Our history

Our founder Elizabeth Chesterton was an inspiration in her lifetime and remains an inspiration today.

After voluntarily spending two weeks living on London’s streets in 1926 to experience the life of London’s most vulnerable people, Elizabeth Chesterton set up Cecil Homes as a means to provide support to London’s homeless women.

Central & Cecil (C&C) was formed when Cecil Homes merged with Central London Housing Trust in 1993. Over time, C&C evolved to provide housing and support to a range of people. Our Fit Future Strategy 2017-27 sets out our plans to be an exclusive provider of homes for people aged over 55 in London. We’re also pioneering new developments as well as a commitment to new technology to improve the lives of our residents.

In late 2021 and early 2022, C&C celebrated its 95th anniversary. As part of our celebrations we published a series of articles, interviewing residents who are (at least) the same age as C&C, and producing long-read articles about some of our founders. You can find all these stories here.

Founding figures

Three hugely inspirational figures who led with inspired belief in their purpose helped to shape C&C:

Mrs Chesterton

Mrs Chesterton, founder of Cecil Houses, spent two weeks on the streets of London in the early 1920s so that she could understand what it would feel like to be a woman, homeless and alone.

From her experiences on the streets she wrote her book ‘In Darkest London’ recounting her stories with deep emotion. She also made her experiences count – by taking action.

Mrs Chesterton’s Lodging House would provide clean beds and washing facilities, similar to the facilities available to homeless men.

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A meeting held by Mrs Chesterton in October 1926 to discuss the refusal of the municipalities to run women’s public lodging houses on the grounds that women are difficult to manage.  Her proposal was met with enthusiasm and support and Cecil Houses was formed. Through this and other events, Mrs Chesterton raised £5,000.

As a result, the first Cecil House opened its doors in March 1927 to 44 women and two babies. Mrs Chesterton then went on to open the following shelters:

  • In January 1928, Kings Cross for 58 women and 12 babies
  • In March 1929, North Kensington for 60 women and 18 babies
  • In November 1930, Harrow Road for 60 women and 18 babies
  • In March 1934, Waterloo for 49 women and two babies – which is our Central Office today.

Cecil Houses cost a shilling per night, were self-supporting, with a ‘no questions asked’ policy. The absence of interrogation gave women the courage to share their trouble with Matrons if needed. Cecil Houses became a registered Housing Association in 1974.

Miss Marjorie Rackstraw

In 1947, following voluntary work during and after the war, Miss Marjorie Rackstraw noticed that poverty amongst the older community was as rife, with many of them living in empty rooms with little furniture.  This created a desired within Miss Rackstraw’ to help. She found a house in Fitzjohn’s Avenue and negotiated funding and support to get a service up and running.

To meet a desperate need for post-war emergency shelter Miss Rackstraw’s first house, Hampstead Old People’s Housing Trust was established.

Mrs Marjorie Rackstraw

The Trust’s first home was in Eton Avenue, purchased for £6,000, funded through grant donations. The property is known to us as Rathmore House today.

Lord Harold Samuel

In 1944, whilst Cecil Homes and Hampstead Old People’s Housing Trust were firmly progressing their plans to improve housing for people in London, Harold Samuel bought what we know today as Europe’s largest property company, Land Securities Investment Trust Ltd.

Known as a man who had an eye for detail, buying the right sites at affordable prices and an overall highly astute businessman, Harold was knighted in 1963 for his public and charitable services.

He was approached by Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Social Services, who challenged him to do something about the abundance of office buildings and lack of social housing in Central London.

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In response to the challenge, Lord Samuel established Central London Housing Trust.  Six large buildings comprising self-contained bedsits were planned to provide sheltered homes for older people. Self-contained bedsits were a huge improvement for those who were still affected by wartime bomb damage.

He ran over 1,000 flats with all nominations coming from the council. In 1993, to meet a greater need to provide people with the care that they truly needed, Central London Housing Trust merged with Cecil Houses to form C&C.

Today Lord Samuel’s developments are known as Dora House, Ada Court, Edna House, Oldfield Estate (Jaqueline, Marion and Carole), Vivian Court and Phillip House - all named after his family.

Lord Samuel died in 1987 and left 84 pieces of perhaps the best Dutch art in Britain to the Mansion House – where you can see them hanging today for everyone to enjoy.

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