Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Reforming factories

The industrial revolution cannot be viewed as a simple transition from an agricultural and domestic economy to one dominated by factory regimes but rather as a restructuring of economy and society. For individual workers this meant the abandoning of old skills as well as the development of new ones, while increasing regional specialisation of industry created differing impacts from one locality to another. Although contemporaries placed considerable emphasis on the development of large-scale factory production, domestic production and small workshops dominated manufacture until the mid-nineteenth century.

In Kirkheaton churchyard near Huddersfield there is a fifteen foot stone obelisk topped by a flame that commemorates

The dreadful fate of 17 children who fell unhappy victims to a raging fire at Mr Atkinson’s factory at Colne Bridge, February 14th 1818.

All the dead were girls; the youngest nine, the oldest eighteen. The fire started when about 5 am a boy aged ten was sent downstairs to the ground floor card room to collect some cotton rovings. Instead of taking a lamp, he took a candle that ignited the cotton waste and the fire spread quickly through the factory that became a raging inferno. The children were trapped on the top floor when the staircase collapsed. The entire factory was destroyed in less than thirty minutes and the boy who had inadvertently started the fire was the last person to leave the building alive. It is not surprising that child labour and the need to regulate it became a national issue in the early 1830s.[1]

Factory 1

Technological change and the development of new work conditions had gained sufficient strength by the 1830s to necessitate a serious and sustained effort by the state to regulate their application. [2] Both employers and workers believed themselves locked into an established system of attitudes, actions and responses. Employers regarded their position as defined by the laws of the free market over which they had little control. Insensitive, repressive and largely indifferent to the conditions of their workers, many were motivated by a belief in profit, a belief buttressed by their religious piety. Widespread drunkenness among the workforce, as escape from these pressures, seemed to confirm employers’ belief that the workforce could and would not respond to better treatment. These attitudes percolated down into the workforce itself and there is ample evidence of the exploitation of and cruelty towards workers, especially children, by fellow workers.[3] Masters and workers had been related to each other by simple contract and face-to-face contact but industrialisation had created a new set of relationship patterns. Workers had become ‘operatives’, human extensions of new technology, ‘dehumanised’ and ‘dehumanising’.

Factory 2

Factory children c1860

By no means were all factories similar and there was a wide range of work experience within any one factory unit. Many late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century textile mills were rural and recruited labour from the local domestic industries. Families often moved together to a new factory so that all members of a household could gain employment. A weaver used to the workings of a small weaving shed would be familiar with many aspects of the work environment, if not the scale, of a factory. Boys would probably be apprenticed to weaving, power spinning or in the machine shop; girls might work in the carding room before moving to other low-technology jobs within the mill. Generally, as new technology was adopted, men took control of the new processes in spinning and weaving while women were left with the older machines and more poorly paid jobs.[4]

Increasingly, as factories moved to steam-powered sites, the labour force moved from rural mills to towns. The new large urban mills offered greater opportunities and a wider range of employment in towns was some insurance against recession and unemployment. But factory work altered labourers’ lives in a variety of ways. Most obvious was the loss of freedom and independence, especially for men who had previously been their own masters. Factory workers could no longer intersperse industrial work with agricultural labour or other activities. Many factory masters introduced rigid and draconian regulations to keep the workforce at their machines for long hours and to break their irregular work patterns.[5]


[1] For a debate on child employment see, Cunningham, H., ‘The employment and unemployment of children, 1680-1851’, Past and Present, Vol. 126, (1990), pp. 115-150 and Kirby, Peter, ‘How many children were ‘unemployed’ in 18th and 19th century England and Cunningham’s response in Past and Present, Vol. 187, (2005), pp. 187-215. Hopkins, E., Childhood Transformed. Working Class Children in Nineteenth-Century England, (Routledge), 1994, Horn, Pamela, Children’s Work and Welfare 1780-1880s, (Macmillan), 1994 and Kirby, Peter, Child labour in Britain, 1750-1870, (Palgrave), 2003 provide valuable insights into children’s work and how and why it changed.

[2] The shortest introduction to factory reform is Henriques, U., The Early Factory Acts and their Enforcement, (The Historical Association), 1971. Ward, J.T., The Factory Movement 1830-1850, (Macmillan), 1962 is the most detailed study though it has, in part, been superseded by Gray, R., The Factory Question and Industrial England 1830-1860, (Cambridge University Press), 1996. Driver, C., Tory Radical: A Life of Richard Oastler, (Oxford University Press), 1946 and Weaver, A., John Fielden and the Politics of Popular Radicalism 1832-1847, (Oxford University Press), 1987 are useful biographies. Ibid, Finlayson, Geoffrey, The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury 1801-1885 is a detailed biography that contains much on factory conditions. Nardinelli, Clark, Child Labour and the Industrial Revolution, (Indiana University Press), 1990 examines the most contentious of the questions surrounding factory conditions. Ward, J.T., (ed.), The Factory System, 2 Vols. (David & Charles), 1970 contains primary material.

[3] Newey, Katherine, ‘Climbing boys and factory girls: popular melodramas of working life’, Journal of Victorian Culture, Vol. 5, (2000), pp. 28-44.

[4] Morgan, Carol E., ‘The domestic image and factory culture: the cotton district in mid-nineteenth-century England’, International Labor and Working-Class History, Vol. 49, (1996), pp. 26-46.

[5] Clark, Gregory, ‘Factory discipline’, Journal of Economic History, Vol. 54, (1994), pp. 128-163.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Hymns and the Chartists

The recently reported discovery of a possibly unique copy of the National Chartist Hymn Book in Todmodern Library has raised the neglected question of the significance of hymns and hymn singing and more broadly religion to the Chartist movement. [1] Elizabeth Gaskell, especially in Mary Barton seems to suggest that suffering is something that Christians have to accept and she repeatedly insists that the only way people can be happy is to resign themselves to God’s will. During the nineteenth century, the Church of England and those Nonconformist churches that sought ‘respectability’ used to insist on this point as well and it seemed to many Chartists that the Church had become an accomplice of the middle-class by keeping the poor quiet and resigned to their suffering fate. Throughout the novel, the protagonist John Barton questions whether poverty is in fact God’s will or whether it was brought about by the incessant greed of the rising middle-class. The ways the working-class is presented suggests that the only way that the laws which had enriched the middle-class were to be changed would be by Chartism.

Given that Chartism was a cultural as well as a political movement, it is not surprising that religion and religious belief, whether orthodox or not, played a significant role in determining the character of the movement and that in that process hymns played a major role. A quick search of the Northern Star identified 447 references to hymns ranging from advertisements for non-sectarian hymn books to the singing of hymns at the beginning and often the end of Chartist meetings. The state had politicised the Church and Chartist recognised the practical and symbolic importance of attacking this religious hegemony in their extended campaigns for the vote. For example, during August and September 1839, Chartists in South Wales began attending their local parish churches in large numbers, something many regular worshippers could not understand as the attitude of churches to the Chartists had changed little. The Baptists in their association meetings at Risca deplored the level of disaffection and insubordination shown by Chartists. In June, a Wesleyan minister, expressing broader views in his denomination had accused them of being levellers, thieves and robbers. [2] Nonetheless, on 11 August they marched to the parish church of St Woolos in Newport for both morning and evening services. A week later, at Merthyr, the Chartists peaceably crowded into the parish church where the curate, Thomas Williams, who had been informed of their intentions preached an aggressive sermon from the text: ‘Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the King as supreme or unto Governors...’ [3] The following week, Chartists listened to a sermon at Pontypool while in Abedare and Hirwaun, Chartists specifically asked John Davis an Independent minister to preach to them. Although he produced a scriptural justification for the doctrine of the rights of man, he begged them to abstain from physical violence and not raise the sword against their fellow man. Was attendance at church, as David Williams suggests ‘a cloak to cover nefarious designs’? [4] This misreads their significance and widespread occurrence. [5] Religion helped to give Chartists strength, sanctify their crusade and face the possibility of dying in the struggle. For many, millenarian Christianity emphasised historical change brought about by an awakened people. In occupying church pews, Chartists were asserting their moral authority but were also showing their contempt for the Anglican usurpation of Christianity and the Constitution and this was even more the case in South Wales where the church represented an alien culture and government. Christianity was just as capable of being democratised as political institutions. [6]

