In 1907 Gerald Wellesley, 22 years old, arrived in Hackney Wick and quickly realised that there was a problem with the “Missions scope” for the young boys and men were all dealt with but, not those in between.
So in 1909 he took twenty 18 years olds who had attended the mission to form the “Old boys club” which opened in near by Daintry Street. The Etonians who came to work with the boys became more involved in the members lives, more than just organising sports and tuition, they would appear in court if say the boys were caught playing football in the streets on a Sunday so Gerald Wellesley asked for pitches to open in parks and open spaces on a Sunday but, in doing so fell out with the clergy of the Eton Mission. Introductions into the City and letters of recommendation were normal as were start up capitol for small business and loans were all common practises to members.
There were many clubs that came into being from the Eton Mission. “The Otters swimming club”, a boxing club, The Harriers, a running club on Victoria Park road, Eton Manor rugby club, and Eton Manor athletics club are all still in existence.
In July 1913 the Eton Manor boys club moved into Riseholme Street which now housed three clubs – the boys club 14-18, the young boys club 18-25 and the old boys club 25+. The new club house was located next to Victorian Park Station north of Wick road on the site of the old manor house and manor farm now formed the Eton Manor club. Gerald Wellesley, Alfred Wagg, Edward Cadogan and Arthur Villiers all old Etonians setup the Manor Charitable Trust to finance and manage the Eton Manor clubs. Through old Etonians and friends in the highest areas of society donated to the trust. The list of donors was described as the finest of Edwardian society.
The club house and gym were the finest of the time, and the boys were encouraged to excel and well known public people and sportsmen were invited to meet and inspire the boys.
In 1923 thirty acres was bought across the river lea in Leyton know as the Wilderness which became a vast sporting Eden. After the 1948 London Olympics Arthur Villiers a director of Barings Bank bought the Olympic running track from Wembley stadium for the Wilderness. Arthur had no artistic pleasures but took to driving around the continent after World War 2 and was seen gazing at the “Campo Santo” and the leaning tower in Pisa Italy and more importantly the lights that illuminated them at night. Once the running track was installed at the Wilderness this was quickly followed by floodlights and became the first track in England to be floodlit.
Eton Manor closed in 1967 due to many issues but, mainly due to a compulsory purchase order for the building of the A12. The Wilderness however, 45 years later, will form part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where the Paralympic tennis will take place. You can see this on one of our taxi tours in London The Olympic legacy will see the Wilderness continue its long tradition with sport and will become the National Hockey Centre.
In 2007 £50,000 was awarded by the Heritage trust to create a permanent oral history of Eton Manor through its existing members accounts and pictures which can be seen at the Bishopsgate Institute.