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Farewell to the Crispin St Night Shelter

October 3, 2013
by the gentle author

“I am standing in the one-time women’s dormitory and have brought a photograph of my friend Peggy. Her husband had died and she could not bear to remain alone in her home surrounded by thoughts of him. Chance, desperation and loss brought many people to Providence Row, myself included, and its existence was a lifeline – a refuge from the ruthlessness of life.”

Providence Row, the night shelter for destitute men, women and children in Crispin St, opened in 1860 and operated until 2002 when it moved to new premises in Wentworth St, where it continues now as a day centre. Twenty years on, photographer Moyra Peralta, who worked at Providence Row in the seventies and eighties, returned to have a final look at the familiar rooms that had seen so much life and she took these evocative pictures published here for the first time.

Reconstructed and expanded to create an uneasy architectural hybrid, the building is now student housing for the London School of Economics, where once it housed Students of the London School of the Economics of Pennilessness. Famously, this was where James Mason came to interview those dignified gentlemen down on their luck in ‘The London Nobody Knows.’

Over one one hundred and forty years, Providence Row offered refuge to the poorest and most vulnerable of Londoners and, at the last moment before the building was gutted, Moyra went in search of the residue of their hope and despair, their yearning and their loneliness. She found a sacred space resonant with echoes of the past and graven with the tell-tale marks of those who had passed through.

Peggy

Memorial plaque to the opening of Providence Row in 1860

The yard where Roman skeletal remains were excavated

Looking towards the City of London

HE WHO OPENS THIS DOOR SHALL BE CURSED FOR A HUNDRED AND ONE YEARS

Former women’s dormitory

Women’s dormitory in the sixties

This free-standing disconnected facade is still to be seen in Artillery Lane

Gerry B

“I am struck by the notion that with a careless step or two, I too might meet a premature end as I circumnavigate holes in floors and gaping apertures in walls.”

The room where Moyra Peralta slept when she worked at Providence Row and where she wrote these words – “Only the present is real – for some reason I feel this most of all when listening to the lorries moving at the street’s end and the slamming of crates being unloaded in Crispin St. There is a rhythm to the deep sound of the slow low-thrumming engines that I like to contemplate. On sleep-over, rising early from my bed following the refuge nightshift, I watch what is now – 6:00am. A thousand cameos change and regroup under my gaze. Jammed traffic forms and reforms where the roads meet.”

Photographs copyright © Moyra Peralta

You may also like to read these other stories about the Crispin St Night Shelter

The Return of Vicky Moses

The Doss Houses of Spitalfields

Down Among the Meths Men

and see Moyra Peralta’s other work

Moyra Peralta in Spitalfields

Moyra Peralta’s Street Portraits

Moyra Peralta’s Wordly Goods

15 Responses leave one →
  1. October 3, 2013

    Beautiful.

  2. October 4, 2013

    so sad to see these pictures of the crispin night shelter. as it brings back fond memories of going to school next door at st.josephs r.c. primary,our playground backed onto both the shelter and the convent and we were sometimes asked to fetch sister mary elizabeth from either the convent or one of the dormitories where she could be found making the beds. the sisters of mercy were amazing, us children loved them all as they were so kind to us . god bless them all.

  3. Val permalink
    October 6, 2013

    As W.S. wrote: ” There is a history in all men’s lives”. So interesting to see the forlorn juxtaposition of the empty rooms with the photos of lives previously lived within them.

  4. Margaret Lee permalink
    December 10, 2013

    This really brought back memories. In 1981 I enrolled at the London School of Economics and as I was a Sister of Mercy at that time, I lived next door in No. 7 Gun St which was a hostel for women and where many students lived. Every Sunday, I was invited to lunch with the Sisters who lived in the convent. I remember Sr. Marie who managed the Refuge. I also remember Sr. Enda and there was another sister who used to come swimming with me on Saturday mornings. On Tuesday evenings I used attend Mass at the refuge and it was always an amazing experience–there was something about the broken body of Christ.
    I think of all those who passed through the refuge and of all those sisters who worked there.

    Margaret Lee

  5. January 5, 2014

    your work is so full of beauty and time, memory.

  6. Ros Butt permalink
    March 12, 2014

    I also went to the St Josephs School, as my father was the caretaker at the convent and we lived in a flat at the top of the building. I remember the playground well and have a photograph of my mother taken in the playground. I remember the flat vividly, although the memory can sometimes play tricks I suppose!

