Friday, July 12, 2013

The Philanthropic Society of Mile End for the Relief and Discharge of Persons Imprisoned for Small Debts; and other objects

The Victorian era was noted for its pious, virtuous, and sometimes stultifying charitable attitudes and societies. But the philanthropic leanings of British society had begun much earlier--at least as early as 1800.

The Regency period was well supplied with charities needing financial support and volunteers. In 1823 there were more than fifty societies for "the relief of the distressed" listed in "The Annual Subscription Charities and Public Societies" publication.

The Philanthropic Society at Mile-End was one of those listed.
A publication of 1812 called The Philanthropist: or Repository for Hints and Suggestions  calculated to promote the Comfort and Happiness of Man gives a clear picture of the organization of the society. An annual subscription to the Society was twelve shillings, although any donation was welcome. Five guineas made the donor a life subscriber. There were eighteen directors of the Society, a president chosen from them, and a treasurer and a secretary as well. To become a director of the Society was no sinecure. The Philanthropist gives a description of their activities.
The last sentences are particularly telling--the directors met every Saturday.
The monies collected and disbursed were significant. From February 1811 to February 1812, the Society held some 858 pounds. It disbursed, directly to those in need (mainly those leaving prison and their families), about 767 pounds. At the time of the report in The Philanthropist, the Society calculated that since its founding in 1803 it had aided just over 10,000 people.

The Investigator, a quarterly magazine, gave a picture of the society in 1820:
There was no doubt that the Mile End Philanthropic Society fulfilled a need. It can be confused with its much larger associate of the same name, The Philanthropic Society, founded in 1788, for "The Promotion of Industry, and the Reform of the Criminal Poor". By the early 1800's this Philanthropic Society had a very high--and fashionable--profile, with schools, factories and residences in its purview, working mainly in St. George's Fields south of the Thames. It also maintained a Chapel, the collections from which provided a great deal of the income of the Society.
Philanthropic Society Chapel from The Microcosm of London

There was work to be done and help needed throughout all strata of society. The Victorians weren't the only ones to realize it. The good folk of the Regency, and their parents in the 18th century, were organizing assistance and donating their money well before Victoria took the throne.

Jane Austen knew it. So did Georgette Heyer. She had one of Regency fiction's most delightful philanthropists in her book The Nonesuch. Charity certainly has a place in Regency fiction.

'Til next time,


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