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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.


Memorial plaque to the opening of Providence Row in 1860

The yard where Roman skeletal remains were excavated

Looking towards the City of London


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

33 Responses leave one →
  1. October 3, 2013


  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…

  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

  16. Elizabeth Boyd (Franklin) permalink
    September 2, 2017

    What a wonderful place. So much love and so much compassion. 50 years on and my memories of St. Josephs are so strong, loved it so much. Fond memories of Sister Stephens, so strict but so soft, Sister Etheldreda , Mrs McGlory, Mrs Hurley and a Canadian teacher Ms. Robella who would take us to Victoria Park one afternoon a week for our game of basket ball or maybe it was rounders. Mustn’t forget Peter Wilson our swimming instructor who taught us well.

    Do remember Michael O’Brien, James and Carol, also John and Teresa Considine, Francis Yallop and Mildred and Paul. Rosemarie Hanigan,, Stephen Mitsfud and so many more . Mustn’t forget Mrs Feeney and of course her daughter Ursula. Had so much fun in the playground while waiting for our time for lunch. Looking at picture of the ladies dormitories and am thinking that would have been our assembly hall/Wednesday morning Mass with a German priest from St Mary Moorefields Church

    Ross Butt, do remember the flat your father would have had as caretaker, I think Mrs Feeney must have followed on after.

    Great times!!!!!

  17. Gina Kirchner permalink
    September 18, 2017

    I attended St. Josephs until it closed, then I went off to St Anne’s.
    I remember all the teachers and Nuns mentioned above.
    Does anyone remember me, Italian girl , Gina Tammaro, I use to dance a lot lol.
    My parents use to help run a Jewish Deli called Marks in Petticoat lane.

  18. January 5, 2018

    After a near fatal attack on me in 1990, Providence Row staff came to my rescue, providing me with shelter, food, a warm clean bed, but more importantly and most memorably, compassion and friendly support. It’s a crying shame such a memory has now been demolished in the name of commercial progress.

  19. Lou Pini permalink
    April 6, 2018

    Such memories stirred by Frank HADLEY and Ros Butt, I too was at St Josephs primary 1950-1960, recall Sisters Elizabth, Ursula and Gonzaga. Awesome teachers and strict discipline! I remember the playground between the two buildings. One day the bell rang early and we were told to go home early, we asked why and the teacher told us with tears in her eyes, because the King has died.
    We moved to North London in early 60s but so many memories of the area.

  20. Tony Brady permalink
    June 18, 2018


    I was the Welfare Administrator in Providence (Row) Night Refuge & Home
    50 CRISPIN STREET, SPITALFIELDS, London E. I from June 1973 -1979.

    In 2018 published my quartet of books under the heading:
    SCENES FROM AN EXAMINED LIFE viz: – Of What is Past – Blaisdon Made Me – Near and Dear To Someone – Nothing Matches but It’s Home. by Anthony J M Brady
    The last mentioned book reviews my 25 career working in Providence Row and varied areas of on and off street aspects of homelessness.

    I failed in my goal to ensure the continuance of the Refuge into The Millenium, but evidence of my commitment to resolving age old problems of homeless with new solutions, exists in my foundation work with the Single Homeless Housing Project and Greenwich EMMAUS. Not least in my books.

