Grace Kimmins and her Chailey Heritage. By Ros Black.
Even with my close association with the Heritage Craft Schools in my formative years at Chailey and a personal knowledge of Grace Kimmins, later Dame, I found this book to be deeply moving. I am not what you might call an original thinker so as a child at the Heritage I never gave the origins of Chailey a second thought, nor for that matter did I ever consider the Commandant, as Dame Grace was called, to be out of the ordinary, apart that is, from her personal choice of dress.
However as I have learned from this extremely well researched book she was indeed an extraordinary woman with a profound social conscience, a person who carried her sincere beliefs throughout her life, and whose achievements would be nigh impossible to fulfil today, indeed it would be difficult for any such person to raise the vast amount of resources that she did in her lifetime.
From a nondescript start in life her successes came about because she pricked the conscience of high society and the wealthy to the plight of poor disabled children in the slums of London, she was able to gather around her many influential and philanthropic women with similar visions as her own, none more so than Princess Louise the daughter of Queen Victoria who became an ardent patron, I can’t imagine any woman with a similar background to Grace Kimmins attracting the patronage of the Royal Family today, which was so vital to her cause.
I found the description of the autumn years of Dame Grace’s life utterly moving; it seemed that after a pioneering lifetime of one struggle after another it was beginning to disintegrate around her; it was undoubtedly heartbreaking for her to lose her lifelong friend and supporter Alice Rennie, she had been with Grace from her early days, this was followed later with the loss of her husband Charles who was inspirational in the field of education.
With these two pillars of strength missing from her life Grace still had the tangible highpoints of her achievements surrounding her; prominent amongst them was St Georges the residential home for 150 disabled children, followed by St Martin’s hospital and the magnificent chapel that gladdens the eye and of course St Helen’s Heritage for disabled girls.
But circumstances beyond her control were yet to deliver another blow to Grace, when at the pinnacle of her success, she witnessed the formation in 1948 of the NHS, but sadly with its creation she was to lose the pivotal raison d’etre of her very being, and reluctantly she had no option but to stand aside and allow the prestigious management of her beloved Heritage Craft Schools be taken from her. Despite her declining years and this bitter episode in her life Grace continued to take a keen interest in the welfare of Chailey, but after 45 years of humanitarian giving this time it was to be from the sideline.
Dame Grace’s life had been one driven by compassion and caring for others; she was a visionary who wanted to give opportunities to the disabled and less fortunate, starting with the deprived and poor children from the slums of London and finishing with a world-renowned medical and educational facility in the heart of the Sussex countryside, one that was shaped around the needs of severely disabled children and war injured soldiers. It was an achievement of a simple woman but one of greatness.
This book is a good read and hard to put down until the end is reached. It has 208 pages and is well illustrated and at only £10 with profits going to the Chailey Heritage Trust it is thoroughly recommended. J.H.
Price includes £2.20 postage & packaging
Read the fascinating story of Grace Kimmins, from her social work in the Bermondsey slums in the 1890s, the founding of her unique craft school for disabled boys in Chailey, Sussex in 1903, through two World Wars, to the takeover of Chailey Heritage by the NHS in 1948.