Whitechapel Gallery's heritage explored

The revamped Whitechapel art gallery re-opens on the 5th April 2009

The Heritage Lottery funded re-fit has doubled the gallery’s exhibition space, meaning it will now be able to stay open to the public all year long. Visitors to the newly opened gallery will be able to see a tapestry of Picasso’s anti-war painting ‘Guernica’, 70 years after the original was exhibited there. The artwork, which usually hangs in the United Nations building in New York, will remain on loan to the gallery for a year.


The gallery, which opened in 1901, was established by Dame Henrietta Barnett and mainly financed by John Passmore Edwards, a Victorian philanthropist, publisher and social reformer. It has a strong track record of education and outreach projects.


Barnett and her husband Samuel had previously founded the first University Settlement. Opened in 1884, Toynbee Hall saw a significant social welfare and education programme grow out of its work including the provision of adult education.


The Whitechapel Gallery has been extended into the former Whitechapel Library next door. The library, often described as the ‘University of the Ghetto’, was also founded by Passmore Edwards and bears his name on the façade. It opened in May 1892 and due to the high Jewish population of the area, quickly built up what was the biggest collection of Jewish books in any library. This was overtaken in 1971 by books in Bengali as the population changed. Scientist and historian Jacob Bronowski, best know for the ‘Ascent of Man’ television series, learnt English there.


Passmore Edwards came from a working class family in Cornwall and became a City journalist, MP for Salisbury, Editor of a leading London newspaper and a lifelong champion of the working classes. During a 14 year period he sponsored over 70 major buildings with an emphasis on learning through his bequests, many of which were for libraries and galleries but included a Mechanics and Miners Institute in his native parish. He financed the University Hall in Gordon Square, London, established by Mary Ward, being relocated to Tavistock Place. This then became known as the Passmore Edwards Settlement, and later after Ward’s death, the Mary Ward Centre, a founding member of this Association. The centre housed the first fully equipped classrooms for children with disabilities living in the community, providing course work, physical therapy and meals, paving the way for similar schools. The Mary Ward Centre is now based at 42 Queens Square and is directly funded by the LSC.


To find out more about Passmore Edwards and the Mary Ward Centre please see the following publications written by ECA member Peter Baynes.


Passmore Edwards – A Beneficial Relationship 11.4MB


John Passmore Edwards – An Account of his Life and Works 128MB

Date Added: April 3rd 2009