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Born in 1837, Emma Cons started her life as an artist, as part of a group of "distressed gentlewomen" with artistic talent. Shocked by the living conditions of London’s working classes, she became passionate about better housing. The poor struggled with cramped, dirty conditions, alcoholism, domestic abuse and ruthless landlords only interested in collecting rent. Emma set up her own housing company in south London to house families safely. To offer a broader education, she took over the Old Vic theatre, turning it into a coffee house with lectures. She also founded Morley College, the first place of its kind to admit men and women equally. She was the first woman alderman to sit on the London County Council and fought to allow women to serve as local councillors. Her amazing achievements are recorded on this plaque on the side of the Old Vic.


The inscription reads:


“Lover of beauty, and pupil of Ruskin, she yet gave up the life of an artist for social work, so deeply did she sympathise with those who lack many of the good things of life. To improve housing for working men and women, to provide wholesome and joyous recreation at a low price, to promote education, to protect infant life, and to bring a human touch to the children in the industrial schools of her day. To such beneficent ends she gave her very self. Large-hearted and clear-sighted, courageous, tenacious of purpose and of great personal modesty, her selfless appeal drew out the best in others and was a constant inspiration for service to all with whom she was associated.”

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Art and Design





Art and Design


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"I found an old gold frame, from the times when Emma Cons bought the Old Vic and put in the gold lettering that HOLT have done, using graphic design skills.”

– Kate Lee, 18, Proud Places Young Ambassador

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