Bede’s History

Bede House in 1938

Bede: The early years

Bede House was founded as a Settlement in 1938 bringing people, normally from relatively privileged backgrounds, to live as part of a lay Christian community serving their neighbours, many of whom lived in poverty. Bede House was part of a movement that began in 1884 with the opening of Toynbee Hall. Many  universities were inspired by this idea, and the Settlement model quickly spread through Britain, Europe and North America. It provided a philanthropic, community based response to the needs of people living in areas of poverty. Bede House still enjoys  strong connections with Clare College, Cambridge who also have deep historic connections with this part of London.

The Venerable Bede

Bede House tooks its name from Saxon scholar, the Venerable Bede, who lived most most of his life in the monastery at Jarrow.

Why this Settlement in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe took his name is less clear. The new Christian community was very keen to develop an ecumenical outlook, and perhaps they saw in Bede a unifying figure respected by all the different denominations. Maybe they also identified with the fact that his life was spent beside the great seafaring port of Jarrow. Like those living beside the docks at Rotherhithe, the whole world had passed by his door.

The War years to today

Located on the edge of South London’s docks Bede House served as a communications and relief centre when the neighbourhood was heavily bombed during the Second World War. It has continued to serve countless individuals and families for generations, particularly during periods of great social change, such as the closure of the docks, the redevelopment of housing estates and the arrival of new communities in the neighbourhoods.

Imperial War Museum image of German plane over Rotherhithe

During this time, the charitable sector overall developed to meet changing social needs. Bede became a secular organisation in the 1970s, replacing its resident community with professional staff supported by volunteers. The Bishop of Southwark continues to be Bede’s Honorary President, and voluntary service is a highly valued aspect of Bede’s work in the community today. In 2008,  Bede’s Inside Outside Project was awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service (the equivalent of an MBE)  for its innovative approach to enabling volunteers who have a learning disability and local housebound and elderly residents to help and support each other. On its 75th anniversary, in May 2013, Bede House Association received a Southwark Civic Lifetime Achievement Award in the Old Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey in recognition of the organisation’s deep commitment to our local neighbourhoods.


1. The full history of Bede House Association is available in Katharine Bradley’s Bringing People Together – Bede House in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe 1938-2003

2. A collection of pictures put together by Friend of Bede Kevin Ireland from Bede’s archive, entitled Bede House Association – The First 75 Years, is available from on-line publishers Blurb:

3. The Sum of us all – Bede House at 70 is a documentary by Chris Haydon,  founder of  Community TV Trust (CTVT). It marks the 70th anniversary of Bede Settlement in 2008:

4. Bede House Association –  Fifty Years, 1938-1988, is the history of Bede House by Susanna Watson