Educating and Uplifting
In 1893, the Town Hall aimed to offer lectures and concerts and "entertainments of a high class for the people".
When the building opened, it would be another 10 years before the Worker's Education Association would be founded, and access to plays, concerts and lectures, for the low-income residents of Battersea would have been little, to none.
Popular entertainment - such as Music Hall, took place elsewhere - in places like The Grand theatre (still opposite Clapham Junction today) and Shakespeare Theatre (which opened 3 years after the Town Hall, in 1896) staged established plays.
The inauguration booklet also details that further provision to the arts was provided through "Theatrephones", provided by the National Telephone Company - to allow local residents to call up and listen to West End theatre shows.
Arguably, there was perhaps a slight paternalism to the early programming - bringing "high art" culture such as certain pieces of classical music to the "masses" - that might be uplifting not only to the spirits but also imbue people with a particular morality. But it seems to have been motivated by a general belief that greater access to arts was a good thing, and could enable people the ability to develop themselves.
Between 1914-1918, during the First World War, the need for uplifting spirits may have been particularly felt. Many of the concerts also played other roles for the local community - such as fundraising for local hospitals, or, during World War One, played a role in war relief. (In Battersea, as across the country, many young men from the local area went to fight, and many lost their lives).
Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London first began to offer Extension Lectures in the 1870s, part of a project to offer wider public education for adults.
A course consisted of 12 weekly lectures on various subjects, and this was to become an important means of women gaining access to education at university level, as well as to people who could not afford to attend university.
The London Society for the Extension of University Teaching was founded in 1875. Battersea was one of the Society’s original centres for extension lectures, which first took place in a local school.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and "Our blinded soldiers and sailors"
The poster for a concert raising funds for "Our blinded soldiers and sailors" advertises a performance of Hiawatha’s Departure. It was one of three choral works based on Longfellow’s poetry by the African-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912). Coleridge-Taylor’s work was very popular in the early part of the 20th Century, and performed widely, including on several occasions at Battersea Town Hall.
St. Dunstan’s Hostel for Blind Soldiers and Sailors was founded in 1915 and, at the time of this concert, it was located in Regent’s Park (now Winfield House). It was a place to which ex-servicemen could go after hospital treatment in order to develop new skills. In 1936 St Dunstan’s was renamed Blind Veterans UK and continues to operate today.
The causes of blindness during the First Word War were numerous. Some causes, such as shrapnel injuries, were easily recognized. However, one major cause of blindness – mustard gas – not diagnosed till many years after the war.
Lena Ashwell's Once-a-week players
Lena Margaret Ashwell (1872–1957) was admired for her efforts organizing entertainment for British troops on the front line, during the First World War.
She was an actor who had performed in the West End and on Broadway. She was also the manager of the Kingsway Theatre, Great Queen Street, from 1907–1915. Her autobiography, Myself a Player, was published in 1936.
The posters advertise performances by her Once-a-Week Players, a company she formed after the war ended. They later became known, simply, as the Lena Ashwell Players.
Handel’s much-loved oratorio is performed here in the old style with a large orchestra and chorus. The concert was to raise money for the local relief association, in cooperation with the War Funds Council constituted in 1915, during the First World War.
The South-West Choral Society was established in 1886, and still exists to this day. Arthur R. Saunders was a regular conductor of the South-West Choral Society at this time.