The discovery of the Todmorden booklet raises important questions about the importance of hymn singing to Chartists. Sold for one penny, it was obviously aimed at the mass market. So why were hymns important to the Chartists. There had been two earlier attempts at producing a hymn book for the whole movement: Thomas Cooper edited the Shakesperian Chartist Hymn Book published in 1842 and Joshua Hobson’s Hymns for Worship: Without sectarianism and adapted to the present state of the church, with a text of scripture for each hymn published the following year. Cooper’s Shakesperian Chartist Hymn Book gave both the hymn and Shakespeare a new oral agitational and political resonance by attempting to give both Bardic and religious authority to Chartist lyrics. [7] It collects together songs and ballads of the indigenous rank and file ‘Chartist poets’ and demonstrates the importance of orality to the movement. The hymns were meant to be memorised and so even the illiterate could participate in the process of collective worship and agitation. The dominant poetic tradition is, as a result, startled into new meanings or new purpose by using traditional literary forms in differing socio-political contexts and stressing the latent energy and orality of popular lyric forms. The development of Chartist hymns represented an extension of the radical ballad narrative into the religious domain combining perceptions of the intense feeling and vision about the alienation they felt from the dominant middle-class industrial culture with a morality tale that allowed them to articulate in accessible ways both their religious and political solidarity and the identification of their grievances through a populist oral tradition against those who failed to recognise or were unwilling to accommodate those demands.

The origins of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be tentatively identified in the pages of the Northern Star. On 28 December 1844,

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On 1 February 1845,

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A month later, on 1 March, the Northern Star included the following,

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By 23 August 1845, the book was nearing publication or had already been published

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Finally, on 1 November 1845, it is clear that the Chartist Hymn-Book was in use, though given the reference to the ‘36th hymn’, whether this was the book found in Todmorden is debatable and is more likely to be a reference to Hobson’s 64 page book:

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Heavily influenced by dissenting Christians, the hymns are about social justice, ‘striking down evil doers’ and blessing Chartist enterprises, rather than the conventional themes of crucifixion, heaven and family. Some of the hymns protested against the exploitation of child labour and slavery. Another of the hymns proclaimed: ‘Men of wealth and men of power/ Like locusts all thy gifts devour.’ Two of the hymns celebrate the martyrs of the movement. Great God! Is this the Patriot’s Doom? was composed for the funeral of Samuel Holberry, the Sheffield Chartist leader, who died in prison in 1843, while another honours John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, the Chartist leaders transported to Tasmania in the aftermath of the Newport rising of 1839.

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For the remainder of the pamphlet see: http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253&PageNo=1

There is no music. This came later to hymn books and singers would have fitted the words to tunes they were already familiar with. Each hymn is marked with the metre of the hymn and this would have helped them know how the words went with the rhythm. Mike Sanders, who will undoubtedly write a detailed paper on his find commented,

‘This fragile pamphlet is an amazing find and opens up a whole new understanding of Chartism – which as a movement in many ways shaped the Britain we know today.’


[1] Its discovery was reported widely in the press; see, for example, Lancashire Telegraph, 21 December 2010.

[2] Western Vindicator, 20 July 1839.

[3] I Peter ii, verses 13-17.

[4] Williams, David, John Frost: A Study in Chartism, (University of Wales Press), 1939, p. 187.

[5] Yeo, Eileen, ‘Christianity in Chartist Struggle 1838-1842’, Past & Present, Vol. 91 (1981), pp. 109-139, identified demonstrations in Sheffield over five consecutive weeks as the most protracted but there were others, for example in Stockport, Norwich and Bradford.

[6] Jones, Keith B., ‘The religious climate of the Chartist insurrection at Newport, Monmouthshire, 4th November 1839: expressions of evangelicalism’, Journal of Welsh Religious History, Vol. 5, (1997), pp. 57-71.

[7] See, Janowitz, Anne, F., Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, (Cambridge University Press), 1998, pp. 136-137, Roberts, Stephen, The Chartist Prisoners: The Radical Lives of Thomas Cooper (1805-1892) and Arthur O’Neill (1819-1896), (Peter Lang), 2008, p. 78, and Roberts, Stephen, ‘Thomas Cooper in Leicester, 1840-1843’, Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society Transactions, Vol. 61, (1987), pp. 62-76, at pp. 70-71. See also, Murphy, Andrew, ‘Shakespeare among the Workers’, in Holland, Peter, (ed.), Shakespeare Survey: Writing about Shakespeare, (Cambridge University Press), 2005, pp. 111-112

Friday, 24 December 2010

Two Loyalist Societies

The founding of national societies by immigrant communities was not confined to Lower Canada. They could be found during the nineteenth century in the majority of the large towns of North America and more generally throughout the colonial world. These societies were established by leaders of ethnic communities with the aim of supporting existing colonists and facilitating the integration of newcomers from the same ethnic background.[1] They provided access to medical and religious services, helped new settlers to find work and gave financial support to those in need. In Lower Canada, they were especially important in 1834-1835 where they were established for precise political reasons: to oppose the aims of the Parti Patriote and promote, within their localities in Montreal and Quebec, the interests of the Anglophone business and professional community.[2]

Between 1830 and 1834, under Lord Aylmer, the relationship between the executive and the Assembly progressively deteriorated. Although the debate over control of the Civil List was at the forefront of Lower Canadian politics, it was the composition of the Legislative Council and the Patriote proposal that it should be elected contained in the 1830 Ninety-Two Resolution that mobilised loyalist opinion. The loyalist assemblies held from 1834 were composed of individuals who were to dominate the movement until the rebellions. Until 1834, the loyalist movement was dominated by administrators and seigneurs but from 1834 onwards, it was the merchants of Quebec and Montreal who took the lead. They were supported by some more moderate Patriotes who were concerned by the increasing radicalisation of the movement under Papineau and who now proclaimed their loyalty and sought to reduce the electoral influence of the Parti Patriote.

The general election in the autumn of 1834 was among the most disputed in the history of Quebec. Not only were there a record number of contested elections in the 44 comtés that elected the 84 deputies but also because it provided clear evidence of the deep ideological character of the conflict between Patriotes and Loyalists. The critical issue in the election was the Ninety-Two Resolutions and in many respects it can be seen as a referendum on this contentious document. John Neilson (Basse-ville), Andrew Stuart (Haute-Ville), William Grant (Quartier-Ouest) and Barthelemy Gugy (Sherbrooke) were among the most openly opposed to the Resolutions. Papineau unleashed a ferocious campaign against the deputies who had opposed the Resolutions the previous winter and none were re-elected for their own constituency. The election results that appeared between 3 and 12 November proved a catastrophe for the loyalists who opposed the Ninety-Two Resolutions. Not only the loyalist leaders, but those most clearly marked their opposition to Papineau (Neilson, Stuart, Debartzch and Sabrevois de Bleury) were all beaten, but the loyalist movement also suffered significant losses in anglophone strongholds such as Stanstead and Missisquoi. Only Gaspé and the Eastern Townships resisted the Patriote avalanche.

The banquets organised in the honour of loyalist candidates were many and extremely animated. Their tone was unequivocal

Let us then take a lesson from the enemy...the silence of the Constitutionalists has been mistaken for acquiescence in the measures pursued by the Resolutionists...We rejoice, under these circumstances in being able to announce that a Loyal and Constitutional Association is now on foot...[3]

It was the scale of the loyalist defeat in 1834 that marked the beginning of the constitutional movement. The lesson was quickly recognised: victory over the Patriote movement and French Canadian nationalism could not be purely constitutional and electoral. It was now essential to establish a vast coalition of loyalist forces in the colony in order to bring about the triumph of British values and rights in Lower Canada. Those who attended loyalist assemblies from this time were more radical since the more moderate, loyalist electoral strategy and rhetoric had failed. It was now a question of organising an effective extra-parliamentary lobby that rejected any further extension of the legitimacy of the Assembly and vigorously challenged the Patriote ideology.

