The Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals for Crippled Children

portrait of Grace Kimmins
Grace Hannam Kimmins, 1870-1954, from Kimmins, p6*

Lisa J. Pruitt
Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN (Spring 2016)

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, following a decade of work among the London poor, Grace Hannam Kimmins (1870-1954) envisioned an idyllic rural retreat, a healing haven for children crippled by diseases associated with urban poverty. In 1903, she realized her vision by founding The Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals for Crippled Children at Chailey, Sussex. The Heritage offered surgical, medical, and convalescent charity care for poor children while training them as traditional craft artisans so that they might become self-supporting adults. In doing so, it blended faith in modern scientific medicine with utopian idealism, as embodied in the settlement house and Arts and Crafts movements. The combination proved powerful enough to sustain The Heritage for nearly a half century, until it was subsumed by Great Britain’s National Health Service in 1948.

Kimmins’s vision for The Heritage grew out of her involvement with the British settlement house movement. That movement originated in the work of leaders like Samuel Barnett who founded Toynbee Hall in London’s slums in 1884. Barnett wanted young university-educated men to “settle” among the urban poor bringing education, the arts, and social services to the masses, thus healing the festering sores of London from within.

The settlement house movement inspired Kimmins. Around 1890, she became a Wesleyan deaconess and was assigned to the West London Mission. In 1895, she moved into the Wesleyan Bermondsey University Settlement in South London. In the course of her work in both places, she became concerned about the plight of the disabled poor. To try to meet some of their needs, in 1894 she established the Guild of the Brave Poor Things. Despite the condescension explicit in the name, her work with the Guild marked the beginning of a career “as one of the most innovative and forceful advocates for the disabled in twentieth-century Britain.”[ii] Kimmins believed that the disabled poor should participate fully in society. The Guild, she wrote, aimed “to supplement already existing charities for afflicted people.” When a charity provided crutches or special shoes, “the Guild, with its social meetings, country holidays, and general all-roundness, saw that that crutch or high boot was put to the best possible use.”[iii]

boy with crutches in front of a sign reading men made here
Carpentry school, from Kimmins, p41*

British settlement house workers sought “to transform the mental and physical landscapes of slum dwellers” through “education and cultural elevation.”[iv] Influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, “education and cultural elevation” often took the form of training and practice in traditional artisan crafts. The Arts and Crafts movement emerged contemporaneously with settlement houses in the late nineteenth century and the two movements shared common intellectual roots. Leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement advocated for restoring a medieval “craftsman ideal” to protest the degrading forces of modernity embodied in the fragmented nature of industrial production.[v] The artisan, they maintained, should design and create his own work from beginning to end. They created “guilds” to invoke the spirit of a supposedly harmonious medieval past. Thus Grace Kimmins established her Guild, incorporating into its “general all-roundness” the “craftsman ideal,” in order to mitigate the debilitating effects of modern industrialism on the disabled poor.

Her experiences with the Guild led Kimmins to embark on her own utopian experiment. She had become convinced that the urban slum environment caused sickness and disability in children.  Influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, however, she also believed that artistic creation in a beautiful environment would restore those children to health and endow them with the skills necessary for eventual self-support.[vi] Therefore, in 1903, Kimmins created The Heritage in an abandoned workhouse in the small Sussex village of Chailey.

Kimmins’s craft utopia had a decidedly modern component. She was unwilling to eschew the benefits of modern industrial society as represented by medical science.  Children came to the Heritage because they were sick and disabled. Most of them had rickets, bone and joint tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, or congenital defects such as clubbed feet. Kimmins believed that the Sussex countryside offered an ideal environment in which to re-form the bodies of disabled children with medical care, orthopedic surgery, convalescence, and rehabilitation. A hospital fully equipped for surgery opened in 1911 and expanded in 1923. Under the guidance of medical director and eminent orthopedic surgeon Sir Robert Jones, The Heritage became a site for experimentation in orthopedic surgery. The institution served as a “surgical…laboratory,” one supporter remarked. “New experiments are constantly being tried and the addition to scientific knowledge has been almost as great as the contribution to human happiness.”  The Heritage developed an international reputation for medical innovation and “was visited by doctors…from all over the world.”[vii] The Heritage thus fully embraced the then common practice of subjecting indigent institutionalized children to medical experimentation.[viii]

