Sweet Char­ity

Find the records of char­i­ties which helped your an­ces­tors

Your Family History - - Front Page -

When you ex­plore an old church, you will of­ten see a wooden ‘bene­fac­tion board’ hang­ing in the porch. An­cient let­ters, on age-black­ened wood, pro­claim a donor’s gift to the par­ish poor ‘for ever’. The im­pulse to help oth­ers less for­tu­nate than one­self is as old as mankind. For fam­ily his­to­ri­ans, char­ity records are ex­tremely use­ful be­cause many pre-date civil reg­is­tra­tion and the Vic­to­rian cen­suses.

Char­i­ties once filled many roles even­tu­ally su­per­seded by the ad­vent of the wel­fare state, na­tional ed­u­ca­tion, and the Na­tional Health Ser­vice. Per­haps your an­ces­tor grew up in an or­phan­age, lived in an almshouse, or re­ceived med­i­cal care. Maybe your

an­ces­tor worked as a nurse or doc­tor, dis­trib­uted food or cloth­ing, or en­dowed a char­ity in their will.

For­merly, the poor re­lied on food and alms dis­pensed by Bri­tain’s an­cient re­li­gious houses. Some had hos­pi­tals at­tached to them. From the tenth cen­tury on­wards, abbeys, pri­or­ies and other re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions re­ceived one-tenth of all crops, live­stock or pro­duce: tithes. Tithes helped pro­vide char­ity for the poor and hos­pi­tal­ity for strangers as well as fund­ing the clergy’s main­te­nance.

When Henry VIII in­tro­duced the new Angli­can state re­li­gion in the 1530s, the monas­ter­ies were sup­pressed and their lands and pos­ses­sions seized by the state; some were given to lay peo­ple. The ages- old sys­tem of char­ity dis­ap­peared just as the num­bers of poor were ris­ing be­cause of pop­u­la­tion growth.

The state’s re­sponse was to in­tro­duce new leg­is­la­tion. Parishes al­ready had a com­mon law duty to care for their poor so that no­body would ‘die for de­fault of sus­te­nance’, as an­ti­quary Nicholas Carlisle phrased it in 1828. Now par­ish of­fi­cials had to col­lect ‘vol­un­tary and char­i­ta­ble alms’ to fund care for all aged and sick per­sons born, or who had lived for three years, in their district. Soon, com­pul­sory levies on parish­ioners were in­tro­duce, and peo­ple were fined if they did not pay their poor rates. How­ever, pri­vate char­ity was very im­por­tant, too.

Our an­ces­tors be­lieved they had a mo­ral and re­li­gious duty to help the poor

Our an­ces­tors be­lieved that they had a mo­ral and re­li­gious duty to help the poor, sup­port the church, and pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion. They be­queathed money, prop­erty, or land, to char­i­ties. In prac­tice, the lo­cal cler­gy­man and church­war­dens, or par­ish of­fi­cials, had the task of ad­min­is­ter­ing char­i­ta­ble trusts, per­haps act­ing as trus­tees or fe­of­fees, and dis­tribut­ing money, food or cloth­ing to the poor (a fe­of­fee was a trustee of free­hold land in­vested for a char­ity).

Some­times peo­ple left money to ap­pren­tice out poor chil­dren; oc­ca­sion­ally, they also made pro­vi­sion for rel­a­tives to ben­e­fit. For ex­am­ple, the Rev­erend Robert Ken­ing of Kel­ston left £120 in trust in his will, which was dated 4 Au­gust 1709; the in­ter­est was used by the par­ish each year to ap­pren­tice out a poor boy of that par­ish. But if his kinswoman Chris­tian Ward’s son needed fi­nan­cial help for an ap­pren­tice­ship, trus­tees could use the in­ter­est that year to pay the premium.