The St George’s Society of Montreal was founded on 19 December 1834, ten months before the St George’s Society of Quebec on 12 October 1835. Although originally aimed at those of English or Welsh origin, in Montreal it was the only national society also acceptable to those of Scottish or Irish ancestry. Both societies counted on a very large majority of English members especially those from the liberal professions and the middle-class. In Montreal, the lawyer William Badgley[4] was president of the society in 1842-1843 and in Quebec Thomas Cary[5], editor of the Quebec Mercury was a founding member of its society. In Quebec, where members of English origin were less numerous, the Society deferred to the leadership of the Scottish middle-class. In Montreal, George Moffatt[6] was president of the Society from 1834 to 1841 except in 1838 when John Molson[7], the elder, occupied the post. The situation was very similar in Quebec with William Patton acting as president from 1837 to 1845 (apart from 1843) and William Price as president in 1836-1837. Patton and Price were also leading figure in the Constitutional Association of Quebec. [8]

The two organisations operated in similar ways. In Montreal, the St George’s Society required its members to pay an admission fee of two dollars and an annual contribution of at least three dollars. Members, whose admission was subject to a general vote, elected the officers of the society annually on 10 January. The president chaired the quarterly meeting of the society on the tenth day of January, April, July and October. In his absence, one of the two elected vice-presidents took his place. A treasurer administered the funds of the Society, a secretary and his assistant was responsible for correspondence with members and six organisers were charged with organising its activities. The members elected two committees: one for dealing with charitable issues and a second with responsibility for auditing the treasurer’s accounts. In addition to the elected officers, one or more doctors were also elected. As well as the St George’s Society, three other national and loyalist organisations were established in Montreal in 1834-1835: Saint Andrew’s Society, Saint Patrick Society and the German Society. According to Senior, they formed an integral part of the Constitutional Association of Montreal founded on 23 January 1835.[9]

That the presidents of each of these national societies supported the direction of Constitutional Association, added to the fact that these various societies paraded together during their various national festivals, illustrate the bonds that linked the various loyalist institutions. [10] George Moffatt chaired the executive committee of the Constitutional Association of Montreal. He was accompanied by other officers of the St George’s Society including its vice-presidents, John Molson and Henry Griffin, Turton Penn, member of the Committee of Accounts and James Holmes, one of the society’s organisers.[11] The St George’s Society of Montreal, with the support of the other societies, was ready for conflict with the Patriote rebels. It had already begun to mobilise its members when Gosford authorised the formation of a body of volunteers on 16 November 1837. According to Senior, all of the national societies in Montreal were amalgamated into district battalions and served as the source from which the volunteers were formed in Montreal.[12]

St Andrew’s Society of Montreal was established on 6 February 1835, followed on 30 November by a similar society in Quebec. The society was exclusively founded for colonists of Scottish descent. That community has attained a considerable place in the colony largely because the Scots were the first British immigrants to settle in considerable numbers in Quebec.[13] The Scots quickly formed the economic elite in Lower Canada with an active role in the fur trade and in the creation of financial institutions to support their trade and industries. They played a major role in the Banque de Montréal, founded by two Scots James Leslie and Robert Armour and with Scottish merchants Peter McGill and John Fleming both acting as president in the 1830s and with fellow Scot John Boston acting as one of its administrators. [14]

The two St Andrew’s Societies functioned in similar ways. The Montreal Society based its constitution on that of the St Andrew’s Association of New York. [15] To be a member of the Montreal Society members had to pay a two dollar admission fee, five dollars if an honorary member, and then an annual fee of two dollars payable on 1 May. The Society was composed of members resident in the comté de Montréal, honorary members and officers elected by secret ballot. Among its officers, the Society elected a president who was responsible for chairing quarterly meetings held on the second Tuesday in February, May, August and December. These meetings had a quorum of thirteen out of an initial membership of two hundred though this total fell year on year because subscriptions were not renewed. The two vice-presidents stood in for the president if he was absent. Seven administrators met once a month to deal with calls for charity and with distributing money. A treasurer administered the funds and held the accounts of the Society and a secretary and his assistant dealt with correspondence. The society also required the services of two almoners and one or more doctors.[16]

Peter McGill[17], president of the St Andrew’s Society, John Boston, vice-president from 1835 to 1838, and Charles Tait, treasurer between 1835 and 1838, were members of the committee of the MCA.[18] Adam Thom, the virulent anti-French Canadian editor of the Montreal Herald was elected second vice-president in 1837. Certainly, Adam Ferrie[19], vice-president in 1836 and a founder member of the Society, argued strongly against anti-French Canadian radicalism within the MCA and the St Andrew’s Society impressing many moderate loyalists.


[1] James, Kevin J., The Saint Patrick’s Society of Montreal: Ethno-religious Realignement in a Nineteenth-Century National Society, mémoire de maîtrise, (McGill University), 1997, p. 29.

[2] Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, Mémoire de maîtrise, (UQAM), 1990, p. 77, ICMH (53911), Institut canadien de micro reproduction historique, St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal, pp. 3-4.

[3] Quebec Mercury, 20 November 1834

[4] ‘William Badgley’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 40-42.

[5] ‘Thomas Cary’, DCB, Vol. 9, pp. 115-116.

[6] ‘George Moffat’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 553-556.

[7] ‘John Molson’, DCB, Vol. 7, pp. 616-621.

[8] ICMH (13303), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, The Act of Incorporation and Bye-laws of the St. Geroge’s Society of Montreal, pp. 2-3, ICMH (47497), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, Constitution and by-laws of the St. George's Society of Quebec, pp. 2-11, ICMH (18584), Institut canadien de microreproduction historique, St. George's Society, Quebec, founded 1835, p. 3.

[9] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 12, ibid, Muzzo, Johanne, Les mouvements réformiste et constitutionnel à Montréal, 1834-1837, p. 79.

[10] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 11.

[11] Montreal Gazette, 5 February 1835; 14 January 1836.

[12] Ibid, Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Redcoats & Patriotes: The Rebellions in Lower Canada 1837-38, p. 12-13.

[13] Cowan, Helen I., British immigration to North America: The First Hundred Years, (University of Toronto Press), 1961, p. 7.

[14] See DBC, Vol. 8, pp. 23, 600 and Vol. 9, p. 67

[15] ICMH (53911), Institut canadien de micro reproduction historique, St. Andrew’s Society of Montreal, p. 6

[16] Ibid, pp. 45-53.

[17] ‘Peter McGill’, DCB, Vol. 8, pp. 540-544.

[18] Montreal Gazette, 5 February 1835

[19] ‘Adam Ferrie’, DBC, Vol. 9, pp. 284-285

Mutual aid and self-help

Mutual aid started spontaneously on a local level. It became a custom for groups of men to meet in the local inn for a drink on payday, and to contribute a few pence a week to a common fund. From these simple beginnings, friendly societies[1], trade unions, housing associations, people’s banks and co-operatives were all to develop. Rose’s Act of 1793 required friendly societies to register and laid down rules for their operation. The provision made by friendly societies varied. Some were primarily burial societies, protecting the working-classes against the feared pauper‘s funeral. Some provided for widows and children, or for sick or aged members. Some were collecting’ societies, pre-cursors of the People’s Banks. Some were ‘dividing’ societies that had a share-out from time to time, often at Christmas. It was almost exclusively a male movement, though there were three ‘female’ clubs in the villages of Cheddar, Wrington and Shipham in the 1790s.

The first housing society was founded in Birmingham in 1781 and by 1874, there were some 2,000. They developed in two rather different ways. Housing associations had a philanthropic element, and built houses for the working-classes. Building societies were mainly a means of investment for the middle-classes. Many subscribers made quarterly payments; they were not weekly wage earners. Building societies were not friendly societies and their legal position was obscure until the passing of the Building Societies Act 1836. People’s Banks grew naturally out of the collecting societies. As wages improved for some classes of skilled workers, they needed a safe place to keep their limited reserved. By the second half of the nineteenth century there were village banks and municipal banks among many other forms of savings institutions. The Post Office Savings Bank dated from 1861, an innovation of Sir Rowland Hill, who had introduced the penny post in 1840.

The co-operative movement had its origins in the eighteenth century and in the pioneering work of Robert Owen. But the idea of linking labour directly to the sale of goods without the intervention of the capitalist class survived until in 1844 a group of flannel weavers in Rochdale set up a shop in a warehouse in Toad Lane to sell their own produce. [2] They sold at market prices but gave members of their society a dividend on their purchases that could be reinvested. This encouraged ‘moral buying as well as moral selling’. Co-operative production did not last more than a few decades but co-operative retailing flourished.

‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’. Samuel Smiles announced at the beginning of Self-Help published in 1859.[3] An example of his own philosophy, he was apprenticed to a group of medical practitioners at the age of fourteen after his father died of cholera and studied in his spare time gaining a medical diploma from Edinburgh university. He abandoned medicine, first for journalism and then for the exciting world of the developing railway system. From 1854, he managed the South-Eastern Railway from London. His experience provided Smiles with his main theme

The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual.... help from without is often enfeebling, but help from within invariably invigorates.[4]

Bad luck or lack of opportunity was no excuse. There were many examples of development by men who started from humble beginnings and achieved wealth and fame: Isaac Newton, James Watt, George Stephenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Smiles preached a gospel of social optimism. Self-Help was followed by a series of other books with similarly promising titles: Character (1871), Thrift (1875) and Duty (1880). These never achieved the overwhelming success of Self-Help and over the years the message became somewhat repetitive; but it had made its mark.

Poverty 17

Samuel Smiles, Sir George Reed, 1891

By the 1880s, Britain’s economic dominance was increasingly challenged by competition from Europe and the United States. A long economic depression from the mid-1870s to the mid-1890s stretched the Victorian welfare system beyond its limits. As a result, Jose Harris argued

Between 1880 and 1890 the uneasy synthesis of Poor Law, thrift, and charity which had relieved distress from want of employment since the 1830s broke down.’[5]

It was increasingly clear that philanthropy, mutual aid and self-help could not resolve the national problems of poverty and unemployment. The London COS provided caseworkers to help only 800 people a year; model villages accommodated barely a few thousand; and the Ragged Schools movement at its height only numbered 192 schools. Social reformers such as Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree challenged the preconceptions that drove the COS and other charities. Pioneering work supported by charity and philanthropists was taken over by the state on a massive scale, including the provision of sanitation in cities. The debate on poverty had started to move on. George Sims’ poem Christmas Day in the Workhouse was not written until 1903, but social reformers like Dickens had long been pointing to the inhumanity of the system. Dickens had pilloried the ideas of Malthus in his character Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, who justified his meanness on the grounds that he did not want to support ‘surplus population’. Ricardian economic had blamed idleness on ‘excess wages’ but this was undermined by Alfred Marshall, whose revolutionary concept of ‘unemployment’ caused by trade cycles, made poverty a product of the economic environment rather than moral degeneracy. As one of Kipling’s characters put it

...you can’t pauperise them as hasn’t things to begin with. They’re bloomin’ well pauped.[6]

By 1900, there was a growing political consensus in Britain that government needed to do more to address social problems and fear of political unrest pushed the ruling elite towards social programmes to ease the pressure. Winston Churchill argued

With a ‘stake in the country’ in the form of insurances against evil days these workers will pay no attention to the vague promises of revolutionary socialism.[7]

In Victorian Britain, philanthropy, mutual aid and self-help were contrasting and competing philosophies. The three voluntary movements were in many respects complementary to one another, providing different pieces of the jigsaw of future social service provision. Philanthropy highlighted the extent of social misery. At worst it was patronising and snobbish, but at best, it reached out to the poorest and most disadvantaged classes in a divided society and developed a public conscience about conditions. Mutual aid was an intensely practical movement for the better-off sections of the working-classes. It was not a way out of poverty, but it was a means for supporting and protecting members of society against sudden financial disaster. Self-help was tough-minded, of greatest value to the individualistic and hardworking who were prepared to strive in order to further their own ambitions. The problem for each of these approaches was that they could only address the symptoms of the problem of national poverty, not its causes.


[1] See, Cordery, Simon, British friendly societies, 1750-1914, (Palgrave), 2003.

[2] Brown, W.H., The Rochdale pioneers: a century of Cooperation in Rochdale, Rochdale, 1944 and Hibberd, Paul, ‘The Rochdale tradition in cooperative history: is it justified?’ Annals of Public & Co-operative Economy, Vol. 39, (1968), pp. 531-557. Jackson, John Platt, John, History of the Castleford Co-operative Industrial Society Ltd., 1865-1915, (CWS), 1925, Childe, W.H., Batley Co-operative Society Limited: A Brief History of the Society, 1867-1917, (CWS), 1919, Rhodes, Jos, Half a Century of Co-operation in Keighley, 1860-1910, (CWS), 1911 and Hartley, W., Fifty Years of Co-operation in Bingley: A Jubilee Record of the Bingley Industrial Co-operative Society Limited 1850-1900, (T. Harrison), 1900 for the co-operative experience in West Yorkshire.

[3] On Smiles see the chapter in Briggs, Asa, Victorian People, (Penguin), 1975 for a short introduction. Jarvis, Adrian, Samuel Smiles and the Construction of Victorian Values, (Alan Sutton), 1997 is a more detailed study.

[4] Smiles, Samuel, Self Help with Illustrations of Character, Conduct and Perseverance, (Ticknor and Fields), 1866, p. 15.

[5] Harris, J., Unemployment and politics: a study in English social policy, 1886-1914, (Oxford University Press), 1972, p. 51. This is evident in local studies such as Crocker, Ruth Hutchinson, ‘The Victorian Poor Law in Crisis and Change: Southampton, 1870-1895’, Albion, Vol. 19, (1), pp. 19-44.

[6] Kipling, Rudyard, ‘The Record of Badalia Herodsfoot’, in Many Inventions, (D. Appleton), 1893, p. 283.

[7] Cit, Addison, Paul, ‘Church and Social Reform’, in Blake, Robert and Louis, William Roger, (eds.), Churchill, (Oxford University Press), 1996, p. 62.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Loyalist organisations

Faced by the claims of the Patriotes, the Loyalists increasingly felt feel the need to organise themselves. This followed on the many meetings in support for the Ninety-Two Resolutions that took place during the summer of 1834 and the crushing of the British in the elections that autumn. During the year, several societies were formed by both Patriotes and Loyalists. The first was then Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste established by the Patriotes in 1834 open to French Canadians, the Irish, Americans, in fact anyone who sympathised with their cause. Later, similar organisations were set up by the Loyalists: St George’s Society, St Andrew’s Society, St Patrick’s Society and the German Society. During 1834, these associations organised meetings and popular gatherings to denounce the Ninety-Two Resolutions, to support the Constitution and to mobilise the loyalist population.

The Loyalist organisations were brought together under an umbrella organisation in January 1835 with the creation of the Montreal Constitutional Association (MCA). The Quebec Constitutional Association (QCA), a similar constitutional association had been established in Quebec the previous November.[1] These associations were set up to defend the Constitution of 1791 and preserve the Legislative Council in its existing form. In this way, the British sought to defend their interests as the dominant minority against the democratic aspirations of the Canadian French majority. Constitutional assemblies were held across Lower Canada and regional constitutional associations were formed in the following months largely in areas where the British were concentrated.

The constitutional associations organised popular assemblies. On 31 July 1835, around 5,000 people met in Quebec to reaffirm their loyalty to the British Crown and their commitment to the Empire, denounced the unruly nature of the Assembly and, in a report to the Governor, demanded that the government maintain justice. Similar loyalist assemblies were held in Montreal. In December 1835, the MCA organised a meeting that more than 1,500 people attended at Tattersall’s; 4,000 to 5,000 people attended a further assembly at the Place d’Armes de Montréal on 6 July 1837[2]; and, on 23 October, the same day as the Patriote assembly at St-Charles, between 2,000 and 7,000 Loyalists met in the city.[3] However, the Loyalists were not content with forming associations and organising popular assemblies and, especially at the end of 1835 established paramilitary organisations. The Gosford Commission predicted that the British colonists would never agree, with what they looked like a French Republic in Canada without an armed struggle. Adam Thom defended the formation of the British Rifle Corps

L’organisation, pour se combiner avec la détermination morale et la force physique, doit être autant militaire que politique. Il faut une armée aussi bien qu’un Congrès. Il faut des piques et des carabines aussi bien que de la sagesse...Appelons donc un congrès provincial immédiatement et portons à 800 le British Rifle Corp de Montréal, qui est son entier complément, envoyons des députés pour soulever les sympathies des provinces voisines. [4]

On 22 December, Loyalists requested the Governor to approve the creation of British Rifle Corp. Gosford refused arguing that the rights of the British were not in danger and that, even if it were the case, they would be protected better by the army. Ignoring Gosford’s views, the British Rifle Corp organised in the last weeks of 1835 and at the beginning of 1836 and several public assemblies in Montreal included militiamen: more than 600 on 7 January and over 800 on 20 January. An assembly planned for the following day was cancelled following Gosford’s proclamation banning paramilitary organisations. Although this led to the demise of the British Rifle Corps, it did not prevent a group of young Loyalists establishing the Doric Club that published its manifesto on 12 March 1836.

