All People Achieving Their Dreams – the Remarkable Story of Grace Eyre Woodhouse

grace eyre

The Grace Eyre Foundation help people with learning disabilities in Brighton & Hove and Sussex gain independence, obtain housing, find employment and join activities. They support families, help people to maximise life skills and live independently, and offer courses in sports, arts, health and well being and work training. This dynamic organisation came from the progressive ideas of a Hove born woman, Grace Eyre Woodhouse (1864 – 1936) who swam against the tide at a time when children with learning disabilities were sidelined, institutionalised and kept apart from the rest of society.   This is her story:

Grace Eyre Woodhouse was born at Norfolk Terrace and attended Brighton and Hove High School and Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford.  As a young woman living in London she became aware of the injustice faced by people with learning disabilities who, at that time, were assumed by the majority of people to be deficient and of no use to society. Eyre Woodhouse was concerned about the poor treatment of children in special schools and despaired that many people with learning disabilities and facing mental health issues could face long periods in institutions, such as mental asylums and workhouses. As early as 1898, swimming against the official tide and far ahead of her time, she started to arrange holiday homes in the Heathfield district, and even her own house in Hove, for London children with special needs. Here they were treated with dignity and helped to access activities, education and training which would enable them to get jobs, homes and take their place in society. Following the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 which required local authorities to arrange institutional care or guardianship for people considered ‘mentally deficient’ in the terminology of the day, Eyre Woodhouse created the Guardianship Society and started to work with Brighton Borough Council, taking on the supervision of members of the community and placing people with learning disabilities in family homes. In 1914 she created a day-centre in Brighton, considered to be the first in the country, where both children and adults could go to obtain work training and experience while still offering a ‘boarding out’ option where people would live with others rather than in institutions. Other local authorities soon started to take an interest and further day centres and boarding out schemes started to spring up, modelled on Eyre Woodhouse’s successful Brighton operation. The Society in Brighton continued to go from strength to strength. In 1923 Dengates Cottage Farm at Waldron was opened to provide accommodation and farming training for young men. In 1927 a second cottage farm was established in Rotherfield to provide accommodation and training in gardening, rabbit and pig farming. In 1931 two further day centres open in Peacehaven and Heathfield, and an occupation therapy class was established in Haywards Heath. When Grace Eyre Woodhouse died in 1936, the trustees of the Guardianship Society paid tribute to her, saying: ‘Her enthusiasm, her deep sympathy with the afflicted, and her calm determination to do all that was possible for the welfare of those placed under her care, will always be remembered with gratitude by those with knowledge of the magnificent work to which Miss Woodhead so nobly devoted her strength and energy.’ The society she had built up and supported all her life continued to thrive, changing its name to honour its founder in 1988.

grace
In November last year the Society launched ‘Sharing Our Voices’, an exciting new project assisted by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to document its groundbreaking history and plans are afoot to create a landmark oral history collection of people with learning disabilities who have lived in Shared Lives arrangements from the 1950s to the present day. The work of people with learning disabilities, learning key heritage skills, utilising local archives, recording oral history, and creating a performance for the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2021, is key to the project.
At the end of 2019, as well as having just finished a Carol Concert and Christmas Open House of artwork, and putting on The Rock House concert of learning disabled bands at the Green Door Store, the Society was able to celebrate placing 74 tenants into Grace Eyre housing, supporting 113 people in the Shared Lives scheme in Sussex and London, providing activities for 309 people through day centres and projects, helping 209 people to live more independent lives through their supported living and community outreach services and securing funding for people to stage a drama performance at the Purple Playhouse.
Although Grace Eyre Woodhouse died over 80 years ago, she would surely have been proud of the organisation that came from her determination to see things differently and act on her principles that everyone has the right to access housing, work, and the chance to participate in society, and that these ideas have gone from the fringe to mainstream thinking.  This leaflet was produced for the Foundation’s Centenary in 2013.

100-year-picture g eyre

For more information about the Grace Eyre Society and to read a timeline of their history go to http://www.grace-eyre.org/

(The above was written for Brighton Museum and appeared as part of a series of posts celebrating women from Sussex to accompany the landmark exhibition ‘100 First Women Portraits’by photographer, Anita Corbin.

https://brightonmuseums.org.uk/discover/category/blog/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IWD 2020 Mini Women’s History Tour

Estate tour

Lots going on tomorrow at Brighton Museum to celebrate IWD.  I will be doing a mini tour of the Royal Pavilion Estate at 12.00.  I’ve decided to eschew royalty this year to talk only about working women.   Expect stories about teachers, singers, guitar heroines, the ‘British Josephine Baker’ and Mrs Watts, Brighton’s only Seaweed Florist.  Also, if time (I’m going to have to talk really fast to fit all these in) I’ll let you in on the incredible story of the Brighton boot-maker’s daughter who ended up being a king-maker of French politics!

