Our work began in 1927 when Miss Julia Sweet, a pioneer in the teaching and training of disabled people, founded the School of Stitchery and Lace in Leicestershire. She wanted to give nurses injured in the First World War a means of earning their living. The charity moved to Bookham in 1938 when our current premises – originally a private house – were bought from the Arthur Bird family for £5000.
In the early years, the charity offered a three-year training course in needlework after which girls went on to work at places such as Liberty’s and Harvey Nichols.
The School’s students earned a reputation for exquisite workmanship and royal commissions followed. Queen Mary had nightdresses made and Eleanor Roosevelt had some smocks sent over to the USA – an early example of mail order!
During the Second World War the army took over outbuildings around the main house. Weaving was suspended because materials became unobtainable although tapestry work continued.
The girls were employed in repairing military equipment and carpet mending was introduced. A number of ex-trainees were employed in direct war work such as mending parachutes.
Queen Mary was a great supporter of The School of Stitchery and Lace and ordered lingerie items and night gowns as well as Christmas gifts.
The monogrammed nightgown shown here is a sample made for her by the students. She liked it so much she ordered another 12. It now forms part of our Heritage Collection which opened to the public in 2018 thanks to a generous award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Queen Mary encouraged her daughter-in-law Princess Alice to take an interest in the School of Stitchery and Lace and she became a great supporter and later our Patron.
The Princess took a personal interest in the students and knew them by name. Every year they would travel to Kensington Palace with samples of gifts they had made and Princess Alice would order her Christmas gifts from the selection.
In the 1970s, the name of the charity was changed to The Grange Centre to reflect our wider range of activities. We became a Registered Care Home in the 1980s with the aid of funding from the Housing Corporation.
At the same time, a Housing Association was formed to provide sheltered accommodation in self-contained flats for those able to live independently with some support. In the 1990s, we enlarged our operation by expanding into horticulture, alongside our creative needlework and crafts. We also opened our doors to men as well as women, Miss Sweet’s original idea was to give adults with disabilities vocational training that would enabled them to be as independent as possible and live fulfilled lives. Although she died soon after setting up the School of Stitchery and Lace in Bookham, her vision remains very much the basis of philosophy today – inspiring independence.
On 25th September 2018 we had the honour of being visited by our patron, HRH The Duke of Gloucester who opened our Heritage Room – see a Right Royal Visit. The room tells our story in a creative, engaging way using audio-visual equipment for oral histories and story books that visitors can handle. Visitors are always welcome please contact our Reception and we will be happy to book a tour for you.