If we are deserted by the British government and the British people, rather than submit to the degradation of being subject of a French-Canadian republic, we are determined by our own right arms to work out our deliverance...we are ready...to pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

The Victoria Club, a similar organisation was established in Quebec on 1 September 1837. It started to patrol the Upper Town from 3 November and had several confrontations with local Patriotes.

During November 1837, following the skirmish in Montreal on November 6, there was a clear division in the approaches to the problem of the Patriotes between Colborne and Gosford. While the governor still believed in conciliation, Colborne recognised that a military solution would probably be necessary and consequently began to arm loyalist volunteers. Between 8 and 10 November, he armed ten companies, each of eighty men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Dyer: the Royal Fusiliers, The Queen’s Light Dragoons, Montreal Volunteer Cavalry, Royal Quebec Volunteers and the Megantic Volunteers etc. Some of these troops would accompany the 3,000 regular troops in the province during the rebellions. In some areas, the Loyalists volunteers used the existing militia organisation to structure their movement. In the War of 1812, the militia was recruited from single people between the ages of 18 and 30 who served for three months. This model was used to recruit 250 militiamen in St-Jean in 1837 that contained local Patriotes during the rebellions and in Granby where the militia was especially active and received weapons from Colborne. Patriotes also used the existing militia organisation to recruit and arm supporters. In St-Denis, for example, the Patriotes elected new officers and recruited Patriote militiamen, though they were poorly armed. However, the purpose of their organisation was not to foment rebellion but to resist arbitrary arrests.

The mobilisation of loyalist forces and their organisation into armed groups largely took place before the Patriotes. This shows the loyalist strategy of taking the initiative in the conflict, a feature until the conclusion of the rebellions. By deciding to protect their own interests, Loyalists sought to precipitate conflict if only to prevent Gosford from continuing the policy of conciliation.

Unlike the Loyalists, who were well armed, thanks to Colborne or rich private supporters, the Patriotes were poorly armed and, after their sole victory at St-Denis, were unable to resist the British army. To precipitate conflict, Loyalists caused the Patriotes to fear for their safety and provoked them into taking action to protect themselves. Wolfred Nelson described the situation clearly.

Ils [les bureaucrates] voulurent forcer le peuple à prendre les armes et à assumer la défense pour leur vie et leurs propriétés. Ils représentèrent ensuite cette action comme une rébellion contre la Couronne d’Angleterre.

O’Callaghan compared the situation in Lower Canada with Ireland, his birthplace.

On voulait comme Castlereagh en Irlande, pousser le peuple à la violence, puis abolir ses droits constitutionnels. Dans l’histoire de l’union de l’Irlande avec l’Angleterre, vous retracerez comme dans un miroir, le complot de 1836-37 contre la liberté canadienne.

O’Callaghan stated that the government knowingly armed the volunteers, issued arrest warrants arbitrarily to excite the people and then, having thrown people into a panic, shouted that there was a rebellion.

Provocation reached its peak on 6 November 1837 with the monthly meeting of the Fils de la Liberté. At the beginning of November, the government had purged the magistracy replaced some magistrates with known supporters. As rumours of the state of readiness for armed confrontation by the Patriotes circulated, magistrates issued a proclamation banning all processions and demonstrations. The Fils de la Liberté agreed to cancel their parade and gather on private ground to hold their meeting. The day before the meeting, Montreal was papered with posters inviting the loyalists to a meeting at noon on the Place-d’Armes to crush the rebellion. The magistrates did nothing to disperse the Doric Club or the loyalists from holding their meeting though they did ban any demonstration. The loyalists went to Bonacina’s inn where they threw stones over a fence at Patriotes. This was followed by a riot that ended with the reading of the Riot Act. The Fils de la Liberté dispersed but were chased through the city by members of Doric Club. That evening, loyalists tried to burn Papineau’s house and ransacked the buildings of the Vindicator.

The street fighting on 6 November and the inflammatory remarks made previously by Patriote leaders at St-Charles during the assembly of the Six-Comtés on 22 October, led the government to issue arrest warrants against leading Patriotes for sedition and in some cases high treason. Although most Patriote leaders were able to escape, arbitrary arrests were made in several areas. On 17 November, for example, constable Malo and eighteen members of the Montreal Volunteer Cavalry arrested two Patriotes at St-Jean. Good communications made it possible for the Patriotes to intercept the detachment with Longueuil and release the prisoners. The arbitrary arrests forced the Patriotes to flee or to arm themselves for resistance.

Loyalists were not simply involved in provoking the rebellion, they played an active role it its repression. They joined forces with regular British troops to confront Patriote rebels in their strongholds and took a particular part in the destruction of villages. Adam Thom encouraged the pillaging of French Canadian villages

L’histoire du passé prouve que rien de moins que la disparition de la terre et la réduction en poussière de leurs habitations ne préviendra de nouvelles rébellions au sud du Saint-Laurent, ou de nouvelles invasions de la part des Américains.

The attitude of loyalist volunteers during the battle of St-Eustache and in the burning of St-Benoît illustrates what Thom called for. In December 1838, Colborne led his troops towards the Deux-Montagnes. He had 2,000 men including volunteers from the Queen’s Light Dragoons, the Montreal Volunteer Fusiliers, the Montreal Volunteer Cavalry and volunteers led by Globensky who came from St-Eustache. After the Patriote defeat at St-Eustache, volunteers, helped by regular soldiers, pillaged the village and then set in on fire. [5] The following day, they moved towards St-Benoît where Jean-Joseph Girouard, the local leader, sent habitants to Colborne with instructions to surrender. However, this did not prevent the volunteers from burning the village. Loyalists were also particularly active in the repression of the rebellion the following year.

The Loyalists played a major role in the outcome of the Rebellions of 1837-1838. They refused to accept the possibility of a French Canadian state and took all necessary means to preserve British dominance in Lower Canada. With this intention, they formed in constitutional associations to exert pressure on the colonial authorities not to yield to French Canadian demands. They also established paramilitary groups of volunteers who helped raise tension in the province that helped cause the armed struggle and then repressed the rebels and the civil population.

It seems that the tactics worked since the union of the Canadas in 1841 placed French Canadians in the minority within a widened State. Confederation in 1867 reinforced the marginalisation of French Canadians by giving them a degree of cultural and social autonomy within the Province of Quebec, but within the overarching and British-dominated structures of the federal State. This was a very distant step from that envisaged by Loyalists in 1837.


[1] See, Groupe de recherche sur les rébellions de 1837-38, Rapport sur les activités de l’Association constitutionnelle de Québec (1834-38), Montréal, 10 septembre 1986.

[2] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 133-134.

[3] Ibid, Bernard, Jean-Paul, Assemblées publiques, résolutions et déclarations de 1837-1838, pp. 231-258.

[4] Montreal Herald, 12 December 1835

[5] Grignon, Claude-Henri, ‘The St. Eustache Loyal Volunteers’, La Revue des Deux-Montagnes, numéro 2, (1996), pp. 83-86.

