Educational settlements

Maryport educational settlement
Maryport Educational Settlement

Educational settlements. Mark Freeman explores the development of educational settlements in Britain and the significant role that Quakerism played. He also outlines some of the key issues they have faced.

Contents: introduction · origins of the educational settlement movement · the role of educational settlements · educational settlements in the ‘special areas’ · crisis and community centres · educational settlements after the second world war · bibliography · how to cite this article

The educational settlements were non-residential adult education institutions that emerged in the first quarter of the twentieth century. They have been largely neglected in the history of adult education (but see Allaway 1961; Freeman 2002; Davies and Freeman 2003; Freeman 2004). They have also been neglected by historians of the settlement movement, who concentrate on the work of residential settlements such as Toynbee Hall (but see settlements and social action centres). Yet for a short time, in the interwar period, they were significant figures in the adult education landscape, and their influence is traceable in community centres, local authority adult education centres, social action centres and other institutions.

Origins of the educational settlement movement

The educational settlement movement began in the north of England, and the early educational settlements grew from the Quaker adult schools (see Quakers and the development of adult schools and adult schools and the making of adult education). The Rowntree family of York were probably the most important pioneers of educational settlements in the Edwardian period, and were closely associated with the establishment of the first two: the Swarthmore Settlement in Leeds and the St Mary’s Settlement in York. The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT), established in 1904, became the main financial supporter of the educational settlement movement in the interwar years (see Freeman 2004). The Rowntrees, especially the inspirational young Quaker leader John Wilhelm Rowntree, had supported the earlier establishment of Woodbrooke College (initially called the ‘Woodbrooke Settlement’) in 1903. This was a non-residential college for Quakers and others, initially providing courses of Bible study and Church history (see Rowntree 1923). In 1907 the Woodbrooke Extension Committee (WEC) was established, following an acknowledgement that ‘it seemed essential that something should be done to bring the Woodbrooke influences down to the country’, for example by providing itinerant lecturers in local Quaker communities (Freeman 2002: 247).

Another important influence was the Yorkshire 1905 Committee (later renamed the Yorkshire Friends Service Committee; see Freeman 2004: 35-40, Kennedy 2001: 289). This was established after John Wilhelm Rowntree’s death in that year to promote social service, and above all educational service, among Quakers in Yorkshire. The Committee encouraged a range of educational activities, all underpinned by the concept of education through personal guidance. These included ‘Tea-Table Talks’ in Friends’ homes, the dissemination of lecturers and literature via a network of over forty ‘Local Helpers’, and the organisation of short-term residential courses (confusingly, also known as ‘settlements’). Quakers in Yorkshire and elsewhere already had a strong presence in the adult school movement; but in the 1900s it was increasingly felt that some sort of permanent premises were required if the educational projects of the Society of Friends were to be realised.

As a result, the WEC and the Yorkshire 1905 Committee were responsible for the development of the first educational settlements. In 1909 the Swarthmore Settlement was established in Leeds, under the wardenship of Gerald K. Hibbert and the sub-wardenship of Maurice Rowntree, and in the same year, under the guidance of Joseph Rowntree’s nephew Arnold Rowntree, the St Mary’s Settlement opened in York (see Peacock 1997). At both these settlements the early curriculum, reflecting the involvment of adult school workers, was distinctively religious in content, but it soon broadened, embracing courses on international relations, economics, literature, history, science and nature; and the two settlements spawned dramatic and musical societies which brought them a higher profile in their respective cities. The premises were also used for Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and university extension courses.

