Society for the Assistance of Ladies in Reduced Circumstances

 (Registered as a Charity in England & Wales No. 205798)

Since 1886 we have provided

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A brief history Work of this Society Miss Smallwood The team



Edith Maria Smallwood was born in York on 4 April 1859, the daughter of Edward Smallwood and his wife Elizabeth Jane (formerly Wright). They had married in Manchester Cathedral on 22 August 1855, and lived in the Bank House of the York City and County Bank’s main office at 13 Parliament Street – the house had a private entrance in Market Street.

In the mid 19th century the banking system was very different from that which we know today. Instead of there being a small number of large banks operating throughout the land there were numerous small local banks. Many in the provinces had only one office and were owned by a single individual or a small partnership of professionals such as solicitors, but the York City and County Bank was a large organisation by the standards of the day – in 1873 it had paid-up capital of £125,000. In 1909 it amalgamated with the London Joint Stock Bank, which itself amalgamated with Midland Bank in 1918. Midland was taken over by HSBC in 1992, and its main York branch is still on the Parliament Street site, albeit in a redeveloped building opened in 1971. Edward and Elizabeth’s first child, Edward Hartley Smallwood, was born on 11 November 1857 but died before reaching his first birthday and Edith grew up in effect as an only child.

Elizabeth died on 22 September 1865 aged 46 and young Edith continued to live at home with her father. He obviously enjoyed a standard of living commensurate with the responsibilities of his position as the Census for 1871 shows that four servants lived in the household - a governess, a nurse maid, a house maid and a cook.

Edward had joined the bank on its creation in 1830, and served as the manager (subsequently styled General Manager) from 1851 until his retirement in 1873 when he was granted a lump sum of £1,250 and a retirement allowance of £500 per annum “during the pleasure of the Board”. He moved to Scarborough where his brother Mark was manager of the local branch of the same bank, and he died there on 2 May 1875 aged 68. In his Will he left Edith an income for life.

Little is known about the next few years. The exact circumstances of the founding of the Society are unclear, but it is evident that Miss Smallwood was a very religious woman and she saw it as her Christian duty to help those less fortunate than herself. The Society’s minutes only go back as far as 1917, but copies of some of the Annual Reports before then still exist, and we know that within 10 years of foundation the annual turnover was in excess of £1,000. The enclosed extract from the one for 1913 gives a short description of the early work of the Society.

In 1886 Miss Smallwood was living in Malvern. The exact location is uncertain; Kelly’s Directory lists her under “private residents” at The Cliff, Malvern Wells in 1884 and at Carlsruhe, Malvern Wells in 1888 but sadly there are no records available for the intervening years. The 1891 Census shows her at The Lees, Malvern with a cook and housemaid, and a blue plaque on the house next door records that in 1889 the newly-married Edward and Alice Elgar were her neighbours.

In 1908 Miss Smallwood moved to London where the Society operated from 192 Lancaster Road, North Kensington. The 1911 Census shows a Mrs Annie Maria Bond as head of the household, in which 3 grown-up children and a young “distant cousin” were also living. This suggests that rooms in this property were being rented for use by the Society as an office. Miss Smallwood was living at 39 Maxilla Gardens, North Kensington with a cook, housemaid and nurse. The Annual Report for 1908 tells us:

On account of my having left Malvern, and come to live in Town, the Society can no longer be worked from my own house as it has been for so many years, I think that it should now bear its own expenses, which will be rent, firing and gas, also the furnishing of the offices. I am asking friends if they will kindly help with these expenses this year by giving 5/- or 2/6. I do not fear being able to meet them in the future. Hitherto, the money spent on wages, etc., has been very small considering the amount of work done and money collected; in future it will be more, as more clerks may be needed to cope with the ever increasing business carried on. I feel sure very few of my kind helpers will refuse to send 5/- or 2/6.

The Society continued to thrive, and the Annual Report for 1910 contained the following:

This year the Society is very proud. It has received a donation of £10 from His Majesty The King, also private gifts of Shawls, etc., from Her Majesty The Queen, and also two presents, one of garments and one of groceries, from Her Majesty's Needlework Guild. Besides these kind gifts His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught sent a donation to a special case. The Society is now under Royal patronage, for Her Royal Highness The Princess Christian not only graciously lent her name for the Bazaar, but has kindly consented to become a permanent patroness of the work in the future.

The following year the King and Queen made further donations, and another of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Her Royal Highness The Princess Henry of Battenberg, also became a patroness.

The story goes that Miss Smallwood was frightened by the Zeppelin airship bombing raids, which may or may not be true, but on 16 October 1916 the Society rented a house in Malvern for use as an office, changing the name from Grindlewald to Lancaster House. The freehold was purchased for £600 on 12 November 1920 and the Society has been there ever since!

For the first 30 years the Society was run entirely by Miss Smallwood, without any formal structure. There were Patrons and Patronesses, often titled people, and “Hon. Local Secretaries” including (1904 – 1927) Mrs Masefield of Ledbury, aunt of John Masefield, the Poet Laureate 1930 – 1967.  Eventually her thoughts turned to its future after her death, and on 2 November 1917 an Order of the Charity Commission formally approved a Scheme for establishing the Society as a registered charity. The Annual Report for 1917 stated:

During last year I took a step of which I hope you will all approve. The Society started, as many of you know, in quite a small way, and I am thankful to say that our work has been so successful that it has for some time past made me wish for more help and supervision in the management. I have felt, too that I ought to make some provision for the future direction of our work in case of my death, or being unable to take so large a part in the management as I have done in the past. So, after consulting my Solicitor, Mr J E Tunnicliffe, application was made to the Charity Commissioner, with the result that they have prepared a Scheme which has been properly established by an Order, and I daresay some of you will have seen the advertisements in the papers about it. Under the Scheme our Committee are to be the Trustees and Managers of the Charity, and the Funds are to be transferred to the Official Trustees of Charitable Funds. I am myself a member of the Committee, and I hope to give my time and work to the Society as I have done for many years. But when the time comes for me to give up my work, I shall be glad to feel there are others ready to carry it on.

Needless to say, Miss Smallwood was one of the four Trustees, and continued to play a leading role until her death. After the war she lived mainly in London, and died there on 20 May 1928. Her obituary in The Times included the following remarks :

For years she was known as a beggar, and one of the most successful beggars of her generation; she was overflowing with generous sympathy herself, and knew how to touch the chord in others……. The society was first and last Edith Smallwood, for her brain conceived it and was its life in the past, whatever its future may be. It would be hard to find any one more simple-minded and self-effacing in matters connected with herself, but more strong of purpose and never tiring in effort.