Philanthropy

If the development of the poor law system was an expression of the ‘collectivist impulse’, many groups and individuals were trying to tackle the worst evils on a voluntary basis.[1] In 1948, William Beveridge, the author of the modern welfare state, identified three distinct types of voluntary social service: first, philanthropy or the movement between the social classes, from the haves to the have-nots; secondly, mutual aid, the attempt by working men to support each other against the predictable crises in their lives: unemployment, sickness, disability, old age and to protect their dependants in the even of their early death; and finally, ‘personal thrift’ by making what provision was possible for oneself.[2]

There were bodies to meet every conceivable need: charities for the poor, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed, the badly-housed, charities for the reclamation of prostitutes and drunkards, for reviving drowning persons, for apprentices, shopgirls, cabbies, costermongers, soldiers, sailors and variety artistes. Sir James Stephen wrote in 1850

For the cure of every sorrow...there are patrons, vice-presidents and secretaries...For the diffusion of every blessing...there is a committee.’[3]

In 1833, Dr Thomas Griffith opened Wrexham’s first dispensary with the support of local gentry. Such was the demand for medical care that money was raised to build a proper infirmary in 1838. The hospital cost over £1,800 to build and a bazaar in the Town Hall during the Wrexham Races raised £1,050. The management of the infirmary reflected the contemporary values and would only treat those who could not afford to pay but patrons who regularly gave money could nominate poor people for medical treatment. As there was no government funding, all the money had to be raised by the community. Annual events such as the Wrexham Cyclists’ Club Carnival, Hospital Saturday and the Wrexham Infirmary Annual Ball and church collections and workers’ subscriptions all helped raise the money needed.

Poverty 15

Charles Dickens captured the contradictions of Victorian philanthropy: the enormous need for charity in a society where want and plenty lived side-by-side and the inadequacy of much of the charity provided. Philanthropists appear throughout his novels, not just as a dramatic device to offer hope to impoverished characters but also as subjects in their own right. Some of his earlier characters have a positive role, such as Mr. Brownlow in Oliver Twist, the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby and Mr and Mrs Garland in The Old Curiosity Shop. But philanthropists were subjected to some acerbic ridicule in his later works. In Bleak House a novel mainly attacking the legal system, Mrs. Jellyby and Mrs. Pardiggle are respectively guilty of ‘telescopic philanthropy’ and ‘rapacious benevolence’, neither of them helping to save the life of the child Jo, who dies of pneumonia.[4] In his final, unfinished, novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood Dickens ridiculed a selfish, paternalist attitude to philanthropy taking a direct swipe at the newly established Charity Organisation Society (COS). The character Mr. Honeythunder’s ‘Haven of Philanthropy’ would have been unmistakable to the readers of the day as a parody of the COS, or ‘Cringe or Starve’ as it was known by critics.[5]

Victorian philanthropy is a highly controversial subject. In its own day it was much admired buy by the 1960s, a reaction had set in. There was increasing awareness of the humiliation often involved in the ways recipients were offered ‘charity‘ and of the social climbing that often went with charity dinners, charity balls and royal patronage. Derek Fraser expresses this view in a mild, but pointed way:

The Victorian response to the powerlessness (or, as it was often conceived, the moral weakness) of the individual was an over-liberal dose of charity. The phenomenal variety and range of Victorian philanthropy was at once confirmation of the limitless benevolence of a generation and an implicit condemnation of the notion of self-help for all. It was small wonder that self-congratulation was so common a theme in contemporary surveys of Victorian philanthropy. So many good causes were catered for -- stray dogs, stray children, fallen women and drunken men... [6]

Neither the cynicism of today nor hero-worship of the past really explain the complexities of philanthropic activity in the Victorian period. Victorian philanthropy is an umbrella term covering a wide range of different activities that took place at many different places and in almost every community by people for a variety of very mixed motives.[7] During this period philanthropy changed both in methods and scope. There were at least four different, though overlapping phases.

Small-scale voluntary giving of the kind common in the eighteenth century: a landowner might look after his cottagers; a merchant might bequeath a sum of money for the relief of apprentices or indigent seamen or the aged poor of the parish. Pioneer work by individuals such as Florence Nightingale[8], Lord Shaftesbury[9], Dr Barnardo[10], General Booth of the Salvation Army[11], or Octavia Hill, the housing reformer, brought particular social evils to the public notice. Who were the pioneers and what motivated them? Many of them were neither rich nor aristocratic, though they all had time to spare from the daily grind of earning a living. Lord Shaftesbury was an exception among the landed classes, most of who confined their charitable activities to their own tenants. Many philanthropists came from the comfortable upper middle-class. Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, was the daughter of a banker and the wife of another. William Tuke, who founded the York Retreat, a model for the humane management of asylums, was a prosperous grocer. Florence Nightingale was the daughter of a wealthy dilettante. Others had a more precarious social background. Octavia Hill was a banker’s daughter but the family fell on hard times after her father’s death and the girls had to support themselves by some fairly low-level teaching. General Booth was the son of a speculative builder but was apprenticed to a pawnbroker at thirteen. Dr Barnardo went to work at the age of ten as a clerk in a wine merchant’s office. Most philanthropists were people of religious conviction. Shaftesbury was a leading Evangelical Churchman and his work as a reformer was a logical consequence of his faith. The Quaker contribution, by such families as the Frys, Tukes, Cadburys and Rowntrees, was particularly innovative.[12] Roman Catholics, Anglo-Catholics and Jewish groups were to develop their own organisation for social care in the second half of the century, but the Evangelicals led the way.

The major national societies and associations were often set up by the pioneers, but sometimes developed out of more widely supported local philanthropic effort.[13] In 1861, one survey estimated that there were 640 charitable institutions in London, of which nearly half had been founded in the first half of the century and 144 in the decade after 1850. By the late 1880s, the amount of money involved was substantial: voluntary societies in London alone were handling between £5.5 and £7 million a year.[14] The Times claimed that the income of London charities was greater than the governments of some European countries, ‘…exceeding the revenue of Sweden, Denmark and Portugal, and double that of the Swiss confederation.’[15]

The contribution of women to institutional charity, whether under male control or not, increased markedly after 1830.[16] In Birmingham, for example, many middle-class women became well known for their philanthropy and charitable work in the city: Mary Showell Rogers founded the Ladies Association for the Care of Friendless Girls;[17] Joanna Hill set up foster homes for pauper children;[18] Susan Martineau[19] helped establish a Homeopathic Hospital and worked to encourage poor people to save and Dr Mary Sturge was well known for her work at the Women’s Hospital.[20] The reason lies partly in the piety and need for ‘good work’s’ implicit in evangelicalism but also in the decline of middle-class female occupations. Throughout this period much of their work was paternalistic and conservative in character, concerned with the perennial problems of disease, lying-in and old age, drink and immorality. What was distinctive about women’s philanthropic enterprise was the degree to which they applied their domestic experience and education, their concerns about family and relations to the world outside the home.[21] It was a short step from the love of family to the love of the family of man, a step reinforced by the stress on charitable conduct by all religious denominations. The Evangelical concern with the importance of a proper home and family life can be seen as a move towards the more formal subordination of women that took place even in the more radical sects like the Quakers. Service and duty were implicit in both philanthropy and family life.

Practically every denomination had its own ‘benevolent’ society to cater for its own poor.[22] Anglicans, Nonconformists and Catholics all maintained their own charitable funds and in 1859 the Jewish board of Guardians was set up.[23] These religious societies were often the source of temporary charities in times of economic distress, either national or local. It is important to note that other types of society developed in this period. Visiting societies attempted to bridge the gap between the so-called ‘Two Nations’ through personal contact.

