The Philanthropic Society

My Master’s dissertation was a study of the Philanthropic Society founded in the late eighteenth century. Having changed computers since my original research, with the majority of it lost, I was thrilled to come across this photograph in my ‘old’ emails.

The Philanthropic Society 'Characters'

The Philanthropic Society was founded in London in 1788 and its mission was to resolve the problem of homeless and criminal children.  It was based at St George’s Fields in Southwark and from 1788 employed the children of the poor and of habitual criminals in multifarious apprenticeships from the age of six years old. 

Ten-year-old George Lefoy was the first child admitted into the Reform in October 1788. He had lived with his parents in ‘a notorious resort of thieves’. The record states that his parents were of an abandoned character. From this we can assume that they partook in criminal activities, maybe his mother was a prostitute, or they drank to excess and neglected their child. Or indeed, it could be as simple as they were extremely poor and facing destitution and the neighbourhood where they lived was the cheapest and they had reached rock bottom. Whilst not conclusive, a quick search on the Old Bailey Online website does not return anyone with the name ‘Lefoy’ during the latter three decades of the eighteenth century.

George was first placed in the care of a nurse and then during December removed to the matron ‘and employed knitting’. In April 1789 he was removed to the shoemaker and ’employed shoemaking’. In May 1791 he was ‘apprenticed to the shoemaker’, setting him up for a future trade in that craft.

The Society was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1806.  In 1849 it relocated to an estate at Redhill, Surrey becoming the Philanthropic Society’s Farm School, organised on the ‘house system’.  The school became a reformatory under the Reformatory Schools Act of 1854 with most of its pupils being young offenders and sent there by local magistrates.  At this time, the children were principally expected to labour on the farm, although some other trades were taught. 

In its earliest incarnation, in 1788, disadvantaged city children were offered apprenticeships with carpenters, shoemakers and such like.  The youngest children were employed at knitting ‘with the matron’.  The Philanthropic Society received its royal patronage in 1849 becoming the Royal Philanthropic Society.

To read my previous article the ‘Black Boy’ of the Philanthropic Society click here.

To read More from the Philanthropic Society and see who joined George in 1788 click here.

Image: Author’s own, from the Characters of the Boys admitted into the Reform


Surrey History Centre, Philanthropic Society, 1788 Characters of the Boys Admitted into the Reform, 2271/10/1

One thought on “The Philanthropic Society

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s