Celebrating the Centenary of The Miles Trust

A small charity making a big difference in the local community


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St Mary’s Church, Putney was host to a service of thanksgiving and celebration on 25th April of the centenary of a unique charity within the parish – The Miles Trust for the Putney and Roehampton community.

An exhibition detailing the history of the Miles Trust is on display in St Mary's Church, under the Tower and will be on display until Thursday 9th May.

Trustees, beneficiaries, clergy and guests enjoyed a service which included a slide-show and talk of the trust’s history, together with news that over the last 10 years alone, it has made grants of £462,000 to 87 organisations.

Andrew Collender, the trust’s chairman for the past 17 years, explained that the trust has the ability to distribute funds widely to local good causes the trustees believe are worthwhile.

Speaking during the service he said: “We are a small charity. We favour those applicants for whom a relatively small sums may make a real difference to their ability to function and make a valuable contribution to the community. We are always on the look out for new worthy projects to support.”

A few of the organisations supported recently include Wandsworth Contact a Family, for families with disabled children, Small Steps, helping children with disabilities and their families, VITALISE, providing short breaks for people with physical disabilities and carers.

The trust’s existence is thanks to Emma Jessie Blanche and Elma Grace Miles who lived in St John’s Avenue from 1872 until Grace died in 1956. Their father, Arthur Webb Miles, was a pioneer in ready-made clothing, and laid the foundations of his fortune at the beginning of the century. On his death in 1903, they inherited £308,850. 6s. 8 pence from his estate (worth more than £30 million today) to be shared between the four daughters. This enabled them to buy some land on the corner of Hotham Road where the Hotham Villas were demolished to make way for a new road.

Up until the mid-19th century large parts of Putney were still open fields and farming land, but it soon began to expand into a booming London suburb with the opening of the railway through Putney in 1844. It was at this time that Hotham Road was initially laid out and first named Hotham Villas Road for the eight large detached villas that were built here at the time (between today’s Charlwood Road and Gamlen Road, where Hotham Hall and Hotham School are today).

With the expansion of The Metropolitan District Railway (today’s District line) in the 1880s, Putney saw another boom in building development as it became easier for people to commute into London.

Building continued in Hotham Road, but on the southern stretch, between today’s Earldom and Erpingham Roads, was the first cement cycle track in England – the Putney Velodrome. It was the headquarters of the Putney Athletic Club and also had additional facilities for tennis and bowls.

However, the desire for new building development was too strong and the last cycle meeting was held in August 1905, when the track relocated to Herne Hill.

In November 1911, Rev Canon Thurston Rivington, Vicar of Putney, expressed his desire “for a Parish Hall or Church House …. where we can consolidate our work and hold meetings of all kinds in comfort”.

The land where Hotham Hall is now located was donated to St Mary's Church by Blanche and Elma Grace Miles for the building of a church hall that was primarily used by the church and was otherwise let to the public. They donated £2,100 donation towards the building fund in 1912.

Both Blanche and Grace (as they were known) were active in the parish, taking on the responsibility for delivering the parish magazine and visiting the sick in Seymour Row, a row of small workers cottages behind Biggs Row off the Lower Richmond Road.

Grace was an energetic worker for good causes and did a great deal for the YWCA before and after the First World War.

In April 1913, the trustees were appointed and held their first on 26th of that month.

The new hall was designed by Douglas Wells and the foundation stone was laid on 9th October 1913 by Mr Samuel Samuel, MP for the newly-created Putney constituency. Substantial additional donations to the building fund came from Sir William Lancaster, a prominent Putney resident and churchwarden for 30 years, that enabled the work to progress.

St Mary’s Hall (better known now as Hotham Hall) was opened by the Miles sisters in June 1914 and the first event was a concert under the direction of the organist and choir master of St Mary’s, Mr H Wharton Wells.

The new hall was used for a variety of public meetings and community events and it was in the 1930s that politician and later Prime Minister, Winston Churchill addressed an annual meeting of the Primrose League, where he spoke about the future of India.

The following year, another renowned British politician and later Prime Minister, Anthony Eden addressed a meeting in support of the Putney By-Election candidate, Marcus Samuel (nephew of Mr Samuel Samuel).

Along with political meetings and community groups, St Mary’s Hall was also the location for music concerts and in 1963 it was the location for a performance of The Rolling Stones, as part of their first UK tour. The Rolling Stones were supported by The Who, who again played at St Mary’s Hall in 1964 when they were supported by The Tremeloes.

In 1931, Grace Miles was invited to be a trustee in recognition of her continued interest and involvement in the Hall. Both sisters, particularly Grace, continued to take an active part in the refurbishment of the hall and enhancing the building by providing finances for the creation of a veranda and internal upgrade including new heating.

In the minutes of 1938, it was recorded that the Almshouse (now Sir Abraham Dawes Cottages in Putney Bridge Road), received a grant of £20. In 1964 was the first record of a grant to Group 64 Theatre.

Blanche died in 1940 and Grace died in January 1956, aged 92. Grace was also responsible for the erection of the RSPCA clinic in Clarendon Drive, the site of which was bequeathed to the RSPCA on her death, and she also bequeathed the site next to the YWCA in Ravenna Road to the church.

Grace also left £1,000 the income of which was to be devoted to the upkeep of St Mary’s Hall. The Hall was sold in 1988 and the money invested. In the years since, the investment income from the proceeds has been used to fund organisations and works which benefit the community. The number of grants increased considerably.

The St Mary's Hall Trust changed its name to The Miles Trust for the Putney and Roehampton Community in June 1993.

Nick Hudson

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May 3, 2013