The London Child Guidance Training Centre was founded over 90 years ago. Its history is an important strand that feeds on the one hand into the history of the Tavistock Child and Family Department and on the other Gloucester House.

As a movement, ‘child guidance’ first emerged in the United States in the aftermath of World War 1, when there was huge concern about child development. Child guidance sought to be a form of preventive medicine to promote children’s mental well-being.

The impact and ambitions of American philanthropy in child welfare were substantial. Organisations like the Rockerfeller charities and the Commonwealth Fund of New York set out to create a ‘science of child development’.

Cyril Burt

Cyril Burt

In 1927 Cyril Burt, of the Maudsley Hospital, founded the Child Guidance Council, which arranged for eight representative professionals to study in America, these included Dr William Moodie of the Maudsley Hospital, Doris Robinson, a social worker from the Tavistock Clinic, and Dr Ralph Crowley, the senior medical officer of The Board of Education.

William Moodie

William Moodie

The London Child Guidance Training Centre was established by Dr William Moodie in 1928 and was funded by the Commonwealth Fund of New York.

Tudor Lodge

Tudor Lodge

They obtained premises at the Tudor Lodge, 1 Canonbury Place, Islington, opening their clinic in July 1929 with Lady Lawrence as the president and Cyril Burt as the vice president. Dr. William Moodie was its first director and Lucy Fildes its first psychologist. It had three specific functions: diagnosis, treatment and research.

Lucy Fildes

Lucy Fildes

The London Child Guidance Training Centre dealt with ‘backward children, delinquents, and nervous and unmanageable children’ and was the first centre in this country that trained psychiatric social workers as well as psychiatrists and psychologists.

From the very start the centre emphasized a multi-disciplinary approach. Treatment was initiated by a diagnostic procedure: a psychiatrist reviewed the child’s physical and mental health, a psychologist assessed their intelligence and education, while a social worker examined the home environment. They then held a conference, chaired by the psychiatrist to agree what intervention was needed. This method was known as the medical model.

In 1929 London Child Guidance Training Centre accepted 134 cases, in 1930 this went up to 367 and then in 1931 it saw 399 cases. By 1935 the Clinic had dealt with nearly 2,300 cases, referred from all over the United Kingdom.

From 1935 the financial backing of the Commonwealth Fund was gradually withdrawn and finally ceased in 1939. The Clinic had to find other means of support. It established an Appeal Department and various society fund-raising events began to take place in the late 1930s.

John Bowlby 1950s

John Bowlby and a child

A young John Bowlby worked there from 1936 to 1940 and published his famous ’44 Juvenile Thieves’ (1944) based on his work there. When he established the Tavistock Clinic’s Unit for Children, he brought with him the multi-disciplinary medical model he had learned in the London Child Guidance Training Centre.

In 1939 William Moodie returned to military service and just like at the Tavistock Clinic its women took charge. Dr Margaret Posthuma (1876-1961) took up the position of honorary director, then in 1941 Kathleen Todd (1898-1968) took over as director.

By the late 1930s the authorities had already begun to prepare for the evacuation of urban areas at risk of bombing. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War 2 the clinic was closed and the staff were evacuated to Cambridge, operating a part-time child guidance clinic from Cambridge’s general hospital.

St Saviours being demolished

The demolition of St Saviour’s on Osnaburgh Street, 1965

After the war the Clinic returned to London, leasing 6 Osnaburgh Street, next door to St Saviour’s Hospital, but only maintained its training and clinical functions. Kathleeen Todd passed back leadership to William Moodie. In 1948 it joined the NHS under the control of the Central Middlesex Hospital Management Committee, part of the North West Metropolitan Regional Health Board, who renamed it the Child Guidance Training Centre.

The Centre initially passed into quiet obscurity within the NHS. Then in the 1960s it went through a series of moves, first to Cosway Street in 1962 and then 33 Daleham Gardens in 1963.

Gloucester House 1891

Gloucester House 1891

In 1967 the Child Guidance Training Centre moved into the newly opened Tavistock Centre, which allowed them to open Gloucester House as a Day Unit for seriously disturbed children at 33 Daleham Gardens in 1968.

Tavistock Centre 1965

Tavistock Centre 1965

In an arrangement brokered by the Regional Board, the Child Guidance Training Centre took one floor of the Tavistock Centre and shared some of the common areas of the ground floor. At the time Child Guidance Training Centre staff nicknamed the Tavistock Centre ‘The Freud Hilton’.

In 1985, the local health authority decided that there was no longer a need for the independent existence of the Child Guidance Training Centre, so it merged with the Children and Parents Department of the Tavistock Clinic to become the Tavistock Child and Family Department. The combined department became the largest and most creative department in the field, in the country.

Gloucester house 2019 with Head Nell Nicholson

Gloucester House in 2019, with Head Nell Nicholson

To this day Gloucester House continues its unique work as a therapeutic school, as part of the Tavistock and Portman. It celebrated its 50th birthday in 2019, successfully helping children that have been turned away from other forms of education and returning most to mainstream education.


For more on Gloucester House

Author: Glenn Gossling, article first appeared in In Mind magazine 2019