Five years later, in 1914, another educational settlement was opened at Beechcroft in Birkenhead, again under Quaker auspices (see Fleming 1938). Its founder, Horace Fleming, believed it to have been the first truly educational settlement, recognising the claims of Swarthmore and St Mary’s but arguing that the breadth of the curriculum at Beechcroft from its inception made it a more genuine ‘community centre of adult education’ (Fleming 1938: 14). Like its predecessors, Beechcroft grew out of the local adult school movement, but it was also formed under the influence of the WEA and other educational bodies. Originally in Fleming’s own home, it was intended from the start to create the atmosphere of ‘fellowship’ that lay at the heart of the educational settlement ethos. After the first world war, more such settlements were established, including the Walthamstow Settlement, which grew from a Friends’ Mission and was associated with the (Quaker) Bedford Institute; the Folk House in Bristol; a settlement in Plymouth, also called Swarthmore, instigated by the Society of Friends and the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA); and Bensham Grove in Gateshead, which was unusual in having a female warden (Miss Lettice Jowitt) and a residential element. In 1920 the Educational Settlements Association (ESA) was established, and by 1935 the ESA had 32 member settlements (Pimlott 1935: 278-82). In 1924 it became one of the ‘Responsible Bodies’ that were entitled to statutory financial support for the provision of adult educational services (Freeman 2004: 67-8).

The role of educational settlements

The educational settlements were conceived as helping to foster what have been called ‘those omnipresent magic words, “Fellowship” and “Service”’ (Greenwood 1978: 188). The pioneers stressed their links with the Quaker adult school movement: Arnold Rowntree, at the opening of St Mary’s, claimed that the new institution did not mean ‘any break in connection with the past history of the Adult School Movement’ but was rather ‘only the necessary growth and extension of the activities of that movement’ (Freeman 2002: 249). This extension was thought to be necessary because fewer adults now needed the basic training in the ‘three Rs’ that was provided in the adult schools, and fewer were interested in Bible study. It was difficult to attract students to an outwardly religious establishment, especially given the broad curriculum and less patrician environment available from providers such as the WEA. In a society that was felt to be rapidly secularising, Joseph Rowntree hoped that educational settlements might do the work of churches and chapels, and help shape ‘the spiritual fellowships of the future’ (Freeman 2002: 249).

The pioneers of the movement continued to emphasise the role of the settlements in promoting the interests of the Society of Friends. Horace Fleming thought that they occupied a bridging position between the adult schools and Quaker Meetings, while at the same time contributing to the ‘leavening of the local community life’ (Freeman 2002: 250). The link to the community illustrates the importance of the ideal of settlement, which also lay behind the emergence of the university settlements in the 1880s (see Settlements and social action centres). This was important to the adult schools: the Quaker Edward Grubb pointed out in 1917 that ‘every Adult School gathers other activities around it than the Sunday morning or afternoon lesson: Savings Funds, Libraries, Temperance Societies, Sick Clubs, and the like’ (Grubb 1917: 176-7). However, educational settlements went further than this by providing permanent premises, and by endowing adult education with ‘both a home and a spirit’ (Kelly 1962: 265).

Naturally, given their name, the educational settlements were compared with the university or social settlements that emerged in the 1880s and which continued to play a significant role in the lives of some communities into the interwar period. There were sometimes very striking similarities between the two types of institution. The social settlements themselves served an educational function: at Toynbee Hall, for example, university extension and tutorial classes were held, as well as a WEA programme (Evans 1982; see settlements and social action centresand Toynbee Hall). However, at these settlements the educational work tended to be viewed within a broader context of social reform. Basil Yeaxlee, secretary of the ESA, explained that, whereas the educational settlements concentrated on education, the social settlements were ‘constituted on the more general principle of social science’ (Yeaxlee 1929: 85). In this wider conception of their role, residence was a central element, whereas the educational settlements usually housed only the warden and sub-warden. (There is a longer discussion of residence and its implications in Freeman 2002: 252-4, and Freeman 2004: 72-4.)

Nevertheless, the educational settlements did sometimes acquire some of the functions of the older university settlements. The educational settlement was viewed as a civic centre, where training for citizenship and active social leadership could be pursued. Horace Fleming recalled that in Birkenhead ‘the dynamic effect of the student community [at the Beechcroft settlement] has resulted in the revolutionising of the housing conditions, and the changing of the composition of the civic Council’ (Fleming 1929: 58). Here, settlement students had been involved in the establishment of a Housing Inquiry Committee, which carried out careful surveys of slum housing. Other educational settlements were associated with social surveys, some had branches of the Left Book Club or the League of Nations Union, while the settlements at Plymouth and Bristol were associated with the Youth Hostels Association in the 1930s (Freeman 2002: 255; Davies and Freeman 2003: 307). Some in the movement regarded this as a dangerous tendency: social work of this kind diluted the educational content of settlement work (Freeman 2002: 255).

