Famous places from C&C’s past: The first Cecil House
C&C recently turned 95 years old – and in celebration of our glorious past, we are running a series of articles looking back at people and places who have influenced our history. To start with, we focus on the first of many houses that would provide refuge to women in London, realising Ada Chesterton’s dream.
The first Cecil House was opened on 28 March 1927, at 34 Devonshire Street, Holborn. It was the result of two years of hard campaigning and fundraising by Ada Chesterton, who C&C can ultimately trace their heritage back to. Indeed the ‘Cecil’ part of our name is in honour of Ada’s husband Cecil Chesterton, who died in northern France at the end of World War One.
Eight years after Cecil’s death, Ada, a talented journalist and author, first got heavily involved with the plight of poor women living on London’s streets. After a fortnight joining them in poverty and living as a beggar, Ada wrote ‘In Darkest London’, which highlighted that these women were significantly deprived of accommodation options in contrast to men.
Publicity and fundraising following the book’s publication led to Ada having the ability to take action. The first Cecil House, opened on the site of the Old Poetry Bookshop, had space to accommodate 44 women and 2 babies, and the grand opening was performed by the then Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Batho.
One of the beauties of the House, along with four others opened over the next four years, was the fact that no questions were asked for women needing a bed. Lodgings cost just a shilling and women had space and peace, clean beds, and washing facilities.
On 6 April 1936, the first Cecil House was closed for rebuilding. 18 months later, on 27 October 1937, an enlarged property was re-opened, now covering the site of 34-35 Boswell Street (the street had been re-named). Around the same time, Ada Chesterton’s ‘I Lived in a Slum’ book was published, providing extra funds for the Houses.
The reopening was completed on 5 November 1937 when Queen Mary, wife of the late King George V, attended the property. The Queen’s generosity extended to gifts for the ladies for their Christmas dinner that year.
The House was again forced to close just four years later, in April 1941, after a Nazi bombing raid in London. It reopened on 7 August 1944.
The first Cecil House was eventually sold off to private developers. Today, individuals can purchase a flat at the property which is, to this day, still named Cecil House.
The first Cecil House today – it is no longer owned by C&C but retains the original façade
To both celebrate its rich history and invest in the future, C&C will be hosting a “Move for Care” month-long step challenge and fortnight dance-a-thon in January and February 2022. The aim is to raise £25,000 to build sensory gardens at each of our four care homes. To support these fundraising efforts, or to get involved yourself, please visit ccht.org.uk/our-care-homes/move-for-care/. Thank you for your support.