Part 1: birth

In 1921 Father Basil Jellicoe arrives to the Magdalen Mission in Somers Town. Founds St Pancras Housing and declares ‘war on slums’.

Life is in the streets in old Somers Town. As bad a slum as any, policemen go in pairs to ‘Little Hell’ - an alley in Little Clarendon St. The St Pancras Housing Improvement Society begin a slum clearance programme and rehouse people in flats at low rents, without breaking up the communities. By the end of the 1930s they had provided over 600 new homes. Into this world George is born to Joseph and Mary. In 1935 in a slum in Stibbington Street, George is brought into this world by his Aunt Pol, an unofficial midwife, much to the annoyance of his sister Nelly who blames her for the boys, when she wants a sister.

A couple woman sat down with man in a flat cap, by her side posing for the photo, about 1900. A old photo of an elderly woman with crossed arms, a man and woman on each side, in about 1930. An Islington registry office certificate from 1915 with the marriage of Joseph, hawker to Mary Ann, widow.

Somers Town, bounded by railways of Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross resulted in a large transient population of labourers and the population density of the area soared. By the late 19th century most of the houses were in multiple occupation, and overcrowding was severe with whole families sometimes living in one room, as confirmed by the social surveys of Charles Booth and Irene Barclay.

  • Father Basil Jellicoe smiling in the 1920s, in the Anchor pub surrounded by local people at the bar holding an accordion. Priest in a pub

    Pubs were the life of the community - a living room when your house had none. There were two on every corner, 14 along Chalton Street alone, but now there are only 3 left. It was shrewd then of Jellicoe and the reformers to take over the pub - a locus of community life. In 1929 the ‘reformed pub’ taken over by abstemious priest Basil Jellicoe, who once lived there, and teetotal Edith Neville. They see pubs as the heart of the community. They had food to mitigate the evils of drink and so women could join in.

  • A group of 30 or so men in formal suits posing sat down outside a Whitbread pub in the 1930s. One is dressed as a woman. A group of 30 men outside a pub sat in suits with two accordions at the front, from the early 20th century. Day trips

    Pubs organised separate outings for men and women, called ‘beanos’. The charabanc groups left from outside pubs such as the Jubilee (now closed), Prince Arthur, and the Seymour Arms, now The Pack and Carriage. The day trippers threw coins to children who soon learned to wait.

Women

Many women were instrumental in community in Somers Town, but one who should be honoured is a female social housing pioneer, Irene Barclay (1894-1989).

The first female surveyor in England in 1922, a short three years after the 1919 Act that enabled women to enter civil professions, she was a women who transformed the lives and wretched living conditions of thousands of poor people in London through her work in slum clearance and her surveys. This work ‘shaped the organisation of housing associations’.

Irene became a FRICS in 1931 and received an OBE in 1966.

She had a major impact and worked tirelessly over 50 years in the St Pancras Housing Association here in Somers Town. Her achievements have been a little eclipsed by the better-known figure of the charismatic priest Basil Jellicoe, who died young. When Irene retired in 1972, 830 homes had been created during her time as Secretary then Housing Manager from 1925.

Older locals feel the achievements of this group, who moved their immediate families from slum conditions, was nothing short of a miracle.

Their ethos ‘Housing is not enough’ meant that it was not only homes that were built, but that it was equally important that community be maintained and cared for, via social initiatives such as the ‘Mums clubs’, a panto only for women, and trips to the country.

She was part of a group of women who formed the backbone of this community, including Phyllis Hodges, Jessie Stripling, and Edith Neville, who became fondly known as ‘landladies’ by locals.

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