    Anthony J M Brady Micro Biography. Farming. Nursing. Homelessness.
    In 1939 conceived in Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. My unmarried mother fled community shaming to England. In January 1940 I was born in Romford, Essex. A foundling: cared for in Middlesex Roman Catholic orphanages until 12. Sent to Salesian Society, Blaisdon Hall residential trades-training school in Gloucestershire: I sewed, darned, knitted, repaired my clothes.
    Farming: At 15, employed as a pig man on the school’s 500 acre arable farm. When aged 21, I moved to Belgium to work and live in a Sanatorium, caring for terminally TB afflicted concentration camp survivors. I studied in Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, obtaining a basic medical qualification for use in the former Belgian Congo. I was refused a visa by the Congolese regime and returned to the UK in late 1962.
    Nursing: I left nursing in London Hospitals and St. Joseph’s Hospice, Hackney. Recruited to Civil Service in 1968, Posted in Social Security for 3 years: Hackney, Clapton, Stoke-Newington.
    Homelessness: 8 years in charge of Providence (Row) – London’s oldest night refuge for men and women. Historical Note: 2 victims of Jack The Ripper – Catherine Eddowes & Elizabeth Stride were known to slept there the night before being murdered. In 1973 I assisted the research of the author Stephen Knight’s best seller book: Jack The Ripper – The Final Solution.
    In Paisley, Scotland I completed a sabbatical year qualification in drugs and alcohol abuse. My career path from 1980, for the next 15 years, was as a combined Housing/Social Worker with London Boro. Camden, retiring as a Resettlement Team Manager in 1994. I moved to Co. Fermanagh in Dec. 1998.
    I have headed up a number of Charities: EMMAUS-Greenwich; Home-Start Lakeland; FACT-Barnlee (Residential care of 26 Learning Disabled men & women). Former (3 years) Chair of the charity Fermanagh Writers. Member since 2012. I am also a stakeholder in an artist’s collective called Collage in The Buttermarket, Enniskillen.

    Resident now in Ravensburg, Bavaria since November 2017.

    Prose: Castle Coole – Millenium Evocations – A tour in verse. Jointly
    produced with The National Trust. Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh. 2010.
    Author of – Scenes From An Examined Life – a quartet of memoir books published by

    Poetry: In 2018 produced – Homage to A Teacher – Selected Poems. Book 1 & 2.

  21. Millie Yallop permalink
    June 23, 2018

    Hi all,
    I was a student at St.Josephs until it closed and I went to St. Annes. I was always one of the first pupils to arrive at school with my siblings Frances and Paul Yallop. We used to be dropped off by my mum, Kathleen Yallop, on her way to work in Threadneedle St. We would be given an old threepenny bit and go to Jack’s sweetshop then in to school to play football. My job was to stand by the goal and kick the ball in as I was useless at sports! I was very scared of Sister Stephens but Sister Etheldreda was lovely and went on to St. Annes with us. I remember the playground and also the underground playground where we played if it was raining. I remember being bitten by an alsation dog in the underground playground ( the caretaker’s dog I think?) . I remember the Boyd family well as my mum and Joan Boyd often went out together and Rosie Boyd used to come to play with me. I had a great teacher in Reception class but it was very strict and old fashioned. I did love queuing up for school dinners and the whole line would cheer on Friday if it was fish fingers! I have been back to visit the school and seen the facade which has been kept. I was amazed at how much I hadn’t noticed as a child and how short the walk down Artillery Lane is when it seemed so long back then.
    Best wishes to all the pupils of St. Josephs , hope the years have been kind to you.
    Millie Yallop

  22. Alley Alabaster permalink
    July 27, 2018

    I lived at the refuge 1993-1994 and was one of the last residents to move out when it closed down.It was a tough place to live with cockroaches and minimal personal space but it was a safer place than on the streets and we were well supported by the staff and the sisters.It was one of the worst periods in my life yet I have some fond memories of my time there

  23. Rosie Boyd permalink
    December 30, 2018

    Hi Millie
    Lovely to know you remember us Boyds

  24. Gina Said (Now Humphriss) permalink
    March 3, 2019

    So many happy memories! I was at St Josephs around 1965 to about 1968, with my older brother David Said.
    I was great friends with Ursula, the caretaker’s daughter and remember sneaking up to her flat for beans on toast or snacks before we had the school lunch!
    I remember all the names mentioned and my teacher was Mrs Adams. She was so lovely and taught us to sing Kumbaya – she had recently returned from Australia.
    All these memories were triggered by Call The Midwife for some reason!
    I’d love to hear other reminiscences and whether anyone remembers me. (I was always in trouble with the sisters!)

