Words per Minute(s)

A slight twist to the office phrase seems appropriate here since many with a wpm qualification no doubt took minutes in their working lives and then typed them up. A piece of transactional writing recording what happened, minutes are important documents but not something one settles down to with a nice cup of tea and a biccy hoping to be entertained. However, when those minutes refer to meetings eighty or so years ago and they are read against the grain (i.e. ignore the dominant reading of a text and look for alternative meaning), they take on a new life force. The minutes in question are those of the Old Masonic Girls’ Association AGMs and by focusing only on the venues of the meetings, they give us a history lesson they weren’t intended to do.

The Association called OMGA came into existence on Primrose Day (19th April) 1912 and continued uninterrupted until 2019 when it became absorbed into an Alumnae Association. What happened to the minutes of the meetings before 1936 is not known. They may yet be uncovered in a dusty attic buried deep inside an old tea chest – who knows? But those from 1936 to 1984, stuck into two ledgers (but occasionally handwritten) have come into the School Archives recently. The minutiae within is formulaic – as minutes are – but as snapshots of where this group was at any given time, they have an unintended novelty.

In 1936, the AGM was at the YWCA Central Club W1 and began by confirming that it would use the same venue the following year, the cost for 1937 being 2gns, with 10/6 charge if a piano was required (it wasn’t). Light refreshments were available at 1/3d per head.

Standing in Great Russell St, and now a hotel following sympathetic renovations in 1998, the building was designed by Edwin Lutyens between 1928 and 1932, so it would have still been very new in 1936 for the AGM.

Images from https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

In 1923 a campaign to provide financial backing for a London base for the YWCA had been started.

‘The city was supportive towards the cause; buses and shop windows carried slogans – “London, stand by your girls” – appealing for the public to support the YWCA’s campaign.’ https://www.doylecollection.com/blog/revisiting-lutyens-architecture-in-london

It was built in neo-Gothic style and its interior had many Lutyens’ touches such as the ‘designed chairs and tables – recreated by his granddaughters’ company’ (ibid)

This image from the modern hotel website shows a chair of very individual style and, as the hotel were at pains to restore as much of the original as possible, it seems possible that this is an original Lutyens’ chair (or a reproduction thereof at the very least).

One interesting element of the original which has overtones of the School on its Clapham site is that

‘A heavy step on the floor of one of the modern hotel’s meeting suites reveals something surprising: it’s hollow! Where you might expect foundations, there’s space.’ (ibid)

This is the original swimming-pool opened by the Duchess of Kent in 1939 and, like the swimming pool at Clapham, it could be covered over in winter so that the space could be otherwise used. In Clapham’s case as a gymnasium. The same hollow sound is recalled by pupils whilst exercising!

 

‘Known as the Central Club, it continued to operate through the war when the gymnasium was used as an air-raid shelter and the emptied swimming pool was used as a place for people to sleep.https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1930/bloomsburyhotel.html

The building was deliberately placed in a central location to be available both to Londoners and women arriving in London for the first time and it was designed as a meeting ground for women of different nationalities and occupations. So it is singularly appropriate that it should have been used for the AGM of a girls’ school association whose pupils hailed from all over the world.

For one year only (1939), the AGM took place at the Cavendish Café, 93 Wimpole St as ‘it was not possible to obtain a room at the YWCA’ (committee meeting minutes, October 1938). Wimpole St, named after Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, is in Marylebone and was originally part of the estate of the Harley family. 93 Wimpole St is now occupied by a gents’ shoe shop and a gents’ barbers (‘a quality barbers without the fuss’ as they describe themselves) and there is no sign of the Cavendish Café, although there is a modern day street café at No 92.

Historical residents of note in Wimpole St include Arthur Conan Doyle, whose ophthalmic practice was there, and Elizabeth Barrett who eloped from No 50 with fellow poet Robert Browning. Fictional residents include Mr & Mrs Rushworth (Mansfield Park) and Professor Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady/Pygmalion). Virginia Woolf describes Wimpole Street in Flush: A Biography, as:

“… the most august of London streets, the most impersonal. Indeed, when the world seems tumbling to ruin, and civilisation rocks on its foundations, one has only to go to Wimpole Street…” (Wikipedia)

And go to Wimpole St the OMGA did – albeit only once. By the following year the AGM had returned to the YWCA and between 1940 and 1947, the AGM was either there or at the School but in 1948 we can resume the history lessons as the 37th AGM took place at Crosby Hall, Cheyne Walk. Now we’re really talking history as Crosby Place was built in Bishopsgate in 1466 by the wool merchant Sir John Crosby. It moved to Cheyne Walk in 1910.

