Former Working Lads' Institute

1884-8, institute extended with lecture hall and swimming bath, shop inserted

The Working Lads' Institute
Contributed by David Charnick on July 31, 2016

The Working Lads’ Institute was founded in 1878 by a city merchant called Henry Hill. It was one of many nineteenth-century initiatives to give urban youth a more legitimate outlet for their energies. Aimed at young men who had to work for a living (rather than the local poor), the Institute offered them the chance to better themselves and thus improve their employment situation. From its original site at 12 Mount Place [Mount Street?], Whitechapel Road, it moved in 1885 it moved to new premises at 285 Whitechapel Road. As can be seen from the entrances to the building, the facilities offered included not only a lecture hall and a library, but also a swimming bath and a fully-equipped gymnasium with an instructor: a healthy mind in a healthy body.

The project was not to succeed however. By 1896 the Institute was running out of money and was threatened with closure. Henry Hill wrote a letter to _The Christian _appealing for help to keep the Institute open. This was read by Revd Thomas Jackson, a Primitive Methodist preacher who had been active in Bethnal Green, Walthamstow and Clapton. Jackson was able to buy the Institute, which he transformed as a Primitive Methodist mission to help friendless and homeless boys who would otherwise be on the streets. It operated also as a hostel, providing beds for homeless boys.

Outdoor activity was encouraged, many boys being sent to work on farms in Devon. In 1901 the Mission acquired a property on Marine Parade, Southend, which was used to provide holidays and convalescent stays for poor boys. The mission performed probation work, though this ceased when it was given a house called Windyridge at Thorrington in Essex, which became the mission’s probation wing. The Institute remained a hostel for boys, principally in the age group 17 to 21.

In 1943 the hostel began to move out of Whitechapel to Whitechapel House, Tulse Hill. However, in 1971 the compulsory purchase of Whitechapel House forced the Mission to move the hostel again. It returned to Whitechapel, and resumed its activities at 3 Maples Place. Though the hostel closed in 1973, it provided the foundation of the Whitechapel Mission, which is still active and providing support for the homeless.

Whitechapel Road panorama in 2014
Contributed by Chris Redgrave

279-281 Whitechapel Road in 2016
Contributed by Derek Kendall

From 281 Whitechapel Road looking west in 2016
Contributed by Derek Kendall

273-281 Whitechapel Road in 2016
Contributed by Derek Kendall

281 Whitechapel Road, facade detail, 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

279-281 Whitechapel Road, ground-floor facade, 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall