Whitechapel’s Toynbee Hall comes alive with Match Girls and Profumo

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 November 2013

Artist actress Julie with miniature bonsai symbolising Toynbee as the ‘Tree of Life’

Artist actress Julie with miniature bonsai symbolising Toynbee as the ‘Tree of Life’


Wonder through Toynbee Hall and you can take a step back in time and see the social history of London’s East End come alive all around you.

1970s... John Profumo plays host to Queen Mother visiting Toynbee Hall1970s... John Profumo plays host to Queen Mother visiting Toynbee Hall

Artist Geraldine Pilgrim is creating a 70-minute “performance-installation” at Whitechapel’s iconic Victorian settlement complex which has been a landmark for political and social reform since its foundation in 1884.

Toynbee Hall is the setting for her ‘Toynbee’ where groups of 10 at a time are taken on a tour of the settlement at 15-minute intervals with atmospheric scenes and live music performed around them.

Geraldine tells a multitude of stories—among them the 1888 Match Girls’ strike in Bow, Beveridge’s first ideas about a welfare state in 1903, Clement Atlee’s visit after winning the 1945 General Election and the Profumo affair of 1963 when the War Minister’s involvement with callgirl Christine Keeler who was also the mistress of a Soviet spy brought down Harold Macmillian’s Government.

All have connections with Toynbee Hall. The Match Girls held meetings there to mobilise the Bryant & May workers into industrial action for better pay and conditions. John Profumo worked there as a volunteer for 40 years after his fall from grace and remained until he retired in 2005. He died a year later.

Clement Atlee's visit after 1945 General ElectionClement Atlee's visit after 1945 General Election

Toynbee is performed and enacted by a cast of 100 which includes local people recruited who began rehearsing last week.

The performances mark the 20th anniversary of the Artsadmin arts company arriving at Toynbee Hall Studios in 1993.

The studios next to the Victorian complex include a theatre auditorium which had largely fallen into disuse.

Toynbee Hall was only too pleased for Artsadmin to bring them back to life, to be used for artists to rehearse and as a creative workplace.

But the building also includes an original 1930s courtroom, the first juvenile court in the country—something you didn’t know about Toynbee Hall.

Toynbee runs every 15 minutes, each lasting 1hr 10mins, from December 10 to 15, as part of Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. First performance Tuesdays-to-Fridays starts 6.30pm, the last begins 9.15pm, weekend starts are 3.15pm-5pm and 7.30-9.15pm. Tickets (pre-booked): £12 (concessions). Box office: 020-7650 2350. Tube: Aldgate East.

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