The curricula pursued in the settlements varied considerably, but most provided a range of courses. Wilfrid Allott, from the ESA’s flagship settlement at Swarthmore in Leeds, told the ESA council in 1936 that history, art, science and languages should lie at the heart of a settlement’s curriculum, and that the last of these should incude English grammar (Freeman 2004: 129-30). Other settlements retained more religious education, although this appears to have become harder to maintain in the curriculum by the 1930s. Extra-curricular cultural activities were also very important: for example, the St Mary’s Settlement ‘became equated with’ the successful Settlement Community Players drama group (Peacock 1997: 294).

Educational settlements in the ‘Special Areas’

A new development in educational settlement work arose in the context of social distress in the south Wales coalfield in the 1920s, following the General Strike. From Quaker relief work carried out in the coalfield there emerged the Maes-yr-Haf settlement, established at Trealaw in the Rhondda in 1927. The adult educational work at Maes-yr-Haf was hampered by the sheer extent and depth of the material deprivations of the area, and settlement workers found themselves distributing material relief. There was a soup kitchen, for example, but there were also classes aimed at improving the long-term welfare and prospects of the unemployed. A women’s citizenship class was started, as well as lectures on economics, philosophy and political theory. Maes-yr-Haf also pioneered the establishment of clubs for unemployed men, where they could learn new skills such as shoe-repairing and carpentry, participate in musical and dramatic activities, and keep fit for work through physical training. (On these settlements, see Davies 1970; Naylor 1986; Manasseh 2000; Freeman 2004: 103-8, 119-21.)

Maes-yr-Haf, which affiliated to the ESA in 1930, established a model that was followed by many settlements established during the depression of the 1930s, in south Wales and the other ‘Special Areas’, where unemployment was particularly high in this period. These settlements were often established under the influence of religious concern, but the inevitable result of the spread of the educational settlement model was that the original pioneers began to lose control of the movement, and the Quaker dimension was compromised. Moreover, the new settlements in the higher-profile Special Areas were able to attract more funding, both from grant-making trusts such as the Pilgrim Trust and from the state via the Special Areas Commissioners, who were appointed in 1934 to oversee grant-making in these areas. However, the new settlements were motivated by the same ethos – or a version of it – that inspired the Rowntrees and the other pioneers of the 1900s. William Hazelton, the secretary of the ESA, wrote of the ‘hearth and home for adult education’ that was provided by Maes-yr-Haf; and another authority argued that, once the new institutions had outgrown their emergency functions, there was no difference between them and the older educational settlements. Indeed, it was argued that ‘no more impressive or authentic manifestation of the Settlement idea exists than the growth of [the] South Wales Settlements’ (Freeman 2004:120).

Crisis and community centres

Despite the obvious successes of the settlements in south Wales and the other Special Areas, by the mid-1930s there was a sense of crisis in the educational settlement movement. Competition from other adult education providers was becoming more intense, and the settlements were less able to offer the range and quality of provision that was available from university extension or the WEA. They were poorly equipped, the tutors were poorly remunerated and the physical surroundings were run down. Settlements found it difficult to attract enough funding. The JRCT provided a high proportion of settlement funds, channelled through the ESA, but the JRCT was not a wealthy body, and larger grant-making trusts usually supported only the settlements in the Special Areas. Local education authorities generally failed to support the settlements. In a scathing report delivered to the JRCT in 1938, W. E. Williams, secretary of the British Institute of Adult Education, called settlements ‘the slums of adult education’, and remarked that most lacked ‘the remotest possibility of LEA support’ (Davies and Freeman 2003: 309).