Char­i­ta­ble in­sti­tu­tions

Some of Bri­tain’s old­est char­i­ties were en­dowed by the Crown, but oth­ers were founded by church­men, mer­chants, and wealthy men and women. To give a cou­ple of ex­am­ples, Beth­lem Hospi­tal, for­merly at Bish­ops­gate, Lon­don, dates back to the 13th cen­tury. This well-known men­tal hospi­tal founded by a char­i­ta­ble deed was orig­i­nally at­tached to St Mary’s Pri­ory of Beth­le­hem (the His­toric Eng­land web­site has a brief his­tory of it at https:// his­tori­ceng­land.org.uk/ re­search/in­clu­sive-her­itage/dis­abil­ity-his­tory/1050-1485/ from-beth­le­hem-to-bed­lam/).

Rich mer­chant Thomas Sut­ton founded a Hospi­tal at Char­ter­house to care for poor gen­tle­men who could not sup­port them­selves; it also had a school for poor boys. Some hos­pi­tals, like the Royal Hospi­tal, Chelsea (1691) cared for

old or wounded sol­diers and sailors, www.chelsea-pen­sion­ers.co.uk/tracing-an­ces­tors. Trin­ity House, Leith, looked af­ter poor, aged and in­firm sea­far­ers and its records in­cludes lists of pen­sion­ers from the mid 17th cen­tury (find out more through the Na­tional Records of Scot­land web­site at www.nrscot­land.gov.uk/re­search/guides/poor-relief-records).

Christ’s Hospi­tal was an­other early foun­da­tion; Ed­ward VI con­firmed its char­ter in 1553. The chil­dren at this school wore blue coats and yel­low stock­ings (hence the term ‘blue coat’ schools). Ge­orge He­riot’s School, Ed­in­burgh was founded as a char­ity school in 1659 for or­phans or other poor chil­dren of burgesses and freemen (see www.our­town­sto­ries.co.uk/story/1303). Other typ­i­cal ob­jects of largesse were asy­lums, almshouses, free gram­mar schools, or­phan­ages, etc.

The gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged pri­vate char­i­ties (in or­der to re­duce the poor rates), but be­came wor­ried by grow­ing

ev­i­dence of fraud. The Act of Char­i­ta­ble Uses (1601) said that char­i­ties must be run prop­erly, or risk los­ing their char­i­ta­ble sta­tus. This Act, which cov­ered Eng­land and Wales, stated that char­i­ties must be ‘for the ben­e­fit of the pub­lic’, and de­scribed some ex­am­ples of char­i­ties (im­por­tant for later court cases). Th­ese in­cluded aid­ing old, ill, and poor peo­ple; car­ing for sick and dis­abled sol­diers and sailors; schools of learn­ing; free schools and univer­sity schol­ar­ships; the relief of pris­on­ers; sup­port­ing young trades­men or crafts­men; and or­phans’ ed­u­ca­tion. Other ex­am­ples given (some a lit­tle odd to mod­ern eyes) were the re­pair of bridges, roads, high­ways, ports, sea-banks, the mar­riage of poor maid­ens, and the main­te­nance of houses of cor­rec­tion.

Col­leges, free schools, in­cor­po­rated towns, and hos­pi­tals were ex­empt from this Act if they al­ready had gover­nors or vis­i­tors ap­pointed by their founders. Scot­land did not have a sim­i­lar statute, but in Ire­land, the ‘Statute of Charles’ or Statute of Pi­ous Uses (1634) was on sim­i­lar lines to the El­iz­a­bethan law.

If a com­plaint was made against an English char­ity’s trus­tees, then the Lord Chan­cel­lor, or Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, or the Chan­cel­lor of the Duchy of Lan­caster, if ap­pli­ca­ble, could ap­point ‘com­mis­sion­ers’ to look into any abuses. Fi­nan­cial re­dress must be made if money had been mis­ap­pro­pri­ated. A trustee for the char­ity be­ing in­ves­ti­gated could not serve as a com­mis­sioner. The com­mis­sion­ers’ de­ci­sions, or ‘de­crees’, were cer­ti­fied by the Chancery Court.

