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Bloomsbury Institutions


Marchmont Hall


It was a small, non-residential building off Marchmont Street ironically given a grandiose appellation and used for a variety of social activities for the local area

From 1891 to 1897 it was the home of the social side of the activities founded by Mary Ward at University Hall, which later became the Passmore Edwards Settlement

The young solicitor Alfred Robinson, one of the residents at University Hall, objected to the moral and religious (though non-denominational) bias of Mary Ward’s project

He and his colleagues wanted to reach out to the poor workers living in crowded conditions in eastern Bloomsbury, between Gordon Square and Gray’s Inn Road, many of whom did not attend the lectures in University Hall

In February 1891 Robinson rented the small building with a grand name, Marchmont Hall, at no. 94 on the east side of Marchmont Street, on a three-year lease at a rent of £45 a year (John Sutherland, The Mary Ward Centre 1890–1990, 1990)

The building was apparently ‘‘ill-built, ill-ventilated, insanitary, and inconvenient’’, but it attracted larger numbers than those attending University Hall (‘The Associates’, in the Passmore Edwards Settlement magazine, The Associate, no. 1, October 1898, LMA 4524/K/02/001)

One of the ‘‘Associates” – the working-class people in the area who joined the Settlement and helped to administer its affairs – remembered Marchmont Street as ‘‘at that time the centre of a very drab neighbourhood” and Marchmont Hall as ‘‘little more than a shed’ ”, but recalled that nonetheless people came in “large numbers to hear lectures and concerts”‘ (Notes given by a working woman, Mrs Grant, as a contribution to the booklet In Memoriam: Mrs Humphry Ward and the Passmore Edwards Settlement, 1921, LMA 4524/N/01/002)

The activities at Marchmont Hall included boys’ and girls’ clubs, and popular concerts with democratic songs such as Robert Burns’s ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, and poems in praise of labour by William Morris (‘Marchmont Hall Songs’, University Hall Committee Papers 1890–1895, LMA 4524/M/01/004)

Its circulars and pamphlets declared that the lectures on history, literature, science, and modern labour conditions were such as would ‘‘concern work-a-day people…We believe in the freedom of the human spirit – that each man has the right to work out his own relations with the Power behind the world…We believe in Democracy’’ (University Hall Committee Papers 1890–1895, LMA 4524/M/01/004)

Marchmont Hall was given up in June 1897; the activities of the Settlement were then carried on temporarily in 53 Bedford Square, which the Duke of Bedford had rented to Mary Ward on a short lease until the new Passmore Edwards Settlement building on Tavistock Place was ready for occupation later that year (Annual Reports and Statements of Accounts 1897–1919, LMA 4524/B/02/005)

The building still exists, and in the early 21st century was being renovated for possible future use by a charity

What was reforming about it?

It hosted a number of innovative Bloomsbury institutions; the first meeting of the Metropolitan Provident Medical Association was held here in 1881 (The Times, 16 April 1881)

From 1891 to 1897 it was the home of the social side of the activities founded by Mary Ward at University Hall, which later became the Passmore Edwards Settlement

Where in Bloomsbury

The Hall was at no. 94 Marchmont Street on the east side, just above Tavistock Place

Website of current institution

It no longer exists

Books about it

There is some information about the use of the Hall by the Settlement in Nigel Scotland, Squires in the Slums: Settlements and Missions in Late Victorian London (2007), and in John Sutherland, The Mary Ward Centre 1890–1990, 1990


Papers concerning the founding and activities of the Settlement at Marchmont Hall are to be found among the administrative records, committee and council minutes, and correspondence about the founding and management of the Passmore Edwards Settlement held in the London Metropolitan Archives, ref. LMA/4524; further details are available online via the London Metropolitan Archives catalogue (opens in new window)

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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