The Repository for the Sale of Gentlewomen’s work was started in around 1882 by two sisters from their home in York Place, Edinburgh.
At that time, those who had retired or fallen on hard times had no pension and in possibly many cases no living quarters especially if they had been in service or a tied house which usually went with the job. There were trains but no cars, horses and carts and for the better off carriages. Very few people had telephones but there was an excellent Royal Mail. There was no health service and no welfare state. In 1883 the Society began renting premises in Albert Buildings in Shandwick Place and employed a Miss Humphrey to manage the shop. The Society’s objectives were : “To promote the regular sale of Gentlewomen’s work of all descriptions. It is in the charge of a Lady Superintendent under the direction of the Acting Committee”.
There was an obvious need for this kind of charity and it progressed through various rented properties until finally in 1921 the Society bought 137 George Street. That year, the Repository wrote to Queen Mary to ask if they might make some of Princess Mary’s trousseau – this was declined, but the Queen said that as she had recently purchased some garments from the society, these could be included in the trousseau. In 1924 they did the same for the Duchess of York who became their Patron until she died in 2002.
Mrs. Humphrey, after running the repository for 11 years, became seriously ill and was away for some time. On her return it was found that there were several irregularities for which she was unjustly held responsible. She consequently left, taking many friends and supporters with her and started another society – The Self Aid for Gentlewomen which was constituted in 1893. This Society did not appear to possess any premises until the late 1900’s as the work was all done by orders and posted to members, but they did have a big sale annually in the church hall. Sometime before 1930 the Society moved into the basement of 137 George Street. In 1941 there was a great difficulty in getting materials and wool to work with because of the rationing, and both societies, with much petitioning of the Board of Trade, and help from the WVS obtained trading coupons to buy the necessary materials. In 1946 The Self Aid Society managed to buy its own premises in Castle Street and with its upstairs floors being let, the ground floor was used as the shop.
As time went on, it was obviously uneconomic to run the two shops doing virtually the same work. After taking legal advice, an amalgamation took place in 1977 retaining the Castle Street building as it was the larger of the two premises. Today we have the Royal Edinburgh Repository and Self Aid Society whose aims have not changed over all these years except for the fact we now and have had for some time a few male members and younger members as well. At present we have well over 250 members from throughout the U.K.