‘This is the only example of a mediaeval City merchant house which survives in London, albeit fragmentary and not on its original site.’ https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1358160

By Edwardx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28357919

By 1483, the Duke of Gloucester, aka Richard III, had acquired the Bishopsgate property. Notable residents include Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, More’s son-in-law, William Roper, and Sir Walter Raleigh. From 1621 it was the home of the East India Company but the Great Fire destroyed much of it and another fire six years later finished the job, with only the Great Hall and Parlour wing of the mansion surviving.

After 1672, and for almost a century, it was a nonconformists’ meeting house, then the Post Office head office before it reverted to the East India Company again. In 1868 it was turned into a sumptuous restaurant and bar. Then finally –

‘It was sold in April 1907 for £175,000 to the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China whose directors intended to pull down one of the most ancient buildings in the City of London and build a new bank building in its stead. Its impending destruction aroused a storm of protest, and a campaign was started to save it.’ (Goss, Charles William Frederick (1908), Crosby Hall, a chapter in the history of London.)

As the result of various negotiations, the Bank had the architectural features numbered and stored, and later handed over all the bits to the London County Council. In 1910, the medieval structure was moved stone by stone to Cheyne Walk and this included the magnificent oriel window, shown here from the exterior and the interior.

On the right is a drawing made by J S Ogilvy for his book Relics and Memorials of London City, published in 1910. He must have been a bit cross when he realised that his book, containing 64 beautifully executed drawings, was immediately out of date! The interior shot is from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/.

Crosby Hall is now a private residence and has been undergoing restoration since at least 2008 with an estimated 3 further years remaining as of 2019.

Image of the Great Hall from https://www.christophermoran.org/news/crosby-hall-the-most-important-surviving-domestic-medieval-building-in-london/

The OMGA AGMs were at Crosby Hall until 1953 when they moved again. This time it was to The Holme, Bedford College for Women, one of the buildings used by the College after their own buildings were extensively damaged in the Blitz.

‘Situated in the Inner Circle, it housed the Departments of English, Classics and Italian, while the second floor became an extension of the College Residence.’ From https://aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=878&inst_id=11&nv1=browse&nv2=person

After eleven years of using The Holme, the AGM moved to Dartmouth House, home of the English Speaking Union, in Charles St, Mayfair.

Charles St itself has at least 25 listed buildings of which one is Dartmouth House, listed Grade II*. Described by https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk as a ‘grand town mansion’ it was bought by the ESU in 1926 and underwent ‘minor alterations’ by Clough Williams-Ellis to convert the building into the English Speaking Union. Although Ellis’ architectural portfolio is extensive, he is perhaps most famous as the creator of the Italianate village of Portmeirion in North Wales where The Prisoner was filmed.

Images from https://portmeirion.wales/ (left, the piazza and, right, Clough Williams-Ellis)

In 1964, Herringham Hall was used for the AGM. This, like The Holme, was a building which was part of Bedford College. Built 1948-1951 as a new arts building, it was named for Christiana Herringham, an influential figure within the women’s suffrage movement in the UK.

By 1975 it was on to another new building, the American School in Loudoun Rd.

‘ASL was founded in 1951 by Stephen L. Eckard, an American journalist and former teacher living in London. Mr. Eckard was … encouraged him to start a school that followed an American curriculum. The School began with 13 students, and all classes took place in his Knightsbridge flat.’ (https://www.asl.org/about/history)

However, the AGM was not in a Knightsbridge flat but in the ASL’s new building in St John’s Wood.

The school was the venue between 1975 and 1984 and then, there being no further business, as minutes are wont to state, the ledgers come to an end. There is even a little history lesson in the names of those signing off the minutes, including the fleeting appearance of Mary Calway who was Headmistress for such a brief time.

Who knew that minutes could be so interesting?