A Knight’s Tale (65: The Peel Institute)

From August 1974, when I produced this photograph of the St Pancras skyline which has now changed considerably, Jessica, Michael, and I lived in a house leased to The Peel Institute, a boys’ club in Lloyd Baker Street in Islington.  It was our home on condition that I performed not very onerous caretaking duties in the clubhouse.  The Lloyd Baker Estate is a very trendy area in which to live.  For us, it was short-term, pending the refurbishment of the very elegant house.  We enjoyed a beautiful garden which I was happy to maintain.

Matthew and Becky enjoyed hanging out from the balcony.

Following a very mild summer, on Christmas Day 1974 I picked a bunch of fresh, vibrant roses.  I still have the colour slide of Jessica’s photograph to prove it.  

Remaining an important community facility, ‘The Peel was founded in 1898 by Sir George Masterman Gillett MP for Finsbury for 14 years. He explained that it was “to supply the young men… with a social centre for recreation, open every evening in the week that the “Peel institute” came into existence”

They met in a Friends’ Meeting house that was previously a woodyard that had manufactured a long wooden instrument called a “Peel” which was used to place bread in huge ovens. The meeting house was commonly known as “The Peel”.

In the first half of the twentieth century The Peel was “a place where the men of the neighbourhood can have a rational evening’s enjoyment without the temptation of the public house” Although influenced by their Quaker faith, there was “an entire absence of thee and thou”. 

In the period between the wars the Peel greatly expanded its work, developing a network of illustrious Vice-Presidents and supporters and greatly expanding the number and range of activities. 

In 1936 it was said that “in any one week no less than 1,000 families are connected with the Institute, using one or other of its buildings or the Playing Field”

In 1940 the Institute’s headquarters and other buildings around the old courtyard were demolished by enemy action.

The 1952 annual report states that “there is little sign of poverty, young people, both boys and girls, are sturdy in physique well dressed and confident. Most of them read though they seldom write… they earn wages which their fathers, let alone their grandfathers, never dreamed of. The immense housing programme of the local authorities, largely on cleared bomb sites, has totally changed the housing conditions of the people. Nearly every home now has a wireless set, some have television… in spite of the abolition of poverty and the spread of education, men and women of to-day reflect so little on the meaning of life… it is clear that the need for the work and influence of Peel is as great now, for different reasons, as it was half a century ago – or greater, since the new reasons are more vitally important than some of the old ones, as the spirit is more important than the body”

A ‘Peel Old Boys’ club’ was launched which undertook activities such as “gymnastic classes three times per week, 2 football teams, fortnightly whist drives, indoor games, holidays” and in 1958 they established an Old Age Pensioners’ Club

In 1977, the Day centre was opened, running from 10am-4pm Monday to Friday with lunches served and activities e.g. bingo and films, outings. The youth club operated 5 evenings per week. There were 2 clubs; junior and senior. Juniors undertook activities such as “candlemaking badge making, painting and discos” while seniors “more sports orientated” especially football.

The Peel was recognised by a visit from Princess Diana in 1986.

One report states that the neighbourhood has “housing is of a low standard, employment prospects offer few opportunities for personal growth and status. The Kings Cross ‘culture’ presents issues and attractions towards prostitution, drugs, crime and violence”

In 1996 The Peel Centre at Percy Circus opened with areas for day centre and youth club. It was said that “the new centre will provide safe playing space in the Clerkenwell and Kings Cross area for young people of all ages”. 

In accordance with the Peel’s plan to “reboot” the charity financially, the Peel Centre was disposed of 2016 in order to release substantial capital funds. The Peel moved its base of operations into the 3 Corners Centre in December 2016 and has adopted a ‘satellite’ model of delivery more appropriate to current and foreseeable needs.’ (https://www.peelinstitute.org.uk/our-history)

We learned later that the second husband of Jessica’s Aunt Elspeth had previously taken parties of boys from the club to climb Snowdon from his cottage in the foothills. My one outing there will follow later.


  1. Your life has taken an interesting turn. Your watch strap intrigued me for my husband wore a similar one during those times.

  2. Fresh roses on Christmas Day! That is a very nice photo of you, Derrick, and the children are adorable. I remember that period in history over here, the hairstyles and clothing of the day. That photo was a bit of time travel for me.

    I enjoyed reading the history of The Peel, and of the area, too. You have led an amazing life, rich in experiences and memories.

