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Stepney Old People’s Welfare Association

September 9, 2020
by the gentle author

Roger Preece, Master of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine invited me to Limehouse recently to explore the archives, where I found this wonderful album of photographs documenting the activities of the Stepney Old People’s Welfare Association from the decades after the war.

The Welfare Association was the enlightened brainchild of John Groser, Master of the Foundation from 1947. For its first fifteen years, the Association was run from the Foundation and these photographs date from that era. As well as social events, the Association offered a meals on wheels service and home visits, developing a pattern that was widely adopted by other similar organisations across the country. It continues today as Tower Hamlets Friends & Neighbours.

An Australian by birth, Groser was appointed curate in Poplar in 1922 but dismissed in 1927 for his left-wing views, before moving to Christ Church, Watney St, where he also served as President of the Stepney Tenants’ Defence League. He stayed in the East End for his whole working life and his progressive initiatives at St Katharine’s were the natural outcome of his beliefs as a Christian and a Socialist.

There is so much joy in these glorious pictures, which acquire a certain poignancy when you realise that these people were born in the nineteenth century, lived through two world wars and the blitz in the East End. The fortitude in their faces is tangible as is their desire to have a good time, whether a card game, a dressing up contest or an egg and spoon race. These were years of austerity but they all have pride in their appearance in warm coats and hats, tailored suits and flowery dresses. Their physical expressions of affection and delight in collective activities speak eloquently of a strong sense of community forged through hard times.

Celebrating the Coronation

A beano


Caretaker at St Katharine

Queen Mother intervenes in a game of bridge

Queen Mother visits St Katharine’s Chapel

Dressing up contest

Morris dancing

Egg and spoon race

Speech by the Mayoress

Recipient of a bouquet

High jinks at St Katharine’s

Father John Groser

The Royal Foundation of St Katharine and the Yurt Cafe continue to serve local needs through the Limehouse Aid voluntary network, the foodbank and providing space and retreats for community groups and individuals.

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. September 9, 2020

    Lovely and heartwarming Story and Pictures. And the Queen Mother — I saw her in 1982 at Crathie Church near Balmoral Castle and during the Highland Games in Braemar. Memories…!

    Love & Peace

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    September 9, 2020

    Fabulous evocative photos and I will have a longer look at them later to play the guess the name game – Ethel? Gladys? Queenie? Vi? Bert? Horace? Ron? Bill? Stan?

  3. Susan permalink
    September 9, 2020

    Having been born (in 1950) and raised in Canada, I must confess I knew little about the Blitz – until today. While watching Dean Roberts online, doing Morning Prayer at Canterbury Cathedral, he mentioned that the Blitz started on September 7, 1940 and went on for 57 nights…. 57 NIGHTS. I had no idea. I cannot begin to imagine the fortitude it took to endure 57 continuous nights of bombing. Those of us who grew up in countries that have not experienced war within their own country really have no clue.

    I also thought about how these folks were ALLOWED to be old. It was OK then not to dye your hair or fail to exercise 4 days a week or just be wrinkled and overweight. I kind of envy them. (Mind you, we do live longer now. There is that.)

  4. September 9, 2020

    how lovely…. I am rather impressed by the lady who could do the egg and spoon race while carrying her handbag.

  5. Bonny Young permalink
    September 9, 2020

    Thank you for publishing these lovely photographs. I think I’ve spotted my grandmother in audience picture.

  6. paul loften permalink
    September 9, 2020

    What a wonderful story that galvanizes the spirit of altrusim. I hope young people are diverted from looking at their empty glasses outside the pub for long enough to read this story. Life is not always an easy ride.

  7. September 9, 2020

    What wonderful pictures. I was born September 1940. People had to endure so much hardship but they always managed to smile.

  8. September 9, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, welcome back from your holiday. What great pics of these “seniors” (as we might call them today) from the Royal Foundation of St. Katherine from after WWII. They certainly knew how to appreciate what they had.

    Well said – “Their physical expressions of affection and delight in collective activities speak eloquently of a strong sense of community forged through hard times.”

  9. Claire D permalink
    September 9, 2020

    Such heart-warming pictures, I remember this generation well, they were very special.

    “Queen Mother intervenes in a game of bridge”, brilliant, made me laugh, thank you.

  10. Richard Smith permalink
    September 9, 2020

    Like the other person above I love the lady doing the egg and spoon race whilst carrying her hand bag. Beautiful pictures!

  11. September 9, 2020

    Absolutely wonderful photos that have captured the spirit and essence of those days in the East End.
    So familiar……yet so far away now.
    That amazing, stoic generation still smiling after everything most of them had endured during the dark days of the Blitz. I salute them all.

  12. Gillian Tindall permalink
    September 9, 2020

    As I have written before for SpitalfieldsLife, I was lucky enough to come in for what were the last years of the old East End, early 1960s, when the ill-advised efforts to move East Enders to faraway places such as Stevenage were not yet complete and many of the old streets of small, liveable houses round Wapping and Stepney Green were still standing. Nearly all the old people I met through the Old People’s Welfare Association had birth-dates in the 1880s and some even in the 1870s – how I would like to have them back to talk to now, even for one afternoon! And I recall several old ladies in Southern Grove – near Tower Hamlets Cemetery which was still in use – who were widows of the First World War. I remember finding a `new’ suit for one old chap; he was very pleased because it was a 3-piece one, with a waist-coat. A resilient generation.

  13. Kelly Holman permalink
    September 10, 2020

    Such a lovely collection of pictures, thank you. I would add that not only did that marvellous woman compete in the egg and spoon race whilst carrying her handbag, she posed very fetchingly for the camera too.
    Although women predominate in the photos, I was struck by the number of men participating in outings etc. It seems harder to reach older men and include them these days, I think. Certainly our local day centre is attended uniquely by women. I wonder what the secret was?

  14. September 11, 2020

    What Amazingly Heartful Pictures of these Senoirs. They looked Happy and having a wonderful time. ???????

  15. September 11, 2020

    Amazing images. They’ve left me with a warm feeling inside. I was born in the late 40s, and although we didn’t have a lot – there wasn’t much in the shops even if you did have spare money – we grew up in a wonderful community in London where everybody looked out for each other. I treasure that, and it’s how I try to treat my neighbours to this day – WHEN I actually see them!

  16. Ramesh p permalink
    May 4, 2021

    Nice images , we are from india I want to help

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