Our History

Battersea at the beginning of the 20th Century was an industrial and poor part of London, and the area around Orville Road, Green Lane and Battersea High Street was particularly deprived. In 1899 Charles Booth’s survey found Orville Road occupied by ‘thieves, prostitutes, cadgers, loafers’, the few decent residents being men with large families driven there ‘in despair of getting rooms elsewhere’.

It soon attracted the attention of social workers, based at Canon Erskine Clarke’s clergy house, the Cedars, and from 1906 in the new Cedars Club or Institute adjoining. The mission there foundered after the First World War, when ill-health forced the retirement of its principal, Nesta Lloyd, but in 1921 she passed the baton to a Christ’s College, Cambridge initiative, Christ’s College Boys’ Club, and followed this up in 1923 by introducing the all-female Katherine Low Settlement to the club as its tenant at the Cedars.

Katherine Low’s friends raised the funds and on May 17th 1924, HRH the Duchess of York (later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) came to Battersea and declared open the Katherine Low Settlement.

Historical Timeline

Who was Katherine Low?

Born in America in 1855, Katherine Mackay Low (known as Katie) was the daughter of Andrew Low II, a wealthy Savannah-based Scots cotton trader and his second wife, Mary Cowper Stiles. After the end of the American Civil War settled in England in Leamington Spa, and Katie went to the Francis Holland School in Sloane Square.

Andrew Low died in June 1886, leaving £618,000 from which there were legacies for each daughter, with the bulk of the estate going to William.

As there is unfortunately no substantial surviving archive, we know very little about Katie’s role in the Mission and the Peckham Settlement, except that she was its Treasurer from about 1908 until her death in 1923 at the age of 67. In her last few years Katie lived at 106 Park St, Grosvenor Square. She is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin in East Haddon in Northamptonshire.

Described as ‘a woman of independent means’, Katie was in fact a millionairess worth around £4.5million in today’s money. Her wealth was inherited from her father, from her brother William, and from others like her second cousin Mary Catherine Philips. Upon her death Katie left a small bequest of just under £13,000 in today’s money to Peckham Settlement.

Katherine Low’s name is well known in Battersea but the woman herself, her beliefs and her activities remain very much a mystery. As there are no surviving papers, research to explore her life will be a difficult task.

Thanks to www.seancreighton.com and www.andrewlowhouse.com for additional information.

Published with kind permission from the Battersea Society.

Katherine Mackay Low blue plaque on our building

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