly from Miss Martin but by July 1899 there was still the sum of £350 to raise.
The activities, apart from the Sunday Schools, included mothers’ meeting that attracted 20 women on a Monday afternoon and 70 on Wednesday evenings. There was a girls’ sewing class that had an attendance of about 60 and a working girls’ sewing class that had an attendance of about 20. A gospel service was held on Thursday evening, followed by a Band of Hope meeting. Meetings were also held outside the Hall in the open air. They visited the sick and some charitable help was given but their funds were scarce and most help again was given from Miss Martin’s personal money. A few women and children were sent to holiday homes.
Miss Martin was described as a tall old lady with a pallid worn face, dressed in black, as someone “whom you naturally apply the adjective “good”". As resources were low, the future of the mission was uncertain but Miss Martin believed that God would provide for the support of the work in a poor district “overrun by High Church and Roman Catholic influences.” By this, she was mainly referring to St Alphege’s Church who had a mission opposite the Hope Mission. I have been unable to discover if God did provide for the continued work of the Mission and for how long, but, at a guess, it would be very unlikely the mission continued after the First World War.
Booth Notebook B/270 and a newspaper cutting within its pages from The Christian, July 1899 (consulted at The Women's Library, London School of Economics. I understand this notebook will soon be available online)