Poverty 16

Lambeth Ragged School

The Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes was founded in 1841 to build new homes for the poor. This organisation practised what the Victorians called ‘5 per cent philanthropy’, where donors could invest their money for a good cause while receiving a respectable but below-market rate of return. The Relief Association launched in 1843 was an Anglican charity led by Bishop Blomfield. These societies made a positive effort to go out and see people in their own homes, while other societies were seeking to provide a sort of refuge for the needy. Housing charities such as the Peabody Trust sought to provide cheap homes for the working-classes but it was only Octavia Hill‘s housing experiments that really reached the destitute. Finally, ragged schools associated with Mary Carpenter[24] and Lord Shaftesbury provided rudimentary education.[25]

Most of the major modern charitable societies had their origins in the Victorian period and it is important to ask what motivated such a torrent of charity for the poor. It would appear that charity was a response to four types of motivation. First, there is little doubt that many in the upper and middle-classes had a genuine and persistent fear of social revolution and believed that charity could lift the masses from the depths of despair and out of the hands of radical agitators. Secondly, there was a society-wide increase in sensitivity to the suffering of others. Charity was a Christian virtue and many in the nineteenth century were moved to try and save souls in the belief that, as Andrew Reed with a lifelong concern with orphans and lunatics put it in 1840, ‘the Divine image is stamped upon all’.[26] A study of 466 wills published in Daily Telegraph in 1890s showed that men left 11% of their estates to charity and women left 25%. Increasingly, religious activity became socially oriented and religion became imbued with an essentially social conscience. Thirdly, charity was seen as a social duty to be done and be seen to be done. Charitable activity was imbued with social snobbery and a royal or aristocratic patron could considerably enhance a society’s prospects. Charity assumed the guise of a fashionable social imperative. Finally, charity was seen as a means of social control. Many philanthropists preached respectable middle-class values, cleanliness, sobriety, self-improvement and responsibility.The widespread practice of visiting was in effect a cultural assault on the working-class way of life. Poverty was seen by few as a function of the economic and social system. The majority assumed that it stemmed from some personal failing. Charity was a way of initiating a moral reformation, of developing the self-help mentality in individuals who would then be freed from the thraldom of poverty. Philanthropy was an essentially educative tool; in the words of C.S. Loch

Charity is a social regenerator...We have to use charity to create the power of self-help.[27]

Increasingly by the 1850s, doubts were expressed about the effectiveness of the multifarious charities. Two accusations were noted. There was a built-in inefficiency that was an almost inevitable result of the astonishing growth in the number of charities. There was a great deal of duplication of effort and much wasteful competition between rival groups in the same cause. There was sometimes conflict between London and the provinces in national organisations, and the same Church versus Dissent antagonism that characterised Victorian politics plagued Victorian charity. Charity was, like the Poor Law, counter-productive, helping to promote that very poverty is sought to alleviate. Although it may be an over-generalisation to say that the whole concept of charity tended to degrade rather than uplift the recipient, the radical William Lovett once remarked that

Charity by diminishing the energies of self-dependence creates a spirit of hypocrisy and servility.[28]

The problem was not lack of effort but the unscientific nature of much Victorian charity. The great divide in philanthropy was over whether to respond to immediate need, risking creating dependency or to help only the deserving, risking callousness. This was evident in the dispute between Thomas Barnardo and the COS. Inspired by his Christian faith, Barnardo began working with the poor in London’s East End in the late 1860s. He had a natural flair for publicity coining a good slogan, ‘No destitute child ever refused admittance’ and had great success raising funds using faked ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of rescued children. The COS regarded Barnardo as an indiscriminate almsgiver and sought to discredit him. After a protracted and ugly legal battle, during which Barnardo’s right to the title ‘doctor’ was exposed as bogus since he never completed his studies and was forced to abandon the fake photographs, he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The question of whether it reached those who needed it most was one of the main reasons for the creation of the Society for the Organisation of Charitable Relief and the Repression of Mendicity or Charity Organisation Society in 1869.[29] District Committees were established first in Marylebone led by Octavia Hill, then in St George-in-the-East and, within a year, there were seventeen. There was a constant struggle to recruit enough volunteers to staff the committees and do the work. Tensions were later to surface between the local and the authoritarian central committee. [30] In a paper read to the Social Science Association in 1869, significantly titled The Importance of aiding the poor without almsgiving, Octavia Hill set out what was to be the approach of COS. Charity, was a work of friendly neighbourliness and essentially private, should help and not harm. Any gift that did not make individuals better, stronger and more independent damaged rather than helped them.

Social problems, the COS believed, were ethical in origin, the result of free moral choices made by ‘calculating’ individuals. Poverty should spur individuals on to better their lot, to the benefit of all and charity should step in to help the destitute only if they were morally upright and provide training in personal responsibility. Pauperism was regarded as a social evil, a degraded mentality, even, according to Thomas Mackay a disease requiring scientific treatment that should be deliberatively punitive and stigmatising.[31] In practice, the COS wanted outdoor-relief under the Poor Law system to wither away, with a return to the rationale of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, restricting help to relief through workhouses. Over the years outdoor-relief had spread, and COS believed this was a corrupting sign of a dysfunctional society. It also meant that the Poor Law Guardians and the charities were competing for the same clients, each giving inadequate relief because of the other.

The COS was founded at the same time as an important policy statement from the Gladstone government known as the Goschen Minute instructing local Boards to co-operate with charities so that the Poor Law would relieve the undeserving in workhouses, charities the deserving poor and out-relief could be drastically reduced. George Goschen was President of the Poor Law Board and was concerned to tighten up the Poor Law, which he believed had become too generous, and its administration too lax. It is not clear who inspired who but the Goschen Minute formed the basis for the activities of the COS. Many of its members were also members of their local Boards of Guardians and they applied themselves with energy their tasks. Although most Boards were unsympathetic to the COS approach, in St George-in-the-East the COS had no less than six places and the chairman was Albert Peel who, from 1877 to 1898, also chaired the Central Poor Law Conference. In St George’s and later in Whitechapel and Stepney, outdoor-relief virtually disappeared and the Poor Law Board and COS worked hand-in-hand.

It is important to make a distinction between the social casework of COS and its social philosophy. [32] In its methods the COS was a pioneering body that was of great significance in the development of professional social casework in the nineteenth century. From the 1890s, they produced training manuals for this purpose, for the use of their volunteers. They also believed that loans, pioneered by the Jewish societies, were less ‘demoralising’ than gifts. The social philosophy of the COS was rigorously traditional and it became one of the main defenders of the self-help individualist ethic long after it had been challenged on all sides. The COS had an essentially dualistic attitude to its work: it was professionally pioneering but ideologically reactionary. The early leaders Charles Bosanquet, Edward Denison, Octavia Hill and above all Charles Loch[33] (secretary from 1875 to 1913) all believed that the casework methods should be geared to the moral improvement of the poor and that this was the real purpose of charity. All charities had to be on their guard against fraudulent applicants and this, for the COS, was justification for indiscriminate charity being ended by the vetting of every applicant.

By 1900, there were more than forty COS district offices in London and some 75 corresponding societies in other parts of the country. Their enquiries into individual cases were detailed, severe and highly judgmental, based on the conviction that poverty was a personal failing and that the poor needed to be forced back into self-sufficiency. The COS came into conflict with Dr Barnardo and opposed the Salvation Army with particular bitterness claiming that its work actually created homelessness. Their approach was abrasive, to both potential clients and other more compassionate relief organisations, and earned much of the opprobrium that has been since directed against philanthropy in general. Some within the COS became ‘reluctant collectivists’, recognising the need for limited extension of state action to address the problems endemic in late-Victorian capitalism and the rise of socialist ideas. Loch’s opposition to old-age pensions divided the COS in the 1890s but growing public support for pensions schemes resulted in its stance was attacked in the press in 1896.[34] This led to growing tensions since the District Committees resented being dictated to by the Council and being regarded as disloyal for advocating policies not approved by Loch. Loch answered this by speaking of two paths: one slow and difficult, leading to social independence, prosperity and stability for all; the other, that of liberal political expediency, dangerous, fatally expensive, and resulting in universal pauperisation. The dominance of the COS approach can be best seen in the Majority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor 1905-1909.[35]

Despite the opposition of the COS to state intervention and its continued opposition to indiscrimate philanthropy, some of its approaches were genuinely innovative. In 1871, it established a medical sub-committee which deplored the fact that 180,000 out-patients were treated annually at St Bartholomew’s Hospital without any enquiry and favoured the creation of charitable provident dispensaries and after-care centres especially for tuberculosis patients. A similar committee was set up to consider work with the ‘physically and mentally defective’ that pressed for better charitable provision for the blind and for the mentally ill and for children, the Invalid Children’s Aid Association was created though, not surprisingly, the COS opposed the spread of free school meals. A Sanitary Aid Committee was created in 1882 and some local inspectors appointed who helped to raise standards of hygiene. To assist the able-bodied to find work, they created a series of employment enquiry offices, the precursor of Labour Exchanges. The COS attempted to place a mass of unregulated charitable activity on a more constructive basis, but earned a reputation for rigidity and harshness in its approach to poor people. Much of the criticism directed against philanthropy relates to the operation of this organisation in the late-Victorian period. If any group gave charity a bad name, it was the COS. The problem was that the COS propounded its views in a manner that was punitive, moralistic and highly offensive to other charities.


