From 1974 to 2007, I was a frequent visitor to Beauchamp Lodge, the tall, nineteenth century building on the corner of Harrow Road and Warwick Crescent (No. 2).
Settlements are charitable community organisations which either run or house activities, such as Adult Literacy schemes and various projects for young, disabled, or elderly people. There are also facilities for minority groups, often accommodating them until they are established enough to obtain their own premises.
One of the tenants of Beauchamp Lodge in the ’70s and ’80s was an Adult Literacy Scheme. When they moved on they left their bin behind and I snaffled it as a memento. That organisation existed to bring together volunteer teachers and those who wished to learn to read. I don’t think it is still functioning.
The cafe project was one in which a small staff was augmented by trainees who either had mental health problems or special educational needs. One day one of the people on placement who had psychiatric ill health asked me if I’d bought my Lottery ticket. I said I didn’t buy any because I considered I had no chance of winning. Quick as a flash he replied ‘that man who won several million last week wouldn’t have done if he thought he had no chance’. I had to acknowledge the sense of that argument.
Beauchamp Lodge Settlement was set up in 1938 by Diana Marr-Johnson, to alleviate the poverty, loneliness and despair experienced by people caught between the aftermath of the Great Depression and the onset of World War Two.
The building was owned by the Greater London Council until that body was dissolved in 1986 and handed over its property to local Councils. The burden of maintenance then fell on the recipients. In that manner Beauchamp Lodge Settlement received it’s eighteenth century building from Westminster City Council at a peppercorn rent of £1.00 per annum. Eventually, being unable to afford the considerable maintenance, the Committee, through the intervention of Councillor Anne Mallinson, was able to purchase the building, sell it on, and move to a far less imposing property on Harrow Road.
Having joined the Committee in 1974, I soon found myself in the Chair which I occupied for 15 years. Afterwards I rented rooms for my Counselling Practice. One of the many incarnations of the building was as a hostel for young women music students, one of which, in 1908-9 was the famed New Zealand writer, the subject of an April 2013 newspaper article in the Ham & High, subtitled ‘The turbulent love life of a very serious writer’. Who knows? On one of my overnight stays I may have slept in what had been her bedroom.
Sometime in the 1980s Anne Mallinson, who served on this Committee, and was at one time or another Chair or Vice-Chair, was the Mayor of Westminster. Anne was kind enough to invite Jessica and me to one of her mayoral dinners at City Hall. In those days, as part of my marathon training, I ran everywhere, carrying my working clothes in a backpack and diving into any suitable public toilet to clean up and change. Since there are very suitable facilities at City Hall, that was the plan on the evening of the function. Now, my attire for the event was to be formal dress wear which would not have been appropriate for my working day. Jessica was therefore delegated to drive to the City Council headquarters bringing my evening wear for me to change into and I was to meet her there. I arrived in as hot and sticky a condition as was almost everyone on that hot summer’s day, grabbed my box of clothes, and entered the gents in City Hall.
Having had a good wash I then began to dress. Ah! No shoes. They must be in the car. No such luck. Jessica had forgotten them. All I had were my best New Balance running shoes. I wanted to go home.
Nevertheless I decided to brazen it out. During the pre-dinner drinks, when circulating among the guests, I vainly hoped no-one would notice. I found myself in a group with the rather important guest of honour. When his eyes, having strayed to the floor, rapidly looked up and swiftly focussed elsewhere, I said: ‘Congratulations. You’ve spotted the deliberate mistake.’ Of course I then had to tell the story, which turned out to be a most convenient ice-breaker.
Not to be outdone, Jessica managed to cap this. She was placed between two eminent elderly gentlemen. One of them, politely drew back her chair to help her into her place. With her back to this courtesy, therefore being unaware that her seat was no longer where she thought it was, she promptly sat on the floor.