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Stepney Old People’s Welfare Association

May 14, 2024
by the gentle author



Roger Preece, Master of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine invited me to Limehouse 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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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Greg T permalink
    May 14, 2024

    A Bedford “Dormobile” van (!)
    Ghastly things, rubber in the steering & 3-speed column gearchange, that – sometimes – worked.
    I had to drive one, just the once – never again, thank goodness….

  2. May 14, 2024

    Lovely photograph of the Father at the end. Long may the good work of the Foundation continue.

    The people in these photos are of my grandmother’s generation. They were a doughty lot, who endured a great deal: two world wars, the Great Depression. They also saw the setting up of the welfare state, which transformed their lives through access to universal medical, as shown in the photograph of the gentleman undergoing podiatry treatment.

  3. Mark permalink
    May 14, 2024

    Old People’s Welfare Ass. Ho ho.
    The fashion’s, the fashion’s!
    Interesting snaps. The working class finally reaping the benefits of Socialistic policies, even Churchill couldn’t reverse.

  4. Saba permalink
    May 14, 2024

    How lovely to see all these smiling faces! You are right that everyone is nicely dressed which I see as an indication of pride and contentment. Thank you.

  5. Cherub permalink
    May 15, 2024

    People didn’t expect so much from life back then, but they all look so happy, lovely to see.

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