The Queen of the Australian Gold Fields who made Hove her Home

NPG Ax5458; Alice Ann Cornwell (later Mrs Stannard Robinson) by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by  Eglington & Co

by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co, carbon print, published 1889

One week to go before my first ‘Notorious Women of Hove’ walk and I’m still marvelling at the incredible number of Hove related women who’ve made their mark on the world. Given that I’m supposed to be planning a nice one and a half hour amble rather than a full day’s trek, I’m having to make hard decisions about which of the pioneering doctors, surgeons, educators, suffragettes, poets, singers, social campaigners and plain, old-fashioned trouble-reapers to include and which I can only give a cursory mention to? One woman I definitely want to tell people about is Alice Ann Cornwell (above) who came to live in Palmeira Square in the early 1900s. Hardly a house-hold name, Alice’s list of achievements is impressive: industrialist, gold-miner, entrepreneur, newspaper proprietor and, ultimately, the originator of the Ladies Kennel Association.

Born in Essex in 1852, Alice spent most of her childhood and teenage years in New Zealand. She returned to England in 1877 and showed great promise as a musician, training at the Royal Academy of Music and composing music and songs. Finding out that her father, now a gold prospector in Australia, was in financial trouble, however, she abandoned her music career in order to help him. Once back in Australia, Alice took a practical course of action: she decided to study geology and mining. Unafraid to get her hands dirty, Alice often rolled up her sleeves up and got involved in the hard and dirty work of mining itself. Women weren’t as rare in the mid to late nineteenth century Australian goldfields as you might imagine. The 1854 census of the Ballarat goldfields in Victoria, where Alice worked, revealed 4,023 women compared to 12,660 men living on the ‘diggings’, with five percent of them single.

ballarat-location-map

Whether these women were wives of miners or mining themselves, it was far from being an easy life. Intensely hot summers, freezing cold winters, lawlessness, little, if any, infrastructure or facilities, the remoteness and lack of transport meant that in some of these communities minor illness or pregnancy could be death sentences. A woman by the name of Ellen Clacy wrote these vivid observations of life on the Victoria goldfields in 1852: Night at the diggings is the characteristic time: murder here-murder there- revolvers cracking-blunderbusses bombing-rifles going off-balls whistling-one man groaning with a broken leg…..Here is one man grumbling because he brought his wife with him, another ditto because he left his behind, or sold her for an ounce of gold or a bottle of rum. […] In the rainy season, he must not murmur if compelled to work up to his knees in water, and sleep on the wet ground, without a fire, in the pouring rain, and perhaps no shelter above him more waterproof than a blanket or a gum tree…..In the summer, he must work hard under a burning sun, tortured by the mosquito and the little stinging March flies…..” Despite these hardships, Alice worked hard and struck gold. So much gold that soon she was able not only to sort out her father’s hardships but make an excellent living for herself too. With her business-mind swinging into action, Alice quickly established a company that was floated on the London Stock Exchange. Fantastically wealthy, shrewd, and with a big personality to match, Alice was soon a celebrity, dubbed the ‘Lady of the Nuggets’, even, in 1888, inspiring a novel, ‘Madame Midas’ by Fergus Hume.

madame midas

Back in London with her fortune, Alice turned her mind to other business opportunities. In 1887 she bought the ailing Sunday Times and, installing her fiance, Frederick Stannard Robinson, as editor, managed to quadruple circulation. In 1894 she founded the Ladies Kennel Club. This organisation, still going strong today, describes Alice as ‘formidable’ on their website. She set up the organisation ‘in defiance of the gentlemen of the Kennel Club of the day’ with the aim to put on dog shows ‘run by Ladies for Ladies’. Unusual for the day, its offices were staffed entirely by women. Cats got a look in too, as Alice later became involved with the National Cat Club, as well as the International Kennel Club. Widowed in 1902, Alice settled in Hove where she bred pugs until her death in 1932. Despite making huge strides in worlds only sparsely populated by women, a New Zealand newspaper, the Otago Witness, chose to focus more on her looks in an 1889 profile: ‘Miss Cornwell is, if not a prepossessing woman, at least not unhandsome. Her face and features somewhat irregular and undefined, it is true, harmonise well with her symmetrical and well defined picture.‘ I’d like to think that ‘formidable’ Alice Cornwell was too busy to let this bother her.

Notorious Women of Hove – guided walk during the Brighton Fringe Saturdays 30th April, 7th May, 14th May, 28th May, 4th June at 10.30 a.m from the café in St Ann’s Well Gardens, Hove.  Thursday evening 12th May, Tuesday evenings 17th May, 31st May at 6.30 p.m from the same place.