alec paterson - across the bridges

Alexander Paterson (1884-1947) had a profound influence on social policy in Britain. Now remembered as a prison reformer, he was also key in the establishment of TOC H and influential in boys' club work. Paterson's book Across the Bridges (1911) was also an important and widely read exploration of poverty and social conditions of the dockland districts of South London. 

Paterson was invited to Bermondsey by John Stansfeld (from the Oxford Medical Mission, later known as the Oxford and Bermondsey Club). He lived in the area for 21 years - and was in touch with the work throughout his life. Initially Paterson lodged at the Mission - but he soon moved out into a two-roomed tenement close by 'in the worst building he could find and in the roughest riverside  street' (we assume Woseley Street). There he fought 'an unequal battle with vermin' and became 'will-nilly, the adviser of his teaming neighbours and the godfather of many of their children' (Baron 1952: 163). His knowledge of local life from first-hand experience. His belief that there was goodness in all also gave his work a special character.  Paterson had a humanizing influence on the prison system - especially with regard to the treatment of young people. Across the Bridges influenced the thinking and actions of a significant number of his contemporaries. Its call to action on the part of those who have wealth and influence, to cross the bridge to those who are less fortunate, was powerful.

References: Baron, B. (1952) The Doctor. The story of John Stansfeld of Oxford and Bermondsey, London: Edward Arnold; Eagar, W. McG. (1953) Making Men. The history of boys' clubs and related institutions in Great Britain, London: University of London Press;  Paterson, A. (1911) Across the Bridges or Life by the South London River-side, London: Edward Arnold.
Links: Oxford in Bermondsey


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