Friday 23 April 2010

Limehouse Sailors' Palace

Passmore Edwards was a nineteenth-century philanthropist, evidence of whose work still survives in the East End. Half of the Whitechapel Art Gallery facade still bears the name 'Passmore Edwards Library'. Further east in Limehouse is the Passmore Edwards Sailors' Palace, built in 1901 as the headquarters of the British & Foreign Sailors' Society. An inscription above the door still records the fact, although the building itself has been converted into flats.

Other decoration reflects the nautical nature of the Society: a woman, apparently Britannia, holds two ships, while cherubs blow wind into their sails; the names of the continents are carved below her, framed in loops of rope, while the Latin names for the North, South, East and West winds are embossed above.

The architects of this eye-catching building, described by Pevsner as 'unusually pretty', were Niven and Wrigglesworth. They seem to have had an appropriately maritime flavour to their practice, since they also designed the interiors of Castle Line ships.

The Society received a christmas gift for their new building from the German Emperor: a large portrait of himself. (He was not alone: the rulers of Russia, Japan and the Netherlands gave similar gifts.) Welcomed at the time as 'an expression of goodwill and peace on the waters', one imagines that it soon fell out of favour!

The work of the Society extended far beyond London's East End: it also provided services in 118 overseas ports, including Port Said, Bilbao, St Petersburg and several in Canada. Indeed, it had as its object 'the religious, intellectual, and social elevation of British and foreign seamen, both in home and foreign ports.' As well as providing free beds and meals for needy sailors, its work included religious and temperance activities. Even the Sailors' Palace served multiple functions: it was also a short-term hostel for sailors, apparently known for the quality of its accommodation. The building housed the King Edward VII Nautical School and offices of the Shipmasters' Society, too.


and another thing said...

2011 is the Centenary of Passmore Edwards' death and i am planning to mark the Centenary by coordinating a series of events at all of the surviving Passmore Edwards buildings. During a relatively short period Edwards funded more than 70 public buildings from St Ives in Cornwall to Clacton in Essex. Many of the buildings are no longer used for the purpose for which they were so freely given and without that association between the name over the door way Passmore Edwards' contribution to Society may be forgotten. I hope that there are many, like me, who would like to remember that contribution and celebrate the life of someone of whom the Times wrote. "He did more good in his time that almost all of his contemporaries".

CarolineLD said...

What a great idea.

I found what I've read about Passmore Edwards really interesting. I only touched on it here as he deserves a separate post in his own right: perhaps I'll save that for next year to mark the centenary.

Rob C said...
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Rob C said...

It's nice to see the 'building next door' discussed!

In the front entrance area of our own building we have an original plaque for the British and Foreign Sailors' Society as well as a reproduction bust of Britannia on the wall.

The Society is now the British and International Sailors' Society, and it still works for the 'material, moral and spiritual welfare of seafarers in ports throughout the world'.

Thanks again

CarolineLD said...

I didn't realise that the Society still exists, thank you for the extra information.