[1] Gosden, P.H.J.H., Self-Help: Voluntary Associations in Nineteenth Century Britain, (Batsford), 1973 provides a detailed study of ways in which working people provided for themselves against poverty. It should be considered in relation to Hopkins, E., Self-Help, (UCL), 1995. Prochaska, F., The Voluntary Impulse, (Faber), 1988 is brief and pithy. Checkland, O., Philanthropy in Victorian Scotland: Social Welfare and the Voluntary Principle, (John Donald), 1980 extends the argument. Finlayson, G., Citizens, State and Social Welfare in Britain 1830-1990, (Oxford University Press), 1994 is perhaps the best book on the subject of voluntary efforts.

[2] Beveridge, William H., Voluntary Action, A Report on Methods of Social Advance, (Allen & Unwin), 1948, pp. 10-15.

[3] Stephen, J., Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, 2 Vols. (Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans), 1850, Vol. 1, p. 382.

[4] Dickens, Charles, Bleak House, (Sheldon), 1863, pp. 271-297. See also, Christainson, Frank, Philanthropy in British and American fiction: Dickens, Hawthorne, Eliot, and Howells, (Edinburgh University Press), 2007, pp. 75-103.

[5] Dickens, Charles, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, (Chaman and Hall), 1870, (Plain Label Books), 1976, pp. 82, 85-86, 91-94, 300-310.

[6] Ibid, Fraser, D., The Evolution of the British Welfare State, 2nd ed., pp. 124-125.

[7] See, for example, Gorsky, Martin, Patterns of philanthropy: charity and society in nineteenth-century Bristol, (Boydell), 1999.

[8] Bostridge, Mark, Florence Nightingale: the woman and her legend, (Viking), 2008 is the most recent study but see also, Preston, M.H., Charitable words: women, philanthropy, and the language of charity in nineteenth-century Dublin, (Greenwood Publishing), 2004, pp. 127-174.

[9] See, Finlayson, G.B.M., The Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, 1801-1885, (Methuen), 1981.

[10] Wagner, G.M.M., Barnardo, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), 1979 and Williams, A.E., Barnardo of Stepney: the father of nobody’s children, 3rd ed., (Allen and Unwin), 1966.

[11] Green, R.J., The life and ministry of William Booth: founder of the Salvation Army, (Abingdon Press), 2005. See also, Walker, Pamela J., Pulling the devil’s kingdom down: the Salvation Army in Victorian Britain, (University of California Press), 2001.

[12] Isichei, Elizabeth Allo, Victorian Quakers, (Oxford University Press), 1970, pp. 212-251 considers philanthropy .Kennedy, Carol, Business pioneers: family, fortune and philanthropy: Cadbury, Sainsbury and John Lewis, (Random House), 2000.

[13] Prochaska, F.K., ‘Victorian England: the age of societies’, in Cannadine, David and Pellew, Jill, (eds.), History and philanthropy: Past, present and future, (Institute of Historical Research), 2008, pp. 19-32.

[14] See, for example, Dennis, Richard J., ‘The geography of Victorian values: philanthropic housing in London, 1840-1900’, Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 15, (1989), pp. 40-54.

[15] The Times, 9 January 1885.

[16] Prochaska, F.K., Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth Century England, (Oxford University Press), 1980, Lundy, Maria, Women and Philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland, (Cambridge University Press), 1995 and Preston, Margaret H., Charitable Words: Women, philanthropy, and the language of charity in nineteenth-century Dublin, (Greenwood Publishing), 2004. Mumm, Susan, ‘Women and philanthropic cultures’, in Morgan, Sue and de Vries, Jacqueline, (eds.), Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940, (Routledge), 2010, pp. 55-57 succinctly discusses the historiography of women’s philanthropy.

[17] Bartley, Paula, ‘Moral Regeneration: Women and the Civic Gospel in Birmingham, 1870-1914’, Midland History, Vol. 25, (2000), pp. 145-148.

[18] Hill, Florence Davenport, Children of the State, (Macmillan and Co.), 1889, pp. 17-19.

[19] Terry-Chandler, Fiona, ‘Gender and ‘The Condition of England’ Debate in the Birmingham Writings of Charlotte Tonna and Harriet Martineau’, Midland History, Vol. 30, (2005), p. 59.

[20] Oldfield, Sybil, (ed.), Women Humanitarians: A biographical dictionary of British women active between 1900 and 1950: ‘doers of the word’, (Continuum), 2001, p. 238.

[21] Changing attitudes can be seen in the contrast between Loudon, Mrs, Philanthropy: The Philosophy of Happiness, practically applied to the Social, Political and Commercial Relations of Great Britain, (Edward Churton), 1835 and Burdett-Coutts, Angela Georgina, (ed.), Woman’s Mission: A Series of Congress Papers on the Philanthropic Work of Women, by Eminent Writers, (S. Low, Marston & Company, Limited), 1893.

[22] Prochaska, F.K., Christianity and social service in modern Britain: the disinherited spirit, (Oxford University Press), 2006.

[23] Rozin, Mordechai, The rich and the poor: Jewish philanthropy and social control in 19th century London, (Sussex Academic Press), 1999

[24] See, Manton, J. Mary Carpenter and the children of the streets, (Heinemann), 1976.

[25] Swift, Roger, ‘Philanthropy and the children of the streets: the Chester Ragged School Society, 1851-1870’, Swift, Roger (ed.), Victorian Chester: essays in social history 1830-1900, (Liverpool University Press), 1996, pp. 149-184.

[26] Reed, Andrew and Reed, Charles, (eds.), Memoirs of the Life and Philanthropic Labours of Andrew Reed, D. D.: With Selections from His Journals, (Strahan & Co.), 1863, p. 384.

[27] Cit, Himmelfarb, Gertrude, The de-moralization of society: from Victorian virtues to modern values, (A.A. Knopf), 1995, p. 165.

[28] Lovett, William, Life and struggles of William Lovett in his pursuit of bread, knowledge, and freedom: with some short account of the different associations he belonged to and of the opinions he entertained, London, 1877, p. 142.

[29] Roberts, M.J.D., ‘Charity disestablished? The origins of the Charity Organisation Society revisited, 1868-1871’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 54, (2003), pp. 40-61.

[30] Humphreys, Robert, Poor relief and charity, 1869-1945: the London Charity Organisation Society, (Palgrave), 2001 and Mowat, C.L., The Charity Organisation Society, 1869-1913: its ideas and work, (Methuen), 1961.

[31] Mackay, Thomas, The State and Charity, (Macmillan and Co.), 1898, pp. 1-17, 134-177 and Mackay, Thomas, The English poor: a sketch of their social and economic history, (J. Murray), 1889, pp. 206-240 provide a summary of his views.

[32] Bosanquet, Helen, Social work in London, 1869 to 1912: a history of the Charity Organisation Society, (John Murray), 1914, Whelan, Robert, Helping the Poor: Friendly visiting, dole charities and dole queues, (Civitas), 2001, Woodroofe, Kathleen, ‘The Charity Organisation Society and the origins of social casework’, Historical Studies: Australia & New Zealand, Vol. 9, (1959), pp. 19-29 and Fido, Judith, ‘The Charity Organisation Society and social casework in London, 1869-1900’, in Donajgrodzki, A.D., (ed.), Social control in 19th century Britain, (Croom Helm), 1977, pp. 207-230.

[33] Loch, C.S., Charity and Social Life: a short study of religious and social thought in relation to charitable methods, (Macmillan and Co.), 1910.

[34] Macnicol. John, The politics of Retirement in Britain, 1878-1948, (Cambridge University Press), 1998, pp. 85-111 examines the attitudes of the COS to pensions.

[35] Ibid, Vincent, A.W., ‘The poor law reports of 1909 and the social theory of the Charity Organisation Society’, see also, Lewis, Jane, ‘The voluntary sector and the state in twentieth century Britain’, in Fawcett, Helen and Lowe, Rodney, (eds.), Welfare policy in Britain: the road from 1945, (Macmillan), 1999, pp. 52-68.