Beyond experimentation in the surgical suite, The Heritage’s facilities also reflected therapeutic thinking of the time. Well-ventilated buildings provided the fresh air deemed essential for children’s health. Porches and indoor solaria facilitated heliotherapy (sun bathing), a standard treatment for rickets and bone and joint tuberculosis. In 1924, The Heritage opened its Marine Hospital for Boys, boasting a sun porch with room for 100 beds, designed to take advantage of the recuperative powers of the seaside. There the boys became “outdoor boys,” swimming and sleeping with open windows.[ix]

[i]

kids in lined up beds with wooden pieces on boards on their laps
Crafts in bed, from Kimmins, p71*

Rehabilitation for the children included physical therapy. A “remedial gymnasium” offered boys a variety of apparatus and an attached artificial sunlight room.[x] The girls did not have such a facility, but rather an outdoor playground. By the mid-1920s, the centerpiece of girls’ physical therapy was Margaret Morris Movement. Margaret Morris, a renowned dancer, also trained as a physiotherapist and saw the therapeutic potential of her “natural” method of dance and movement. In 1926, she began offering presentations for physician audiences. A representative from the Heritage present at one of those lectures requested a resident teacher and The Heritage became one of the first sites at which Morris was able to test her methods’ effectiveness in treating disabled girls. Margaret Morris Movement remained the centerpiece of physical rehabilitation for girls at the Heritage until the National Health Service took over the facility in 1948.[xi]

At The Heritage, “education and cultural elevation” was corollary to surgical and medical treatment and rehabilitation. Convalescent children received formal instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic in the mornings. Afternoons were devoted to crafts. For girls, craft training encompassed weaving, knitting, embroidery, drawing, and painting. Their vocational training focused on sewing clothes, cooking, and “housewifery.” While training the girls to earn their livelihoods in dress-making and domestic service, Kimmins also hoped that each girl would eventually “be called upon to rule over a small home of her own.” She sought to inculcate within them the standards for traditional middle-class womanhood:  “Many a crippled girl has learned . . . not only the decencies of a well-ordered home life, but the love of beauty and cleanliness which they have carried with them into womanhood.”[xii]

In contrast, the “Boys’ Heritage” fully expressed the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. Craftsmanship, Kimmins believed, would transform and rehabilitate boys’ crippled bodies.[xiii] Hence, boys received training in the “beautiful old handicrafts of Sussex.”[xiv] Their work was “in great demand” at charity sales, Kimmins maintained: “[F]requently employers come down and select a boy at his bench, and he is then given special training in the type of work he will be doing when he leaves at the age of sixteen.”[xv]

One of those handicrafts was leatherwork.  In the leather shops, the boys learned to design and make “suitcases, attaché cases, music cases, and the like.”[xvi] Another craft comprised making and repairing shoes and boots, including customization for therapeutic purposes. The boys made and repaired most of the footwear worn at The Heritage.[xvii] Printing, both common and fine, offered a third area of craftsmanship open to the boys.[xviii]

Carpentry was the most popular craft. The boys designed and built most of the Heritage’s oak furniture. As buildings were constructed and enlarged, the boys also built staircases, doors, doorframes, and window casements. A sign over the entrance to the School of Carpentry read, “Men Made Here.” Kimmins noted that an “armless boy” had painted the sign “with his toes.”[xix] The inscription evoked the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, for “crafts promoters emphasized craftsmanship as process: the worker, as much as the work, was the product.”[xx] The Heritage boys’ training simultaneously reconstructed their bodies and made men of them, preparing them to assume roles in the manly world of independent craft work.