  3. The photo of Matthew and Becky is adorable! I showed my husband the photo of you, and he wants to know what instrument you played in the band. ? The Peel has a fascinating history. ( I have a pizza/bread peel.)

    1. OMG I love that photo of you, Derrick! You look like George Harrison! The kids are adorable, too. <3 Such an interesting history of "The Peel". I guess your social work connections enabled you to find these interesting accommodations?

  4. I, too, can’t resist commenting on your hip appearance. Those were the days! 😉 Interesting the way Peel House changed through the decades as well as the people it served. The neighborhood seems to have had its ups and downs, with its golden age being in 1952. What happened, I wonder?

  5. Interesting information about Peel House – I found the early post-war description of its usefulness particularly interesting. But that hippie photo of you takes the cake!

  6. I enjoyed reading the history of The Peel Institute. But Holy ’70s Hair, Batman! Where’s Derrick under all that hair? It reminds me of several years when the only parts of my brother’s face I could see were his glasses and the tip of his nose.

  7. Love the smiles in that first photo! 🙂
    Right on! You were rockin’ the ’70’s with your groovy, rad, far-out hair!!! 😀
    Such beautiful roses! 🙂
    I enjoyed the history you shared about The Peel Institute!

  8. The Peel Center sounds like a wonderful institution that provided a real service. Hard to imagine you as the hairy gent in the picture–flowers are lovely. Everyone looks happy and healthy.

  9. Now I don’t think you looked like a hippy at all. You had the longer hair but not too long and very modern look of the 70s that I remember so well.

    You lived in some interesting places too.

  10. Matthew and Becky look adorable. Wow! You could have been a rock star, Derrick! What a great photo. I think I had an album cover that looked quite similar. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  11. The moment that picture of you popped up the words Tea for The Tillerman leapt into my mind. Had to follow that thought through to realise the similarity to the 1970s Cat Stevens, although there is zip similarity now. Just goes to show how much facial features are hidden by a full head of hair.
    You had some very interesting housing opportunities drop in your lap. I guess the availability became known through your workplace, and of course, you had to be prepared to your bit.
    The Peel sounds a very interesting community space.

  12. My heavens. In January, 1975, I was happily ensconced at the Highbury Centre in Islington: 20-26 Aberdeen Park, to be specific. If you’d made a quick run up the A1 we could have had tea! Each year I worked in Liberia, we were granted a month’s vacation around Christmas; we could fly either to London or Frankfurt, and return from either place. A German mining company flew relatives to Liberia for a month at the mines with their families, so rather than dead-heading back and forth, they offered cheap fares to expats who wanted to take advantage.

    That year, I started in London and spent about ten days before heading off to Dover, France, and etc. That was the year I ended up sleeping on a bench in the Frankfurt airport because of a blizzard that delayed our flight. What memories! I’ll tell you this: in those days the Highbury Centre was pretty basic. I’ve never been so cold in my life — putting coins in a little heater after coming from West Africa didn’t do the trick. The only way I ever got warm was to soak in the hottest bath I could draw in the communal cast iron tub!

    But I had a marvelous time, exploring that area, and farther afield. I think my favorite memories are of Christopher Wren’s parish churches. I got intrigued, and visited as many as I could. The next year, I was able to attend the musical Ipi Tombi at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End. Those were the days, my friend!

      1. Derrick, that’s absolutely wonderful. I’ve already watched it three times, and saved it, of course. At one time I had that very album, but it disappeared somewhere along the line. I had looked for it in the distant past, but couldn’t find it. As online offerings have expanded, sometimes things pop up again, as this did. Many, many thanks!

  13. It was so much fun to see the old photo of you. I remember that look well having graduated high school in 1974. The facial hair suggests a tough guy, but the roses, and kind eyes tell the truth – tough maybe, but kind and thoughtful. Reading about the Peel institute was a treat as well.

  14. What a photograph. Now I know where I’ve seen you all those years ago! “Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Derrick and Tich.”. All those hits….”The Legend of Xanadu” “Bend It!”, “Zabadak!” and “Last Night in Soho”. Wow!

  15. What an interesting story about The Peel Institute, Derrick. And I agree with the other commenters you look like a rock star!

  16. That is the BEST photo!! It’s so 1974 I had to laugh. My first thought was that you looked like Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. That shirt, your watch, the roses, oh goodness. Everything is perfect in that photo.

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