  7. April 21, 2014

    Margaret Lee’s unexpected reminiscence triggers a response. In the remote, though hoped-for happenstance that former women residents may see this memorial Prov Row photo essay, I feel compelled, space permitting, to add a tribute to some of them, wherever they now might be.
    With fond memories of Lorraine, Pauline, Mary, Judith, Elsie, Frances, Doreen, Jenny, Pat, Bridie, Eileen, Esther, Brenda, Breda, Michelle, Julia, Elma, Jean, Susan, Diane, Terry, Jeanette, Mireille, Helen, Cheryl and Florence. Despite the passing decades, you are all so very well remembered…
    Moyra

  8. Diane Blackburn , was Darbyshire permalink
    April 23, 2014

    Just felt compelled to look for photos of Providence row . As a teenage runaway in 1984 I spent quite a few nights here. And a couple of days too when I had tonsillitis and darling Sister Fiona sent me back to bed and looked after me. God bless her, I have never forgotten her kindness. I also remember a night worker called Keith, wonder what happened to him ? I returned about 15 years ( maybe more ) ago to see Sister Fiona, only to find the sisters had relocated. If anyone knows her, please send her my love, and I apologise for any grey hairs I gave her under her veil x

  9. Diane Blackburn , was Darbyshire permalink
    May 5, 2014

    Moyra your work is absolutely Amazing ! Also wondering if I’m the Diane you remember ? I was 16 and a runaway from Leeds.

  10. Antoinette Hewer permalink
    January 12, 2015

    I am sorry to hear provident row no longer standing as a teenager I was a runaway spent quite a while there I commend the work they where doing helping the homeless is not an easy job I moved from provident row to beacon house then I fell pregnant with my daughter Charleigh moved back down to South london I am now 42 in February and at last have landed on my feet. Been happy in employment for six years and I am now recognised as a human being not a helpless soul being spat on by rich business types. Provident row had played a large part in my teenage years so sad no longer helping those in need I especially remember sister Nicky. I was a resident in 1990

  11. January 24, 2016

    I was a child living at Providence Row , without family, in the year of 1945 until 1947. i was twelve years old at the time, there were no other children living there permanently. I attended Saint Josephs two roomed school on Gun Street. I was horrified to be living in the dormitory among the woman who attended the place. I wish to thank you for the photo’s of the dormitory i slept in. I have written a book about my childhood in various Catholic institutions, in England Providence Row included. Throughout my life, my two year stay Providence Row haunted me.
    The four nuns running the place at the time, did their best for me.
    The four nuns at the time were….Sister Elizabeth who ran the shelter as well as the school. Sister Oswald my Teacher, Sister Ann who ran the housekeeping side oft he place. And Sister Francis who was in charge of handing out clothes to the poor. I sincerely wish to thank you for the article, seeing the pictures of the dormitory i slept in. Tina Smith

  12. Elizabeth Boyd Franklin permalink
    March 25, 2016

    Elizabeth Boyd
    I feel quite emotional reading everyone comments. I and my three sisters, Norah, Maureen and Rosemarie were taught at St. Josephs by the Sisters of Mercy. I started at nursery in 1965 and left in 1971 and remember the lovely Sister Stephens, Sister Etheldreda and Sister Francis who were so kind and so wonderful to us. Also, Mrs Feeney who was the caretaker at the time and Mrs McGlory who assisted in the classroom and mustn’t forget Mrs Hurley. I do remember the playground and the animal graffiti on the wall. So many happy memories.

  13. Michael O'Brien permalink
    August 3, 2016

    Elizabeth all my siblings attended that school at the same time and left when the school was closing. I remember all those you named. I remember Mrs Feeney and her daughter Ursula. What a great school with great memories. Mrs Hurley Class 4, I remember her bell for silence.

  14. Timothy Healy permalink
    November 20, 2016

    These photographs bring back so many memory’s, I attender St Josephs from 1956 (Nursery) until 1964, the Nuns were fantastic, Sister Elizabeth was quite elderly then, Sister Ursula & then Sister Stephens became headmistress. Mr Kelleher was my class teacher, I adored him, a wonderful man. I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment there, surrounded by caring people.

  15. Dave O'Shea permalink
    March 20, 2017

    Stayed there in PROVIDENCE ROW NIGHT SHELTER with my brother and sisters and Mother, for a short while, back in 1956

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