Another jotting from the L.R. Reeve collection on the educationalist the Reverend John Scott Lidgett (1854-1953). A marvellous man, described here as a 'little packet of dynamite,' and author of 15 books. Reeve has a good story also about "the best-dressed woman in Rotherhithe…"
JOHN SCOTT LIDGETT
Where did I get the news that the late Dr Scott Lidgett was chairman of the centre for Psychotherapy, Epsom, at the age of ninety-six? All I remember is that I found the information jotted down in one of my scrapbooks. It may be true because he lived to the age of ninety-nine, and at ninety when a young journalist from the Kentish Mercury called at his home for an interview and congratulations, he was certainly in full command of his mental powers.
At the end of the visit the young newsman expressed the hope that he might call again when the veteran reached his century. "It could be”, retorted the eminent divine, "you look as if you might live another ten years". The remark was typical, for Dr Lidgett, one of the most distinguished nonconformists of his generation, a little packet of dynamite, was a decidedly witty man; and every time I saw him, his expression never showed a trace of emotion, for his self-control was so significant to any observer of human nature that one felt that no situation would make him lose his colossal nerve. Moreover, as some of his minor duties were to be a manager of several schools, stories galore were told of his visits. Two remain in my memory: at one school on Prize Day the headmaster, during his report, declared that the year's successes were not due to himself but to his staff. His face dropped when Scott Lidgett, presenter of prizes, said he accepted the headmaster' s announcement.
The Warden of the Bermondsey Settlement was no lover of any hint of hypocrisy, but one simple little incident always reminds me of his artistic appreciation. I suppose he was the best-known figure in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, and he knew many children by their Christian names. At one visit to the Rotherhithe New Road school he noted a schoolgirl with a glorious head of hair. Stroking her head he remarked, "Don't ever let them cut your hair, Clara". Incidentally, when Clara grew up she went to college, ultimately became an assistant mistress in her old school and was known as the best-dressed woman in Rotherhithe: a phenomenon which tempts me to dwell on the psychology of well-dressed teachers, and relevant advice previously offered by a veteran headmistress in that area.
Once the seat of Norman kings, Bermondsey, where there was once a palace, possibly pre-Norman, still shows many reminders of prosperous days, and in this borough as Warden of the Bermondsey Settlement, he spent forty-eight years promoting the welfare of underprivileged people and I often wonder whether anyone in London ever equalled his great services to the poor and needy who still persist even in these days of affluence. Many a man with aspirations for social service must have felt that as founder and Warden of the Settlement, Scott Lidgett's opportunities for welfare work were greater than those of any other social reformer, and perhaps those who decided on the type of man needed for the numerous difficulties and stresses encountered in a warden's post, could never have appointed a more suitable man. For one thing, to be a successful welfare worker it is essential to make the head govern the heart; and people who knew him respected his judgment. Moreover, they respected and appreciated his uncanny gift of dealing with those who are inclined to be patronizing, unconventional, clever, smug and seekers of compliments. As already implied, he had just those qualities.
It is not very important perhaps to trace his high appointments in university, local government and social commissions, but one can judge his credentials fairly accurately by a study of his chronological progression until he reached the Bermondsey Settlement. Born in Lewisham he was educated at Blackheath Preparatory School, University College, London, then Wesleyan minister at Tunstall, Southport, Cardiff, Wolverhampton and Cambridge he had had a fairly comprehensive experience for his important duties as Warden, with Dr Moulton, at the Bermondsey Settlement.
I am making no attempt to give a detailed account of his first-rate journalism, and simply state that he was once an Editor of the Methodist Times and a joint editor of the Contemporary Review; he wrote fifteen books, mainly on Religion, and as regards his multitudinous presidencies, chairmanships and commissions I name but a few. He was at different times president of the Evangelical Free Churches of England and Wales; of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference; of the Free Church Commission; of the Temperance Council of Christian Churches, and the first president of the United Church, in addition to that of other bodies. Moreover one departure from his usual commitments was to be a member of the Royal Commission on Venereal Diseases, and another unusual office was that of Chairman on the Committee of the Central Council of Nursing.
The universities of Aberdeen, Oxford, Edinburgh and London are probably not too free with their honorary degrees to well-known people, but I cannot imagine anyone taking exception to any such distinctions to Dr Scott Lidgett: except perhaps the author of an unusually lengthy citation in Latin, for a University Orator would have quite a task. Also, I should think his proudest honour was when he became Vice-Chancellor of the great University of London.