Fund­ing and in­come

The 1736 Mort­main Act changed the way many char­i­ties were funded. Now peo­ple could only leave land – or money for pur­chas­ing land – to a char­ity 12 months be­fore they died. The aim was to stop a per­son on their deathbed from dis­in­her­it­ing their heirs by leav­ing their es­tate to the Church in the hope of saving their soul. How­ever, char­i­ta­ble gifts could be made by a deed ex­e­cuted and wit­nessed by two peo­ple, then en­rolled in Chancery.

In­creas­ingly, char­i­ties were funded by pub­lic sub­scrip­tion – some­times called ‘as­so­ci­a­tional’ char­i­ties. Early ex­am­ples in Lon­don in­clude the Foundling Hospi­tal for un­wanted in­fants, the Marine So­ci­ety, which ap­pren­ticed out poor boys and girls, and the Mag­dalen Hospi­tal for Pen­i­tent Pros­ti­tutes. There’s use­ful in­for­ma­tion about the Marine So­ci­ety chil­dren on the Lon­don Lives web­site, at http:// bit.ly/2gSBzH7, and you can also ac­cess Marine So­ci­ety records at the Caird Li­brary and Archives at the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum in Lon­don ( www.rmg.co.uk/ na­tional-mar­itime-mu­seum/caird-li­brary).

The first na­tional sur­vey of char­i­ties was made at the sug­ges­tion of Thomas Gil­bert in 1786. Each par­ish in Eng­land and Wales was asked to make a sum­mary of all the char­i­ties it ad­min­is­tered. Ab­stract of th­ese re­ports, known as ‘Gil­bert Re­turns’, were reprinted by par­lia­ment dur­ing the 1810s. Each par­ish sum­mary

The gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged pri­vate char­i­ties, but be­came wor­ried by grow­ing ev­i­dence of fraud

gives the name of per­sons who founded char­i­ties, whether by will, with date, or gift of deed, and their ob­ject – such as food for the poor. The to­tal in­come of all char­i­ties sur­veyed was over £528,000, and by the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, there were thou­sands of char­i­ta­ble trusts in Eng­land and Wales.

Af­ter 1812, char­i­ties had to reg­is­ter a state­ment of their prop­erty and in­come with the clerk of the peace, as part of quar­ter ses­sions busi­ness, but this law was poorly en­forced. A few years later, a gov­ern­ment en­quiry into the ed­u­ca­tion of the Lon­don poor in­ves­ti­gated long-es­tab­lished ed­u­ca­tional foun­da­tions. It found some schools only cared for a tiny num­ber of chil­dren, but en­dow­ments could not be al­tered to ben­e­fit com­mu­ni­ties more widely be­cause it was dif­fi­cult to over­set a founder’s will.

This re­port’s alarm­ing find­ings prompted the gov­ern­ment to set up a sur­vey of char­i­ties across Bri­tain: the Char­ity Com­mis­sion. A few years later, the com­mis­sion­ers in­ves­ti­gated all char­i­ties as well as schools, and is­sued re­ports for each county. The Com­mis­sion found im­mense po­ten­tial for mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion: some­times char­ity funds were stolen by trus­tees, or lost by in­com­pe­tence.

The Char­ity Com­mis­sion be­came a per­ma­nent body in 1853. It took over the Lord Chan­cel­lor’s tra­di­tional role of su­per­vis­ing trusts. Af­ter 1855, char­i­ties sent the Com­mis­sion an­nual ac­counts, and five years later, the Com­mis­sion­ers were given pow­ers to re­move or ap­point trus­tees.

The num­ber of char­i­ties mush­roomed dur­ing the Vic­to­rian era as the pop­u­la­tion grew and the poor law proved in­ad­e­quate to cope with many so­cial evils. Ragged schools, in­dus­trial schools, chil­dren’s homes and or­phan­ages, friendly so­ci­eties, hos­pi­tals, etc. ap­peared across Bri­tain.

The Bri­tish pub­lic had a warm heart, and do­na­tions poured in to help vic­tims of par­tic­u­lar dis­as­ters like coal min­ing ac­ci­dents,

or the Lan­cashire Cot­ton Famine of the 1860s. There were also an­i­mal char­i­ties like the RSPCA, which was founded in 1824. Vol­un­tary work and or­gan­i­sa­tions de­vel­oped, too, and nurses went to serve with Florence Nightin­gale and Mary Sea­cole dur­ing the Crimean War.

