Blue plaque to celebrate Dame Leah Manning

Published: 8 January 2020 at 09:46

Leah Manning - credit Ramsey Muspratt, Cambridgeshire Collection

Education pioneer and MP will be remembered at ARU’s Cambridge campus

Education pioneer and MP Dame Leah Manning will be remembered at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in Cambridge on Wednesday, 15 January as people come together to celebrate a new blue plaque in her honour.

The blue plaque is located on the side of the former New Street Ragged School, which is now home to the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research on ARU’s Young Street campus.

Founded in 1854, the New Street Ragged School was endowed and enlarged by Homerton College in 1901. Leah Manning (1886-1977) trained at Homerton College and taught at the school from 1908 to 1917.

She made her mark campaigning for the local children of Barnwell, Cambridge, which was then an area of great deprivation. Manning lobbied the authorities to provide milk and school meals, and set up an after-school play centre and organised holiday activities.

Amongst her other achievements, Manning became one of the first women JPs in 1920 and jointly founded Cambridge’s first birth control clinic. She became President of the National Union of Teachers and was active in the Labour Party, becoming MP for Islington East in 1931 and then MP for Epping in 1945.

One of Manning’s most impressive achievements was securing the safe evacuation of 4,000 children from Bilbao to Britain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, with many being looked after in the East of England.

Mary Joannou, Emerita Professor of Literary History and Women's Writing at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), will be speaking at the event, along with Patrick Morgan, co-author of Barnwell at War, Dr Melanie Keene of Homerton College, and Professor Helen Odell-Miller OBE, Director of the Cambridge Institute of Music Therapy Research at ARU.

Professor Joannou said:

“Leah Manning was heavily involved in policy-making for educational reform, social reconstruction and international peace. She was a lifelong champion of causes affecting women and children, advocating for women’s rights, birth control and equal pay.

“As a young, idealistic teacher Manning taught children in classes of 70 at the New Street Ragged School. The children were often exhausted from lack of sleep, hungry and cold, and they huddled around a stove for warmth.

“Nothing would have given her more pleasure than to know that her own pioneering struggle to transform the lives of children is remembered at the building where she began her career.”


The event on 15 January (4.30pm) is supported by Homerton College, who funded the blue plaque, and Cambridge Past, Present and Future, the charity that runs the blue plaque scheme in Cambridge. Homerton College will also present ARU with a framed portrait of Dame Leah Manning, to be displayed in the building.

The 15 January event is free to attend and open to the public. Places can be reserved by emailing [email protected] or phoning 01223 69 5060.


Photograph courtesy of Ramsey-Muspratt - Cambridgeshire Collection