Third, the idea of the settlement appeared to be out-dated. The word ‘settlement’ was associated with the Victorian patronage of Toynbee Hall and the other social settlements. A new, apparently more egalitarian and democratic movement, had emerged in the shape of the community centres and community associations that were established on many of the new housing estates in the interwar period under the auspices of the National Council for Social Service (NCSS). They gained support from grant-making bodies such as the Pilgrim Trust, and also from the state in the form of subsidies from the National Fitness Council under the terms of the Physical Training and Recreation Act of 1937, and from the Baord of Education (Freeman 2004: 123). Although the community centres attracted some criticism for following too closely the settlement model and for generating social conflict on the new housing estates (Olechnowicz 1997: 143), they were widely seen as democratic improvements on settlements. In a report published in 1942, the difference between the two institutions was spelled out: ‘Whereas [community centres] aim at being democratic organisations secured and managed by their own Community Associations, settlements are planned and run by groups of charitable and socially-minded persons of a different class from those whom they hope to benefit’ (Stephenson and Stephenson 1942: 92).

Nevertheless, there were obvious links between the two movements, and in the years immediately preceding the second world war attempts were made to draw them closer together. The ESA leadership realised that the future of community education was more likely to lie with the community centres than with their own institutions, but were concerned – rightly, as it turned out – that the centres would cease to play an educational role and concentrate largely on leisure provision. They were also concerned about the lack of religious inspiration in the newer institutions, and hoped that by allying the ESA closely with the new movement, that some of their priorities could be transferred to the community centres.

Educational settlements after the second world war

Adult education grew and developed in many directions during and after the second world war (Fieldhouse 1996). The Education Act of 1944 compelled local authorities to provide adult education facilities, and by 1948 the surviving educational settlements all received some financial support from their respective LEAs. LEAs, which were the largest adult education providers even before the war, expanded considerably, in many cases developing their own adult education centres, which owed at least something to the educational settlement model. However, the growth of these institutions threatened the existence of educational settlements and other voluntarily provided adult education, especially given the straitened financial circumstances in which the ESA and its members remained.

The ESA decided to ally itself even more closely with the community centres movement, and moved into office accommodation shared with the National Federation of Community Centres. The ESA was renamed the Educational Centres Association (ECA) in 1946, admitting that ‘the word “Settlement” is not as acceptable to-day as it was in times past’ (Freeman 2004: 198). The JRCT began a phased withdrawal of the financial support it has provided for the ESA and its member settlements, establishing in collaboration with other interested parties two new grant-making trusts: the Community Education Trust and the Community Equipment Trust (see Davies and Freeman 2003: 314-16). These trusts failed to attract the additional support that was hoped for, and were soon wound up; but the ECA continued to exist, and continued to provide courses in its capacity as a ‘Responsible Body’, in which it was also entitled to a limited amount of Ministry of Education Funding.

Many of the educational centres continued, some of them actively involved in the life of their local community, such as the Percival Guildhouse in Rugby. Others continued to run their educational programmes, but without much sense of ‘social purpose’, according to a survey of centres carried out in 1961 (Allaway 1961: 73). Others were either allowed to die, or were subsumed into the community centres movement. Some of the inspiration that moved the early pioneers of the educational settlements remained in the movement in the 1940s and 1950s. There was a renewed emphasis on the religious dimension of the education that had been provided in the settlements, which was felt to have been marginalised by the growth of publicly provided adult education. The rhetoric of community education was still employed. The long-serving president, Arnold Rowntree, told the ESA in 1945 that settlements sought ‘to raise the level of civic life by the energising power of example and by the influx of [their] members into the fields of active citizenship’ (Freeman 2004: 201).

The educational settlements were never as important as universities, the WEA or local authorities in providing adult education. They lacked the resources to compete with these bodies, their religious origins and association with Victorian patronage held them back, and the ESA leaders realised from the later 1930s that their future could be secured only in harness with other bodies that concentrated less on purely educational facilities and relied less on voluntarism. However, the settlements could, and did, claim the credit for demonstrating the value of the ‘centre idea’ in adult education, and in this regard for exercising some influence over the development of LEA educational centres and village colleges.

