Monuments and Dust

Monuments and Dust

London Times: 11 Dec 1850

London Charities.


Sir, -- Following in the rear of your correspondent of Wednesday last, and your own subsequent article upon the same subject, I take leave to forward you a short statement of the number and other particulars of our metropolitan charitable institutions, thinking that a correct summary of their actual objects may prove more than commonly interesting to a large class of our numerous readers.

Taking the whole of London, and not exempting, from their distance, such as may be correctly classed as metropolitan institutions, as Greenwich Hospital, & c., I find there are no less than 491 charitable institutions, exclusive of mere local endowments and trusts, parochial and local schools, & c.

These charities comprise--

12 General medical hospitals.

50 Medical charities for special purposes.

35 General dispensaries.

12 Societies and institutions for the preservation of life and public morals.

18 Societies for reclaiming the fallen and staying the progress of crime.

14 Societies for the relief of general destitution and distress.

12 Societies for relief of specific description.

14 Societies for aiding the resources of the industrious (exclusive of loan funds and savings-banks).

11 Societies for the deaf and dumb, and the blind.

103 Colleges, hospitals, and institutions of almshouses for the aged.

16 Charitable pension societies.

74 Charitable and provident societies chiefly for specified classes.

31 Asylums for orphan and other necessitous children.

10 Educational foundations.

4 Charitable modern ditto.

40 School societies, religious books, church aiding and Christian visiting societies.

35 Bible and missionary societies.


491 (This includes societies only, and is quite exclusive of the numerous "auxiliaries," & c.)

These charities annually disburse in aid of their respective objects the extraordinary amount of 1,764,733l., of which upwards of 1,000,000l. is raised annually by voluntary contributions; the remainder from the funded property, sale of publications, & c.

Although concurring in full with your opinion respecting the need of some centralization of surveillance, or recognition of these numerous charities, and discerning much of truth respecting the duplicacy of design and operations, urged by your correspondents, yet I cannot sympathize with all that is alleged, especially by that zealous "Leeks"-hater. Circumstances during the past twelvemonth have brought under my personal and careful consideration the reports and annual publications of these institutions; in very few instances have I been obliged to content myself with partial information, and I can conscientiously say, after rigid examination and comparison, that we could not say to more than six of the whole number, "We have no need of thee."

On the other hand, unquestionably there are many require being brought more under public observance, with abuses to correct, and means of usefulness, latent and obscured, to be developed and exercised. Connected with the abuses of our system of metropolitan institutions, and the limit put to their usefulness as a whole, may be mentioned the following, all arising, be it borne in mind, from without, causing other evils in the management internally: --

1. Directly a public exigency occurs a meeting is called, speeches are made, and sympathy and feelings excited, and, the readiness to subscribe money being apparent, it is determined to found a society to supply either the distress discovered, or maintain the principles in danger. This is quickly done, and a large amount is almost thoughtlessly raised, and a new society fairly established. There may be three or four societies for the same objects in existence requiring the instillation of new blood, but it seems never to suggest itself to the benevolent starters of the new society how much, and what double good might be effected, by diverting the zeal and resources into old channels. If, when the machinery of a society is required for relieving distress, "the Strangers' Fund" or "the Mendicity" is rendered available for the purpose, and the extra funds raised by the sudden stir placed at their disposal, with a few additional directors, is it not evident that the operations would be more extensive and effective than if first exertions were frittered away in forming a society? And thus might be instanced a later occasion. A new and most promising society was started only last week to advocate the principles of the Reformation, when, if but half of the promised talents, zeal, and support, could have been yielded to either the old institutions-- the "Reformation" and the "Protestant"-- the effects would have been more immediate, equally efficient, and the metropolis been spared the lingering existence of a third institution, unneeded in any degree when the crisis is past.

2. And this brings me to the second danger besetting the activity and public spirit of an institution, that of large funds being raised-- perhaps, as stated, at its formation-- for the purpose of accomplishing some given great aim, or for the relief of some wide-spread distress; and, instead of their being exclusively devoted to the purpose, being funded for future purposes. Great care should be had at all times to funding; in my humble opinion, the purposes for which contributions are given, viz., extension, or efficiency increased, of operations, is too often violated for the purpose of adding to the "funds;" and I question much whether the directors of any public charity have a right to render it independent of public control. This remark does not, of course, apply to charities rendered wealthy by bequests or endowments, but simply that spirit of hoarding public contributions beyond a requisite provision for fairly to be expected exigencies. I feel sure that it may be received as an axiom, that so long as a charitable institution is conducted honestly and efficiently, public support will never lack; and equally so, that when the former is wanting, the latter deserves to be lost.

3. And lastly, I would respectfully draw the attention of the numerous benevolent noblemen and gentry who give their names as presidents and vice-presidents, and especially as committeemen, to the incalculable mischief done if their support rests here, or extends only to their pecuniary contribution; having consented to be office-bearers, they are bound occasionally to ascertain personally that the direction of affairs is conducted according to the rules, and that the funds are properly applied; they owe it to the society, they owe it to themselves, and they owe it to the public, who naturally depend upon the names furnished in the society's prospectus. The Prince Consort sets the example in this respect; the society he once presides at, and lends his name to, he never loses sight of. The "Labourers' Friend" and "Servants' Benevolent" can testify to the contrary. His Royal Highness, not satisfied with reports or second-hand inquiries, will pay a personal visit at the office, survey the arrangements, and examine and trace the system of bookkeeping, & c. The certainty of this inspires confidence wherever His Royal Highness's name honours an institution; and it does more than that; it lends energy to the exertions of the more immediate directors, and gives encouragement to its most indefatigable friends and promoters. This, in its turn, secures efficient officers and the well being of the entire. On the other hand, I know nothing so discouraging to the exertions of officials naturally desirous of zealously and efficiently performing their duties as the non-attendance of committeemen, nor is there anything more encouraging of sloth, neglect, and, finally, abuse. It is astonishing how at least one-half of the names on the committees of even our first-class institutions is all that is known of their interest in the proceedings; the work of very many is performed habitually by the attendance of the same four or five; and in many others it is often difficult to obtain a quorum. No man, so long as his name remains on the list, is justified in habitually absenting himself; his very absence is contagious, and by degrees others, at first regular, then occasional attendants, eventually become absentees too. Business gets postponed, its entire neglect threatened, and finally, the string of abuses commenced complained of by your correspondents.

I trust, Sir, you will excuse this long trespass upon your space, but I have wished to point out that much lies in the power of every supporter of any individual charity to remedy or prevent the evils complained of. I may not have done this myself, but if it serves to direct your own powerful pen in the same direction, I am sure the end will be consummated, and

I remain, Sir, yours, very faithfully,

S. L.

Great James-street, Bedford-row, Dec. 9.