Although we now have the ‘safety net’ of the wel­fare state and NHS, th­ese in­sti­tu­tions are in­creas­ingly stretched, and the so­cial prob­lems which our an­ces­tors knew are re­turn­ing. Many fam­i­lies live in poverty, and the use of food banks is ris­ing. Will char­i­ties as­sume a new im­por­tance in the age of aus­ter­ity?

Of­fi­cial records

Trust deeds for char­i­ties are an amaz­ing re­source for lo­cal his­to­ri­ans. From 1736 to 1925, con­veyances of land, money, and goods in trust for char­i­ties were en­rolled in Chancery on the Court Rolls (C54 at The Na­tional Archives). Some records pre- date 1736 be­cause some char­i­ties’ trus­tees de­cided to en­rol ear­lier deeds (see TNA’s web­site for de­tails of con­veyances, at http:// bit. ly/2jchFrk).

It was not un­com­mon for heirs to dis­pute a will if the tes­ta­tor made a large char­i­ta­ble be­quest. Le­gal cases in­volv­ing char­i­ta­ble trusts and be­quests were heard by the Court of Chancery, and af­ter 1875, de­ceased per­sons’ es­tate cases were heard by the Chancery Divi­sion of the Supreme Court (see http:// bit.ly/1ig1gwm for in­for­ma­tion about chancery eq­uity suits, and http:// bit.ly/2eMoLgX for de­tails of post-1875 Chancery cases). Le­gal no­tices were re­ported in the Lon­don Gazette ( www.thegazette.co.uk/).

TNA holds Char­ity Com­mis­sion records from 1750 to 2015 ( http:// bit.ly/2wPHuQW; there’s a search­able data­base of case files at http:// bit. ly/2gOHp8x). The Char­ity Com­mis­sion is still re­spon­si­ble for regis­ter­ing char­i­ties, and you can find out more at www.gov.uk/gov­ern­ment/ or­gan­i­sa­tions/char­ity-com­mis­sion. You can search for a char­ity’s cur­rent con­tact de­tails (although his­tor­i­cal records are not in­cluded), at http:// beta. char­i­ty­commis­sion.gov.uk/. How­ever, the Char­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­mit never in­cluded Scot­land or Ire­land. In­stead, in Scot­land, an Act of 1842 gave the Spe­cial Com­mis­sion­ers of In­come Tax the task of de­cid­ing if an or­gan­i­sa­tion was a char­ity

(and hence ex­empt from tax). In­land Rev­enue records re­lat­ing to char­i­ties (se­ries 1RS21, cov­er­ing 1810–1988), are held off­site by Na­tional Records of Scot­land (see http:// bit.ly/2wIL4M8 for more in­for­ma­tion). North­ern Ire­land’s own Char­ity Com­mis­sion was not set up un­til the 21st cen­tury.

Large ref­er­ence li­braries and county record of­fices may have copies of par­lia­men­tary pa­pers in­clud­ing Gil­bert’s Re­turns and the Char­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­ports, pub­lished from 1817 to 1841. The Digests of En­dowed Char­i­ties com­piled by the Com­mis­sion were pub­lished in 1867–1868 and 1912–1913. Use th­ese to dis­cover which char­i­ties, such as en­dowed schools, ex­isted in a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion. The Par­lia­men­tary Archives also has copies (see http:// bit. ly/2xitOkw). Some par­lia­men­tary pa­pers are also avail­able to ac­cess free on Google Books ( http:// books.google.com).

Lo­cal records

Records re­lat­ing to char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions and trusts that date back to medieval times may be held at more than one repos­i­tory. TNA’s Dis­cov­ery cat­a­logue cov­ers repos­i­to­ries in Eng­land and Wales, so have a look at http://dis­cov­ery.na­tion­alarchives.gov.uk/ to see where ones you’re in­ter­ested in are kept. Large, fa­mous char­i­ties

such as Ox­fam or the RNLI of­ten have their own ar­chive. If you know the char­ity’s name, search http://dis­cov­ery.na­tion­alarchives.gov. uk/find-an-ar­chive.

