Muriel and Doris Lester &
The Heritage of the Kingsley Hall Community Centres

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The Origins of the Kingsley Halls

Muriel and Doris Lester were two of five children of Henry Edward Lester an eminent Victorian shipping engineer. They started life in a middle-class family living in Leytonstone. Muriel (born 1883) and Doris (born 1886) Lester founded Children's House and Kingsley Hall.  They started life in a middle-class family living in Leytonstone.  Father Henry owned a ship repair yard in Blackwall Docks.  In 1902 the family moved to Loughton.  It was unusual, in those days, for girls to be given any education but Muriel and Doris were educated at St Leonard's College, St Andrews, Aberdeen.


The Lester family lived in great wealth and comfort in the Woodford Green area of Essex and it was only when the Lester sisters saw the slums and poverty of the East End from trains as they travelled into the City that they realised that not everyone had the same lifestyle and privilege that they had.

They asked their father if they could visit the East End and made many trips particularly to the Bow area where they made numerous friends amongst the people living there.

It was in l902 that Muriel first became acquainted with the people of Bow.  

In 1902, Muriel, was invited to THE FACTORY GIRLS' DANCE, at Bow, East London.  She accepted the invitation out of curiosity.  Muriel, an attractive, vivacious, eighteen year-old, not frivolous, but certainly fun-loving, set off for Bow in search of adventure.  Little could she have known what adventures lay ahead.


Muriel still in her early twenties became the leader of the Women's group at Bruce Road Congregational Church.  She arranged classes on subjects, such as: Workers Rights.  Music.  Drama.  Diet.  The Bible.  Muriel was a strong supporter of 'Votes for women'


In 1912, the sisters and brother Kingsley moved into Bow renting number 60 Bruce Road.  George Lansbury, MP for the area, was a regular visitor.  In 1912 Lansbury resigned his seat to fight a by-election on 'Votes for Women'.  Muriel and Kingsley were supporters of Beatrice Webb's 'Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission' 1909.  The report is now accepted as the blue print on which the Welfare State is based.  The Lesters were never 'Pie In The Sky' Christians.  That is one of the reasons why their inspiring achievements are worth retelling,  They were beacons of progress in a very Dark Age.


An Adult School was opened, aimed at men with a desire for self-education, with classes on: Art, History, Literature and Social Problems.  Trips to the countryside were arranged.


To cope with the expanding workload 58 Bruce Road was also rented.  But the very sudden death of their beloved brother Kingsley, in 1914, (aged 26), tested their Christian beliefs and physical strength to the very limit.  Even in the darkest days of the 1914-18 war they still found the strength to expand the Nursery School, Mothers Meeting and Play Hour Scheme.  The 'Kingsley Rooms' at 58 and 60 Bruce Road were dedicated to the memory of their beloved brother Kingsley.  Kingsley having willed his money to his sisters to be used in their work in Bow.  George Lansbury presided over the opening of the Kingsley Rooms.


Father Henry wanted a lasting memorial to Kingsley, so he financed the purchase of a Baptist Chapel on the comer of Eagling and Botolph Road.  On the 13 February 1915, the very first “Kingsley Hall' was opened.  The aims were quite clearly stated on its membership card:


"As a place of fellowship in which people can meet for social, educational and recreational intercourse without barriers of class, colour or creed."