Domini Crossfield, as Chairman of the centre from 1919 to 1959, was a significant player in making Manor Gardens so successful. Wife of the exceptionally rich soap magnate Sir Arthur Crossfield, she was very successful in raising funds and profile for the centre. She didn’t have children, was widowed for 25 years and devoted much of her energies to the centre’s work.
Like Florence Keen she lived in Highgate, in Witanhurst, a house reputed to have more windows than any other in London, except for Buckingham Palace. She counted the Queen Mother amongst her friends, and it was through this connection that the centre had its famous patron for almost 70 years.
Central to her fundraising activities were her tennis parties, which took place in the week after Wimbledon from around 1925 to 1960. Famous tennis stars, such as Fred Perry, played in the events and members of the public were charged to watch the exhibition matches. All the proceeds were gratefully received by the centre.
In addition she courted political connections of the highest calibre. In 1946 patrons to the tennis party – a sort of senior contributing guest – included Mrs Clement Attlee, Mrs Winston Churchill and Lady Megan Lloyd-George. This goes some way to explain why the centre was able to remain independent of the NHS. Mrs Attlee was also a friend (see attached letter from our archive.)
Althea Davis remembered that she Crossfield was a:
…person of undoubted charm, and when we had this battle when the National Health Service `came in and they were going to be taken over she was determined we weren’t going to be. We, she and Lady Maxwell and I went almost daily to the Home Office to see the Medical Officer of Health for London and she charmed him.
It’s also worth noting that Lady Maxwell’s husband had been Permanent Secretary at the Home Office throughout the war and after, so Manor Gardens was well placed for powerful connections.
In the 1920’s Crossfield spent considerable time travelling with with Florence Keen studying examples of how centres for children could work (see attached document on their visits). And it was Crossfield’s influence, in particular, that created the pre-school (initially known as the playroom) in 1950, at a time where there were no local open spaces or parks for children to play in. Ahead of its time, it quickly became popular with over 7,500 attendances in 1955, and developed into the pre-school that still flourishes today.