Ruskin House is the headquarters of the Croydon’s Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative movements hosting a range of meetings and social activities including two folk clubs, as well as having office space for rent. The building is Grade II listed Georgian which is in need of a lot of repair and modernisation work, which is why this fund-raising event is being held.
Originally established in 1912, its continued existence represents a major achievement of the Croydon Labour movement. The first Ruskin House was set up in The Railway Temperance Hotel which the local trade unions purchased. Financial support also came from Mrs Ada King-Lewis, a temperance advocate and member of the Croydon United Temperance Council. The Hotel stood on the corner of St. Michael’s and Station Rds. Its opening was announced in the first issue of the Croydon Pioneer, the movement’s local newspaper. This was in the period of economic depression, hardship, strike waves and lock-outs of workers by employers in what is known as ‘The Great Unrest’. Although not strong enough to have more than a handful of Labour Councillors elected, the purchase of the building and setting up a newspaper represent the strength and self-confidence of the Croydon movement.
It quickly became a hive of activity with meetings of the trade unions, the Labour Party and friendly societies. The latter were important mutual collective self-help organisations providing sick, death and widows benefits for workers. The benefit schemes run by them and the trade unions had become linked with the National Insurance scheme brought in by the social reforming Liberal Government in 1911.
By 1918 the building was full to capacity with meetings and activities. Even though the First World War had severely damaged the labour movement through the slaughter and disablement of so many of its members and the economy was in a bad state, the movement was strong enough in 1919 to buy a house ‘Netherton’ on the corner of Poplar Walk and Wellesley Rd. The Labour Party had enough income in the 1920s to have a full-time member of staff working in it. The 1930s and 1940s saw whist drives, social, dances, political rallies and meetings. The Ruskin Repertory Theatre was based in the building. It was during the 1940s that it abandoned its temperance allegiance and started selling alcohol.
Ruskin House had to move in the 1960s to Coombe Rd because ‘Netherton’ was to be demolished as part of Croydon’s reconstruction. The building is Georgian, and as Coombe Hill House had in the past been the home of an Italian vice-consul and a private preparatory school.