The Heritage’s reputation as a safe haven was simultaneously reinforced and undermined during times of war. Kimmins expressed pride that The Heritage had so successfully rehabilitated some of its boys that they were able to serve in the military, twenty-eight of them losing their lives in the Great War. Also during that war, 541 maimed soldiers joined The Heritage children for treatment and rehabilitation.[xxi]

World War II brought “blitzed babes and toddlers” from London.[xxii]  An even more direct assault on the Heritage happened at its extension, the Marine Hospital for Boys, which Nazi bombs destroyed. Finally, in 1948, Great Britain created its National Health Service, which absorbed The Heritage. The Arts and Crafts movement faded and Grace Kimmins’s utopian “craftsman ideal” soon gave way to organizational discipline, governmental bureaucracy, and postwar scientific medicine.

[i]

girls outside doing movement training
Margaret Morris movement, from Kimmins, p83*

* All Images by permission of the Chailey Heritage Foundation, www.chf.org.uk

References

[i] See Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Victorian Philanthropy: The Case of Toynbee Hall,” American Scholar 59 (1990) 3: 373-384 and Standish Meacham, Toynbee Hall and Social Reform, 1880-1914: The Search for Community (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

[ii] Seth Koven, “Kimmins [nee Hannam], Dame Grace Thyrza (1870-1954),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/printable/34315, accessed 7/14/2005.

[iii] Grace Kimmins, Heritage Craft Schools and Hospitals, Chailey, 1903-1948:  Being an Account of the Pioneer Work for Crippled Children (Np:Baynard, 1948), 16.

[iv] Seth Koven, Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 237.

[v] Eileen Boris, Art & Labor:  Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia:  Temple University Press, 1986), xi.

[vi] Koven, “Kimmins.”

[vii] Kimmins, 8-9.

[viii] For a brief historical overview, see Michael Grodin and Leonard Glantz, editors, Children as Research Subjects: Science, Ethics, and Law (NY: Oxford University Press, 1994).

[ix] Kimmins, 101-104. See Simon Carter, “The Medicalization of Sunlight in the Early Twentieth Century” Journal of Historical Sociology 25 (2012) 1: 83-105 and R. A. Hobday, “Sunlight Therapy and Solar Architecture,” Medical History 41 (October 1997) 4: 455-472.

[x] Kimmins, 50.

[xi] Kimmins, 82;  http://www.margaretmorrismovement.com/MargaretMorris; accessed 3/28/2016.

[xii] Kimmins, 90.

[xiii] Kimmins, 109.

[xiv] Kimmins, 44.

[xv] Kimmins, 47.

[xvi] Kimmins, 44.

[xvii] Kimmins, 46-47.

[xviii] Kimmins, 48-49.

[xix] Kimmins, 40.

[xx] Boris, 14.

[xxi] Kimmins, 62.  See also Seth Koven, “Remembering and Dismemberment: Crippled Children, Wounded Soldiers, and the Great War in Great Britain,” American Historical Review 99 (October 1994) 4: 1167-1202; and Carolyn Malone, “A Job Fit for Heroes? Disabled Veterans, the Arts & Crafts Movement and Social Reconstruction in Post-World War I Britain,” First World War Studies 4 (October 2013) 2: 201-2017.

[xxii] Kimmins, 92. See also Sue Wheatcroft, Worth Saving: Disabled Children During the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015).


 

Lisa Joy Pruitt is an Associate Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University, where she has been on faculty since 1999. She is completing a book manuscript entitled “’Crippled’: A History of Childhood Disability in America,” the research for which was completed with a grant from the National Library of Medicine. Her book, ‘A Looking-Glass for Ladies’:  American Protestant Women and the Orient in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Mercer University Press in March 2005. She earned the PhD in American history at Vanderbilt University.

 

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