For Wales, try the Archives Net­work Wales search en­gine, too, which is at http://anws.llgc.org.uk/. The Archives Hub search en­gine cov­ers over 300 spe­cial­ist repos­i­to­ries and is also worth ex­plor­ing, at https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/. For char­i­ties in Scot­land, use the Scot­tish Archives Net­work on­line cat­a­logue to find records, at http:// bit.ly/2wNJuL7. For North­ern Irish char­i­ties, search the Pub­lic Records of North­ern Ire­land e- cat­a­logue, at http:// bit.ly/2gODhW3.

Also look in par­ish vestry or church­war­dens’ ac­counts for char­i­ties ad­min­is­tered by them. Rentals for char­ity prop­er­ties and lands are a rich source of ten­ants’ names. Af­ter the mid-1830s, mu­nic­i­pal cor­po­ra­tions of­ten took over lo­cal char­ity ad­min­is­tra­tion, and quar­ter ses­sion records may also in­clude en­rol­ment of char­i­ties, in­clud­ing friendly so­ci­eties. In­sti­tu­tional records may in­clude ad­mis­sion reg­is­ters, death or dis­charge reg­is­ters, minute books, pensions, and ac­counts. How­ever, re­mem­ber that records with sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion will be re­stricted ac­cess, and may be sub­ject to 100 years’ clo­sure.

When search­ing lo­cal ar­chive cat­a­logues on­line, re­mem­ber that a char­ity such as a school or hospi­tal is prob­a­bly cat­a­logued by its usual name; do a ‘text search’ if you’re strug­gling to find it. Also watch out for dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions as­so­ci­ated with the same char­ity – for ex­am­ple, PRONI has let­ters and pa­pers re­lat­ing to Ge­orge Vaughan’s Char­ity for the pe­riod 1753–1909 (DIO/4/9/7), plus gover­nors’ minute books 1766–1934 for Vaughan’s Char­ity School in Tubrid, County Fer­managh (D433).

A va­ri­ety of char­ity records (schools, hos­pi­tals, ap­pren­tice­ships) held by lo­cal record of­fices have been digi­tised by the on­line ge­neal­ogy sup­pli­ers: for ex­am­ple, records for the Lyin­gin Hospi­tal, Hol­born are on TheGe­neal­o­gist’s web­site ( www. thege­neal­o­gist.co.uk), and Beth­lem’s reg­is­ters are avail­able via Find­my­past ( www.find­my­past.co.uk). Some par­ish and bor­ough col­lec­tions have also been digi­tised. For ex­am­ple, An­ces­try’s War­wick­shire col­lec­tions (via www.an­ces­try.co.uk) in­clude poor law records for War­wick St Mary’s par­ish, such as char­ity ac­counts 1737–1823 and char­ity pa­pers 1781–1836, in­clud­ing rentals. Mean­while, Find­my­past has digi­tised Ply­mouth and West Devon Record Of­fice’s col­lec­tion of Or­phans’ Aid ap­pren­tice­ship pa­pers, cov­er­ing the years 1868 to 1906.

For the Lon­don area, the Lon­don Metropoli­tan Archives web­site has guides to re­search­ing char­i­ties, schools, hos­pi­tals and med­i­cal care, wills, and ap­pren­tices ( http:// bit.ly/2eWS3Zl). The Char­ity Or­gan­i­sa­tion So­ci­ety pub­lished the Char­i­ties Reg­is­ter

and Di­gest (1882 on­wards) which cov­ered Lon­don; af­ter 1897, this publi­ca­tion was re­named The An­nual Char­i­ties Reg­is­ter and Di­gest, and ref­er­ence li­braries may have copies.

