By Alan Burke Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — PEABODY — The British were here.
They came to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the George Peabody Trust in London, an endowment established to give housing to working people. The group included six residents, ages 14 to 18, and three staffers.
The city of Peabody loved favorite son and 19th-century millionaire philanthropist George Peabody so much that it took his name. But George had a favorite city of his own — London, where he donated a huge percentage of his fortune.
The result, said Veronica Kirwan, assistant director of the Peabody Trust, is an organization that still maintains 20,000 homes, housing 50,000 residents at 60 percent of market rents.
Earlier this year, a contingent of Peabody residents went to London to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the trust.
They urged British counterparts to return the visit, according to Bill Power of the Peabody Historical Society.
The group, chosen through an application and interview process, arrived Friday, Oct. 26, and returned home this past Saturday.
“Your country looks so new,” Nikieta Curtis said during an interview at the Peabody Marriott. “So modern.”
They visited the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers and heard from Danvers historian Dick Trask. The youths acknowledge astonishment that teen girls could have inspired so much horror.
Curtly Adams, an artist, admires the “down-to-earth” attitude of the people today.
Hurricane Sandy briefly interrupted a schedule including the George Peabody House, Peabody Institute Library and Harvard. The interruption also allowed time to go bowling.
The candlepins required adjustment for Bassam Menhal, who had only ever seen duckpins.
For that matter, after watching an Endicott College game, some of the ladies expressed a preference for American football with its massive participants.
They declared they would “go every day” if English football were like that.
All agreed on the most remarkable thing about America.
“Portion sizes,” Mia Campbell said with a gasp. “Every meal I’ve had, I never finished. People tell me there are these boxes you can put in what’s left and take it home.”
“Cups are huge,” staffer Jeanette Manu said. “We couldn’t even finish our drinks.”
“You guys have a wide array of shops,” said an admiring Yvonne Edge-Daley. And there are bargains to be had here, they agreed.
The British visitors noted that George Peabody remains surprisingly visible in his adopted London.
“One in 12 Londoners will have lived in Peabody housing,” staffer Sam Bedford said.
“Or have family that lived in the Peabody,” Kirwan said. New properties have been constructed, and some of the 19th-century originals still stand, though modified with bathrooms.
All were eager to see Salem on Halloween Eve.
“They go to extremes here,” Campbell said. “In London, all they do is have little girls dress up as princesses.”
But they conceded that they hadn’t brought any costumes.
“I’m going as a British person,” Alek Deng said with a laugh. “Is that supposed to be scary?”