Heritage: The Wimbledon Guild Celebrates 106th birthday
On this day exactly 106 years ago in 1907, a local newspaper reported the first ever meeting of the Wimbledon Guild of Help at the Lecture Hall in Wimbledon Village.
A large crowd had gathered representing charities, churches, the local authority and other civil institutions, and the meeting, chaired by the Mayor, Cllr Collier, was also attended by “a large number of uphill residents who appeared greatly interested in the proceedings”, according to the Wimbledon Borough News.
Britain had to undergo two world wars before the establishment of the welfare state 40 years later.
Back in 1907, support for the poorest in the community largely depended on various charities throughout the country and no single organisation existed to distribute grants to the needy.
Wimbledon’s previous Mayor, Sir Arthur Holland, and his wife Barbara had proposed that such a body be set up in the local area as was already happening elsewhere in the country under the Guild of Help banner.
So when the Wimbledon Guild of Help was born with Sir Arthur as its first president, it was one of 25 guilds nationwide. Ten years later there would be 83 of them in all.
The Hollands lived in Holmhurst, a large house in Copse Hill, and after Sir Arthur died in 1928, Barbara passed their large garden to the local authority, opening it as Holland Gardens, the public park, shortly afterwards.
Their house would later be taken over by the Wimbledon Guild and run as a home for the elderly until 1973.
Chief Executive Wendy Pridmore and Merton’s Mayor, Councillor Krystal Miller, celebrated the opening of The Wimbledon Guild Cafe with customers, friends and volunteers on 22 October 2013
But back in 1907 the new Wimbledon Guild formally committed itself to supporting anyone in the community in need of advice on self-help and the means to ensure a reasonable quality of life. Particular emphasis was laid on avoiding the breakup of homes as far as practicable. Voluntary workers were organised into formal groups with responsibility for a set number of needy families.
It worked immediately. In its first six months the strictly non-political and non-sectarian guild’s 120 caseworkers visited 311 cases, two-thirds of them carried over for further attention.
As well as providing small loans to those desperately in need, they also gave larger sums to help people set up their own businesses. In time a department would also emerge to provide legal advice.
At the end of World War One in 1918, the organisation became the Wimbledon Guild of Social Welfare with the Mayor as president and the Vicar of St Mary’s the chairman, a tradition that would continue right up to 2003 for the presidency and to 1973 for the chairmanship.
As society changed, the Wimbledon Guild’s priorities also moved on and it became primarily an organisation assisting the elderly and infirm with care and day centres, meals on wheels, chiropody and other services.
Today the Wimbledon Guild is one of a handful of local welfare charities nationwide tracing their origins to the original Guild of Help movement.
However it is unique in remaining financially independent of government while also both delivering services to the local community and providing grants for self-help. Other guilds concentrate on one or the other of these roles.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.