  25. April 15, 2019

    Went to st.Joseph’s from1960till1967 with my sisters,nuns rapped us on hands if we were cheekyor didn’t know our timetables,loved playing football in that play ground with animals painted on wall.remember holy communion there and confirmation.teachers ms curran,sister Stephen,old pupils,the oreillys dermot Burke,Peter Thomas,we were always playing and fighting together happy memories,John Murphy now living in Ireland

  26. Ruth permalink
    May 1, 2019

    I stayed at the refuge with my mum Rose and sister Penny in about 1971 as we were homeless after my Dad left the Army. I think there was a nun called Sister Collette but I could be wrong as I was very young.
    Apparently they had flats/rooms next door (‘Something’ House)but I can’t remember the name of them.
    We used to have to be out in the day and my mum used to tell me about how she would chat to the local street people and listen to their life-stories.
    One of the best things my mum taught me was ‘There but for the grace of God’…. you never know what is around the corner and I try to not judge people harshly or take things for granted.
    Sorry for my ramblings.

  27. Pat Smithson permalink
    July 6, 2019

    Hello. My mum, Kathleen Boyer, used to go to St Joseph’s School until 1939, I think. She lived in Gladstone Buildings Willow Place. She loved it at St Joseph’s but left to go to St Vincent’s Continuation School in Victoria. She spoke of Nellie, Michael and Eileen as being her friends in those years. She was fond of Sister Mary Edith and Sister Margaret, the latter knitted me a toy duck when I was born. My grandmother, Margaret Boyer, knew people who lived in the Women’s hostel. My mother died in 2008 and my grandmother died in 1973. I would love to hear from anyone who knew my mum or grandmother or their friends.

  28. Jean cohen. permalink
    September 9, 2019

    I attend st,joseph. During the war. Friends were Eileen and her sister Maureen. There dad was a polocemen. Wonder if they remember me. Nuns were so kind to me

  29. Millie McGee was Millie Yallop permalink
    February 1, 2020

    Hi Rosie,
    I remember you and all your family very well, your mum was always very kind to me and our mums had some good times together!
    Hope you and your family are keeping well. My mum passed away in 2014 but we are all well.
    All those memories seem like yesterday, must be growing old.
    The photos here are so sad , I don’t think the youngest children at St Josephs realised how difficult life was in the shelter so close to our school.
    Millie X

  30. February 4, 2020

    Great stories about the Hostel & School. We came from Ireland in 1958 & had nowhere to stay & ended up in the Convent with Sister Elizabeth. A great Nun & a brilliant Woman. Myself & my brothers ended up in the school. St. Joseph’s where Sister Gonzaga introduced me to books. I cant forget listeneing a read to us as a class’ That was me sold on books & what pleasures they held. Great school. I remember some Hadleys I cant recall Frank but was there a Derek, Ronald or David? We ended up living in Folgate Street the other side of Market famous now for No. 18. It wasnt very nice when we were there. But great memories.

  31. Rachel Benet permalink
    May 29, 2020

    Hiya’ I was wondering if anyone could remember my grandparents and my mum around 1968/70. My Nan was from Leicester and grandad Irish, they worked there, my mum attended the school next door. Surname Ferron? Thank you

  32. December 28, 2020

    Hello Gina Kirchner, I remember your brother very well, played football with him in a yard off petticoat lane, I remember marks deli on the corner too, I think he worked in there. I remember the Boyd girls too. I remember the name Millie vaguely, but I remember your brother and sister Frances and Paul, I hope you are all well, sorry to hear about your mum, I was in your house in Whiston road a couple of times and remember her being lovely. Other pupils I remember were the power family and the Corrigan family and Dennis Leonard and a couple of Italian boys named Bruno and Setefano. Also a mixed race boy named enrico Charles, me and Alan Murray another saint Joseph pupil took him to his first spurs game. In class two I remember a big tall blonde teacher called mr Ingram, he taught us the English version of the Welsh National anthem, which I can still remember now long after I’ve forgotten how to find the area of a circle Martin McNicholas. Left in 1971

  33. Timothy Healy permalink
    December 9, 2021

    After reading all the comments and memories I can honestly say it must have been one of the most loved schools ever.
    it was a privalidge to have attended there from 1956- 1964.
    My older sisters Sheila and Patricia Healy attended before me during WW2.

    Tim Healy

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