Our home on Horseferry Road – 100 years old today

Today we are celebrating the 100th birthday of 62-64 Horseferry Road, the current home of the RCVS.

The plaque on the corner of the building records the laying of the foundation stone like this:

“Mr Fegan’s Homes” (incorporated)
to the glory of God and the welfare of orphan,
needy and erring boys, here and
hereafter, the foundation stone of
this House of Mercy was laid by
the Right Honourable Lord Kinnaird
20th May 1912.
“His compassions fail not  Lam. III 22 ”

Why ‘House of Mercy’?   This was something that intrigued me and several other staff so the anniversary seemed like a good time to try and find out more.  A quick search on the web revealed that the charity Fegans still exists today offering support to children and their families in South East England.

An email to them brought forth a wealth of fascinating material about the history of the building and its intended use.  ‘House of Mercy’ refers to the fact that it was being built to house the new headquarters of “Mr Fegan’s Homes”, a shelter for homeless boys under 16 and a hostel for poor working boys.

James Fegan (1852-1925) started his work helping street urchins a few years after he completed his education,  founding a charitable society in 1870 and opening his first home in 1872.   The society continued to expand and by 1912 was in need of a new building.

Loving and Serving (the society’s magazine) for March 1912 tells the story up to the point when the foundation stone was laid in May 1912 – a story full of trials and tribulations.  It seems that, not long after they had completed the purchase of 87-91 Tufton Street, some of the frontage was requisitioned by the Council as part of a road  widening scheme.  This meant that 62-64 Horseferry Road had to be acquired as well to give them enough land on which to build – the whole (corner site) was eventually cleared for the new building in February 1912.

Leaflet - ceremony to lay the foundation stone

Leaflet for ceremony to lay the foundation stone copyright Fegans

The building was to be called “The Red Lamp” – its red lamp, on the top most corner of the roof,  would “shine night by night as a beacon of hope and help…”.

Loving and Serving May 1912 records the laying of the foundation stone by Lord Kinnaird at a ceremony which was attended by several prominent clergymen.  The programme for the event had hoped for £3,000 in ‘gifts and promises‘ towards the cost of the building, but this was surpassed on the day when a total of £4,426 was pledged.

Laying the foundation stone

Laying the foundation stone copyright Fegans

“The Red Lamp” was designed by AE Hughes and is described by Pevsner 1 as ‘free Neo-Wren’(1).  The finished building was slightly different to that shown on the leaflet for the laying of the foundation stone –  with two doors in Horseferry Road and only one in Tufton Street (the original plan had been for two doors in Tufton Street) , presumably this was due to the loss of frontage in Tufton Street.

The official opening was held just over a year later on 17 June 1913 . There was a public meeting at Church House, Westminster (just around the corner), then those in the crowd who had reserved tickets to view the building moved to Horseferry Road where the three sections of the building were declared open. The event is described in detail in the July 1913 issue of the Society’s magazine, which was now renamed The Red Lamp.

opening day 17 June 1913

Opening day 17 June 1913 copyright Fegans

To give a flavour of the event – it was ‘a bright summer afternoon’ there was ‘sweet and effective singing’ and a ‘substantial Thank-offering, £837’. The only negative thing recorded was the theft of the caretaker’s watch!

completed building

Completed building copyright Fegans

Unfortunately the high hopes for “The Red Lamp” were curtailed by the outbreak of war in 1914, with the shelter and hostel closing at that time.  The offices and  advisory centre remained in Horseferry Road until the building had to close due to bomb and fire damage following an air raid on 16 April 1941.   (The then RCVS building in Red Lion Square was also hit by a bomb, on 10 May 1941, and suffered similar damage).

If you are interested in finding out more about the work of Fegans today, please visit their website.

All images were kindly supplied by Fegans who retain the copyright.

1.  Bradley, Simon and Pevsner, Nikolaus London 6: Westminster (Pevsner Architectural Guides: Buildings of England) Yale Univ Press 2003

“A Good Deal of Spade Work” – The RCVS Archives Project

In June this year, RCVS Knowledge were thrilled to announce that the Alborada Trust had provided funding for a five year project to catalogue, preserve and digitise the Historic Collection and Archive of the Royal College. Now, five months later, it is time to update you with the progress that has been made so far!

One of the first steps of the project was to employ a qualified Archivist, to oversee the execution of the project, including the cataloguing, recruitment of a digitisation assistant, and development of the digital platform which will provide greater access to the collections.

That Archivist is me!

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

Lorna, Archivist at RCVS Knowledge

I’m Lorna Cahill, and I started working here at RCVS Knowledge six weeks ago. Previously I have worked in the Archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Natural History Museum, and Royal Holloway, University of London. I have lots of experience working with material from the 19th century, particularly relating to science and education. So this post is a perfect fit! I am incredibly excited to delve deep into these fascinating collections, and to draw out some of the stories and characters and share them with the public. I hope to regularly update this blog, and the @RCVSKnowledge Twitter feed, with interesting bits and bobs I find along the way. So keep an eye out for those.

Archivist's Desk at RCVS Knowledge

This is where you will find me for the next five years!

So what have I been up to for the past six weeks – and what’s the next step of the project?

Happily for me, my main task thus far is exploring the collection. I need to get an idea of what the collections contain, the context around the material, who the people are that created the papers, and how best to look after them. It didn’t take me long to realise that I would first need boxes. Lots and lots of Archive boxes.

Archive Boxes

Tower of empty Archive boxes ready to house collections

First I took a sample of papers by Connie Ford MRCVS (1912-1998), who worked for the Veterinary Investigation Service for nearly 30 years. She was a specialist in cattle fertility, and I very soon got used to reading a lot about bull testicles and cow abortions (archives work is not always so glamorous!). The research carried out by Ford seems incredibly thorough and there is a great deal of data for me to sift through. However, sometimes it can be rather touching, such as this list of cow abortions. Poor Betty, Shirley and Joyce.

Ford Cow Abortions

Research data from the papers of Connie Ford

The collection I will be focussing on for the near future is that of Major General Sir Frederick Smith MRCVS (1857-1929). Smith served with the Army Veterinary Service during the Second Boer War, and was eventually appointed Director General in 1907. He wrote several veterinary manuals and histories of the veterinary profession, and carried out extensive research. I have just looked through nearly 20 years of correspondence between Smith and Fred Bullock, Secretary of RCVS, which has revealed to me a great deal about Smith’s character. I even found Smith’s prediction, in 1920, that one day I would come along to curate his papers:

Excerpt from Letter from Smith to Fred Bullock, 8 Jan 1920

“I am leaving all my books, papers, notes &c to the College with one or two exceptions. If I live long enough I will index the papers & notes still in M.S, they may save some man a good deal of spade work.”

It has taken 95 years, but finally someone is giving them all the attention they deserve. However, he couldn’t predict that it would be a woman!

Smith’s handwriting is a little challenging to read, so I certainly do have my work cut out for me. But I look forward to spending the next few months with Fred Smith, and helping everyone else get to know him better too.