The ECA remains in existence today, receiving some public funds and raising money privately to promote ‘lifelong learning’; some of the early member institutions also survive in various guises. Some, such as the Bristol Folk House, combine arts and crafts and language courses with exhibitions and musical events: there is also a café-bar (which was in existence in the early 1930s: Freeman 2002, 254). At the Percival Guildhouse in Rugby, there are informal courses, again featuring languages and arts and crafts as well as family history, and there is a licensed social club. The Swarthmore education centre in Leeds offers courses in computing, the arts and healthy living, while the Swarthmore centre in Plymouth features local history. The surviving educational centres remain community resources, very different in scale and scope from the visions of the settlement pioneers.

Bibliography and further reading

Allaway, A. J. (1961) The educational centres movement: a comprehensive survey, London: National Institute of Adult Education.

Davies, J. Elfed (1970) ‘Educational settlements in south Wales, with special reference to the Merthyr Tudful settlement’, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, part 2, pp. 177-98.

Davies, Jonathan S. and Mark Freeman (2003) ‘Education for citizenship: the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the educational settlement movement’, History of Education xxxii, pp. 303-18.

Evans, R. A. (1982) ‘The university and the city: the educational work of Toynbee Hall’, History of Education xi, pp. 113-25.

Fieldhouse, Roger (1996) ‘An overview of British adult education in the twentieth century’, in Fieldhouse and associates (eds), A history of modern British adult education, Leicester: National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education.

Fleming, Horace (1938) Beechcroft: the story of the Birkenhead settlement 1914-1924: an experiment in adult education, London: Educational Settlements Association.

Mark Freeman (2002) ‘“No finer school than a settlement”: the development of the educational settlement movement’, History of Education xxxi, pp. 245-62.

Mark Freeman (2004) The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: a study in Quaker philanthropy and adult education 1904-1954, York: William Sessions.

Greenwood, John Ormerod (1978) Quaker encounters, volume III: whispers of truth, York: William Sessions.

Grubb, Edward (1917) What is Quakerism? An exposition of the leading principles and practices of the Society of Friends, as based on the experiences of ‘the Inward Light’, London: Headley Brothers.

Kelly, Thomas (1962) A history of adult education in Great Britain. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Kennedy, Thomas C. (2001) British Quakerism 1860-1920: the transformation of a religious community, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Manasseh, Pamela (2000) ‘Quaker relief work and the Brynmawr experiment’, Woodbrooke Journal vii, pp. 2-31.

Naylor, Barrie (1986) Quakers in the Rhondda 1926-1986, Chepstow: Maes-yr-Haf Educational Trust.

Olechnowicz, Andrzej (1997) Working-class housing in England between the wars: the Becontree estate, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Peacock, A. J. (1997) ‘Adult education in York 1800-1947’, in Peacock (ed.), Essays in York history, York: York Settlement Trust, pp. 266-301.

Pimlott, J. A. R. (1935) Toynbee Hall: fifty years of social progress, London: J. M. Dent.

Rowntree, Arnold S. (1923) Woodbrooke: its history and aims, Birmingham: Woodbrooke Extension Committee.

Stephenson, Flora and Gordon Stephenson (1942) Community centres: a survey, London: Community Centres Joint Research Committee.

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1929) Lifelong education: a sketch of the range and significance of the adult education movement, London: Cassell and Co.


Bristol Folk House

Percival Guildhouse, Rugby

Educational Centres Association

How to cite this article: Freeman, M. (2004) ‘Educational settlements’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education,

Mark Freeman is a Research Associate in the Department of History at the University of Hull. He is currently working on an ESRC-funded project entitled ‘Shareholder Democracies? Corporate Governance in Britain, 1720-1844’. His publications include: Social Investigation and Rural England 1870-1914 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2003). Royal Historical Society, Studies in History new series; and The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust: A Study in Quaker Philanthropy and Adult Education 1904-1954 (York: Sessions, 2004).

Acknowledgements: Some of the above appeared in History of Education 31, no. 3 (2002), pp.245-62, published by Taylor and Francis (, and the author is grateful to the publishers for permission to use this material.

This picture of Woodbrooke Hall is by C. Wess Daniels and is reproduced here under a Creative Commons Licence (Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic) – flickr –

© Mark Freeman 2004