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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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St John's Institute

A popular focus for the community for many generations, the St John’s Institute in Larcom Street was built at the very beginning of the 20th century under the auspices of Rev. A W Jephson, vicar at the nearby St John the Evangelist Church.  Originally located in Bedford Street (now Stead Street) and named the Bedford Institute, it was founded by  Jephson in about 1895 just after he arrived in the parish having previously served at St John’s Waterloo.  Four years after its foundation, Arthur Lloyd donated £2000 for the site and £5000 for the costs of the new building in Larcom Street.

St Johns Institute

The original aim of the Institute was to encourage and support young men who wanted to better themselves and to embrace the Institute’s motto “Quit You Like Men”, a quote from 1 Corinthians 16 meaning to exercise manly strength founded in moral conviction and so become useful members of society.  The motto is inscribed on a shield held by an eagle above the entrance in Larcom Street.  The institute was founded against a background where there was newspaper interest in the new found “hooliganism” in South London when alcohol-fuelled Saturday nights led to fighting and violence on the streets.  The Institute aimed to provide a healthier and more beneficial alternative.  Girls were also encouraged to attend the Institute’s socials in the hope they would grow up “a trifle less giddy and thoughtless and more unselfish and independent than so many of their companions.”


Though the Institute organised sporting activities that would appeal to young men such as gymnastics, football, billiards, cricket, swimming, athletics and cycling, the scope of activities was broad to serve the wider population.  There were classes in housewifery, baby-care, sewing, embroidery and knitting to appeal to women and lectures on temperance, politics, local history and scripture. In the days before the NHS, there was a free clinic and basic health and hygiene lessons offered.  


In 1899, the most financially successful events at the Institute were the monthly socials, run by Mr and Mrs Terrett who were reported in the Institute's Annual Report to “have trained one more batch of our more recent members in the way they should go if they desire to enjoy the society of the gentler sex without “treading on their toes.’  There is no doubt that except in the case of impulsive young creatures who cannot enjoy themselves without losing their heads, that this exercise is good for us all, teaching the young men to behave in a gentlemanly manner and the girls in a more womanly and grateful fashion that some of their companions.” The socials were very well attended.


The Institute continued to hold well attended dances and socials for many years.  A youth club also met there, as did the local cubs, dance classes were held there and it was where pupils at St John’s School went for their lunch.  Today the space is shared by St John’s Pre-School, an after-school facility, and the Superarts Academy. Now called the St John’s Centre, The Friends of the Church of St John the Evangelist Walworth believe the building is very underused but in need of considerable modernisation before more activities can take place there.  They have raised about 50% of the money required and are seeking more funding.


Sources:  Fourth Report of the St John’s Institute, September 1899,within the  Charles Booth Survey Notebook B276.