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The Guild of Brave Poor Things

The Guild of Brave Poor Things, Bedford Branch,second annual report [X414/86]
The Guild of Brave Poor Things, Bedford Branch,second annual report [X414/86]

The Guild of Brave Poor Things was founded in the late 19th century by Dame Grace Kimmins to help people with physical disabilities. Today the name seems patronising but this view is anachronistic. The only fair way to judge the name and, indeed, the aims of the guild is in the context of the time and neither would have struck people at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th centuries as anything but good.

The Bedford branch of The Guild of Brave Poor Things was set up in 1911 and Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has some records found in the personal papers of the last honorary secretary of the branch, Rachel Lack and these are listed below.

  • X414/85: committee minute book: 1931-1958;
  • X414/86: Second Annual Report: 1912;
  • X414/87: Twenty First Annual Report: 1931-1932;
  • X414/88: Twenty Second Annual Report: 1931-1933;
  • X414/90: Twenty Third Annual Report: 1933-1934;
  • X414/91: Twenty Fourth Annual Report: 1934-1935;
  • X414/92: Annual report for 1949;
  • X414/93: Christmas Parcels Appeal: World War Two;
  • X414/94: hand bills for the annual meeting: 1950;
  • X414/95: Receipt for the final balance on winding up the branch: 1959;
  • X414/96: letter of thanks from ChaileyHeritageCraftSchool for the final balance: 1959.

The aims of the society are set out on the inside front cover of the Bedford branch annual report of 1912 [X414/86]: "The Society is intended for men, women and children who, through some physical disability, are unable to play their part in the battle of life. This includes those who have lost a limb (or limbs), the Blind, Lame, Deaf and Dumb, and the Deformed; and the Committee of the Bedford Branch invite the sympathetic support and co-operation of the Public, in this effort to brighten the lives of those who in the town and neighbourhood are thus handicapped".

The origin of the society was described thus: "The Guild owes its origin, its title, its motto, and its military hymn to the charming and pathetic volume written by the late Mrs. Ewing entitled "The Story of a Short Life". The national society was based at the Bermondsey Settlement in London, founded by Grace Kimmins in 1894. This was intended to train disabled boys to be able to have a working life when older and so become bread-winners. The training put considerable emphasis on play as a support and alternative to more traditional ways of learning.

The Bedford branch of the society did its good work through social meetings, home visits, classes of instruction and occasional summer outings to the seaside. The second annual report noted that the youngest member was four and the oldest eighty four and there were nearly eighty members in total. The members were able to work, producing things such as baskets and mats in a foreshadowing of the work undertaken by LuDun Limited from the 1950s until 2011. This gave the members the satisfaction of producing something, having a stake in society and being useful.

The Bedford branch closed in 1959 and the assets were transferred to ChaileyHeritageCraftSchool near Lewes in Sussex [X414/96]. This school still exists and is a charitable special school for children and young adults, aged between 3 and 19, with complex physical disabilities, including visual and hearing impairments and associated learning difficulties. It was also founded by Grace Kimmins in 1903 out of her work with the Guild of Brave Poor Things.

Guild of Brave Poor Things Christmas Parcels Appeal [X414/93]
The Guild of Brave Poor Things, Bedford Branch, Christmas Parcels Appeal [X414/93]