The Untold Story of the St Pancras House Improvement Society: More than Charismatic Leadership

Dr Michael Passmore
13 June 2016

Seminar and Conducted Walk

Following the presentation of his paper Dr Passmore will lead a conducted walk around the social housing estate in Somers Town (near the British Library) featured in the talk.

This paper will focus on factors which resulted in the formation of a successful housing association and a slum clearance and redevelopment scheme that was to lead to a permanent organisation, the St Pancras Housing Association.

Recognition has been given in the literature to the success of the charismatic founder-leader, Father Basil Jellicoe, understandably verging at times on hagiography. This paper will briefly review his part in winning the trust of the local slum dwellers, and the patronage of influential members of the British establishment which involved raising enormous sums of capital from wealthy persons. The estate, which was probably the first voluntary scheme of its type put up after World War I, was let at low rents to make the new accommodation affordable to unskilled tenants of the slums being replaced - unlike the rents of council housing in the area which were only affordable to skilled workers.

The paper will focus on the support roles played by the ‘backroom’ members or the housing society: to Jellicoe’s friend and collaborator, Percy Maryon-Wilson, who was the ‘anchor man’ of the early venture; to Irene Barclay who was one of the first women Chartered Surveyors and who applied the principles of the Octavia Hill housing management. The contribution of these talented people was to prove invaluable when Jellicoe’s presence in the housing society’s office became infrequent.

The paper will argue that without the support roles performed efficiently by the backroom staff, it is doubtful whether the innovative project would have survived beyond its early redevelopment scheme. It will suggest that this case study provides an example that is valid for new voluntary projects being set up under similarly inspired leadership today.

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