Clara Grant and World War I

Clara Grant: The Farthing Bundle Lady of Bow by Michael Peet, edited by Raymond Port
Farthing Bundles. Evening News, 6 September 1950

This is a welcome reprint of a short biography of Clara Grant (1867–1949), founder of the Fern Street Settlement, who did so much to alleviate poverty in the East End.

Clara was headmistress of Devons Road Infant School on Bow Common, where children received a hot breakfast, clothes and shoes. Clara turned her house into a settlement – the Fern Street Settlement, which survives to this day. And, most famously, she created the Farthing Bundles, where in exchange for a farthing (a quarter of a penny) children received a parcel containing, as Clara explained:

very human things such as children love. Tiny toys … little balls … cards and scraps.

700 local men and boys fought and 260 died in the First World War. But, in a way, all Clara’s work in the East End had prepared for just such a crisis. The needs of the area continued with poverty increased by the absence of fathers in the army or killed. There was some bombing but Clara was aware mainly of the constriction on life: the greyness and deprivation and dreariness of war.

Trips to the country were not possible, but she made sure that visits by bus to Hyde Park or Victoria Park still carried on. An ‘Art Gallery’ was set up in the windows of the Settlement (copying Samuel Barnett). In 1915 Clara went on a lecture tour of America, spreading the gospel of Settlements in Chicago and New York.

There was one change though. When the carnage of the Western Front became known, Clara decided to have no more tin soldiers or toy weapons in the Farthing Bundles. And there never were again.

At the end of the First World War, Fern Street’s own War Memorial was set up on the wall of the Settlement. And, above it, a banner proclaimed:

The whole world bind in heart and mind in love’s unbroken chain.

Comments about this page

  • This brings back happy memories for me, I used to go to the Bundles when I was a little girl. Also my mum Agnes nee Sullivan and her sisters are in the photo.

    By Pauline nee Salton (07/07/2019)

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