Char­i­ties pub­lished pam­phlets, some­times with lists of sub­scribers, and ad­ver­tised in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines to help pub­li­cise their work. Lists of do­na­tions were some­times pub­lished in news­pa­pers, too; see the Bri­tish News­pa­per Ar­chive, www. british­news­pa­per­ar­chive.co.uk/ to start your search. How­ever, over time a char­ity may have changed its name, merged with other or­ga­ni­za­tions, or ceased to ex­ist. The Vic­to­ria County His­to­ries and other lo­cal his­to­ries are in­cred­i­bly help­ful when re­search­ing char­i­ties in a par­tic­u­lar area – try search­ing Bri­tish His­tory On­line, for ex­am­ple (see box on page 29). Use the DANGO data­base (see the Step-by-Step on page 24) for more records in­for­ma­tion ( www.dango.bham.ac.uk/in­dex.htm).

Trade di­rec­to­ries (the Univer­sity of Le­ices­ter’s Spe­cial Col­lec­tions has a good range at http:// bit.ly/1Hqm­pLy) and lo­cal his­to­ries also men­tion char­i­ties. Com­bine th­ese with the Char­ity Com­mis­sion re­ports to trace the his­tory of a school, hospi­tal or in­sti­tu­tion – and re­mem­ber that char­ity records held lo­cally may also in­clude Char­ity Com­mis­sion cor­re­spon­dence and re­ports.

Top: Por­trait of Sir Thomas Bernard, 3rd Baronet. He was trea­surer of the Foundling Hospi­tal and also founded the So­ci­ety for Bet­ter­ing the Con­di­tion and In­creas­ing the Com­forts of the Poor Bot­tom: Cap­tain Thomas Co­ram, founder of the Foundling Hospi­tal Main im­age: The dis­tri­bu­tion of char­ity loaves at St Mary’s War­wick, 1899 Above: Minute book of Dum­fries In­fir­mary with list of sub­scribers, in­clud­ing Dr Gilchrist, 29 Oc­to­ber 1776

A colour litho­graph of two Chelsea Pen­sion­ers arm-in-arm

The Li­censed Vict­uallers’ Asy­lum was founded by Joseph Proud Hodg­son in 1827 near the Old Kent Road, Lon­don. It cared for im­pov­er­ished members of the trade, and their wives or wi­d­ows

Old St Paul’s School, founded in 1509 by John Co­let

Half­penny din­ners for poor chil­dren in East Lon­don. Il­lus­trated Lon­don News, 1870

Four ivory char­ity col­lec­tion tal­lies, 1750–1800. Char­ity col­lec­tions were im­por­tant rev­enue sources for hos­pi­tals and other so­cial causes; the money was used to pay staff and to pur­chase sup­plies. Th­ese ivory tal­lies were prob­a­bly at­tached to col­lec­tion boxes and are in­scribed with the name ‘Mrs Vaughan’

Top left: Tin­tern Abbey. Un­til the dis­so­lu­tion of the monas­ter­ies, re­li­gious houses cared for the poor and sick Top right: Com­mem­o­ra­tive plaques record­ing bene­fac­tions on Twitty’s almshouses, Abing­don Bot­tom left: Bene­fac­tion board in the church of St James The Great, Audlem, Cheshire. It records the be­quest of brewer James Hol­brook to the poor of the town­ship of Buer­ton; Richard Baker was ap­pointed trustee Bot­tom right: Twitty’s almshouses, Abing­don

The Char­ity Com­mis­sion’s re­mit never in­cluded Scot­land or Ire­land

The cover of a book about Florence Nightin­gale. As well as her pi­o­neer­ing nurs­ing work, she also founded a school for nurses in Lon­don


Top left: Plaque on the Man of Ross Inn, Ross-on-Wye, com­mem­o­rat­ing lo­cal phi­lan­thropist John Kyrle Mid­dle left: A well-off child gives money to some lit­tle or­phaned match-sell­ers Mid­dle right: Thomas Sut­ton, who in 1611 founded the Hospi­tal of St James and a school for poor schol­ars at Char­ter­house, on the site of an old Carthu­sian Monastery Bot­tom left: ‘Band of Help’ members’ cer­tifi­cate, c1910, the Birm­ing­ham and District Crip­ples Union

Or­phan School, Ed­in­burgh, 1819

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