Missionaries in Somers Town

Somers Town, being neglected and poor, with inhabitants distressed by overcrowding, domestic and street violence, attracts missionaries, who intend to save the people of Somers Town. Two stand out in particular. Social housing schemes established in the early twentieth century Father Basil Lee Jellicoe, a clergyman in the Church of England, made it his mission to work with the people of Somers Town in the early twentieth century. He ran a pub in the area so he could become closer to the people. Jellicoe described the slums as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace. and a gigantic theft from the poor. He believed Jerusalem could be built in Somers Town. Being born into high society, he enlisted the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in the formation of the St Pancras House Improvement Society, which laid out plans for a redevelopment of Somers Town. After the first slums were demolished Jellicoe erected vast papier mache effigies of the rats and bugs that infested the slums, and ceremonially torched them.. Incredibly Jellicoe was only 36 when he died, in 1935, but in many ways, one might argue, by the time of his passing, his work as one devoted to the betterment of the people of Somers Town, was complete.

Fifty years later, Sean O’Regan, a man born in rural Cork, but raised in Jersey, a committed Christian and socialist, who believed he had a mission to work with the poor, asked himself ‘if Jesus had to be a teacher, which [school] would he choose?’ O’Regan arrived in Somers Town at Edith Neville School, in 1990. The amount of work that he put into the school over the next twenty-five years was truly a work of devotion, one described by Wendy Wallace in her account of life in the school, called Oranges and Lemons. Towards the end of the twentieth-century the school, which was beginning to fall down, and O’Regan was said to have fundraised for, and oversaw the construction of a remodeled interior. More recently O’Regan fought tooth and nail to stop the school from being amalgamated with a school for the deaf. The school played such an important part in O’Regan’s life.  In 2012 Sean O’Regan resigned from his post at Edith Neville and returned to Jersey, where he spent much of his childhood.

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