St George's Fields: Charitable institutions

Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1955.

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'St George's Fields: Charitable institutions', Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), (London, 1955), pp. 65-71. British History Online [accessed 21 June 2024].

. "St George's Fields: Charitable institutions", in Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), (London, 1955) 65-71. British History Online, accessed June 21, 2024,

. "St George's Fields: Charitable institutions", Survey of London: Volume 25, St George's Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), (London, 1955). 65-71. British History Online. Web. 21 June 2024,

In this section


A large stretch of easily accessible land like St. George's Fields, cheap because it was undeveloped and undrained, and with frontages to main roads, inevitably attracted the attention of the promoters of some of the many charitable institutions which came into being in the 18th and early 19th centuries. A brief history of the more important of them is given in this chapter.

The Fishmongers' Almshouses

The Fishmongers' Almshouses, which formerly stood at the corner of St. George's Road and Newington Butts, were built in 1618 at the expense of several members of the Company on ground bought from Jacob Smith. (fn. 179) John Aubrey relates (fn. 108) that they were named St. Peter's Hospital by King James I "as he came by it from Scotland, in allusion to St. Peter, the Tutelar Saint of the Fishmongers." They were described in 1814 as "twenty-two neat houses in three Courts, with a garden behind, and having a neat Chapel" (fn. 118) (Plate 51a). South of them and within the same enclosure was another almshouse, founded by James Hulbert of the Fishmongers' Company in 1719 for 42 men and women. (fn. 118) The almshouses stood with but little alteration until 1851, when they were moved to Wandsworth. (fn. 180)

Fishmongers' Company

The arms of the Fishmongers' Company on a restaurant at the corner of St. George's Road and Pastor Street recalls the connection of the Company with this neighbourhood.

The Drapers' Almshouses

In 1642 John Walter, Clerk to the Drapers' Company, offered to build almshouses in the parishes of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, and St. Mary, Newington, as many of the poor "had lately perished by lying abroad in the cold for want of habitation, to the great dishonour of God." (fn. 181) He expressed a wish to remain anonymous until after his death, and his gift was conditional on the parishes providing sites for the almshouses and keeping them in repair once built. By his will he left property in trust for the maintenance of the almsfolk.

The parishioners of St. George's obtained from the City Corporation a grant of "a wast peece of ground lyeing between the pound and the style" (fn. 9) "att the entrance into St. George's fields" (i.e., near the spot where Borough Road now joins Borough High Street). Two houses, with four rooms in each, to accommodate 16 almspeople, were built, and, in 1653–54, a chapel and a room for the Trustees to use for the distribution of pensions were added on ground taken out of the pound. (fn. 9) A century later the Trustees for the Surrey New Roads rebuilt the almshouses further back and most of the old site was absorbed into the roadway of the newly-formed Borough Road (fn. 9) (Plate 53).

Drapers' Company

The last move of the almshouses took place in 1819–20. The frontage of Borough Road was being developed and the City Corporation offered the parish a new site next to the Rowland Hill Almshouses in what became Hill Street (now Glasshill Street), together with £1,250 towards the rebuilding, in exchange for the old site. (fn. 9) The existing two-storey brick almshouses between King's Bench Street and Glasshill Street were built in 1820 (Plate 83b).

The almshouses for the parish of St. Mary, Newington, were built on a piece of waste ground granted by the Lords of the Manor on the north side of what is now Draper Street, Newington Butts. They were last rebuilt in 1888, (fn. 136) and consist of blocks of three-storey houses. They and two shops opposite were the only buildings in the street to escape destruction by bombing during the last war.

Figure 20:

Drapers' Almshouses, Glasshill Street

Figure 21:

Draper's Almshouses, 1951

The Magdalen Hospital

The Magdalen Hospital for the reception and training of penitent prostitutes was founded by Robert Dingley, Jonas Hanway and others in 1758 in premises previously occupied by the London Hospital in Prescot Street, Whitechapel. (fn. 182) The institution was so successful that ten years after its inception the Governors purchased from the Rev. Thomas Clarke 6 acres of land in St. George's Fields for the erection of new premises. (fn. 9) The land was subject to rights of common by the other occupiers of the fields, so that before building could begin an Act (fn. 183) had to be obtained by the Governors to enable them to consolidate and enclose their holding. The Act included a clause forbidding building within 10 feet of the roads to be made from the south end of Blackfriars Bridge. Building operations were begun in the summer of 1769 with Joel Johnson (fn. n1) as architect and surveyor, and the foundation stone was laid by the Earl of Hertford on 28th July. The building was ready for occupation early in 1772.

The notorious Dr. William Dodd, who was hanged for forgery in 1777, was Evening Preacher at the hospital during its early years in St. George's Fields. Large contributions were made to the charity through collections at the chapel services, but after 1800 these steadily declined while the amount spent on upkeep and repairs increased. For these and other reasons the Governors decided to move the institution to its present site in Streatham. (fn. n2) (fn. 184) The old buildings were closed at the end of 1868 and the site was sold to the Peabody Trustees for the erection of a block of dwellings (Plate 34).

The Freemasons' School

The Royal Freemasons' School for Girls, on the site of the present No. 28 on the north side of Westminster Bridge Road, was opened in temporary buildings rented from James Hedger in 1788. After protracted negotiations the Governors obtained a lease of the ground from the City Corporation, (fn. 185) and a school for up to 100 children was built.

The children, daughters of masons of at least three years' standing, entered the school between the ages of 5 and 10. They were taught needlework and domestic subjects and every effort was made "to impress strongly on their minds a due sense of subordination, in true humility and obedience to their superiors." No child who had not had the smallpox or who had any defect or infirmity was admitted. The girls were apprenticed out at the age of 15. (fn. 186)

The building in St. George's Fields was in use until 1852, when the school was moved to Wandsworth. (fn. 187)

The Philanthropic Society

In the 18th century responsibility for the care of deserted and vagrant children lay legally with the parish where they were found wandering, provided no other place of settlement could be discovered, but the obligation appears to have been generally ignored, (fn. 188) and these children were among the most miserable and neglected elements in the population. The Philanthropic Society was founded in 1788 to protect and reform one section of these children, those who were "the offspring of convicted felons" or who had "themselves been engaged in criminal practices." (fn. 189) The charity started in a small house in Cambridge Heath, (fn. 186) but in 1793 it acquired (fn. 9) a lease from the City Corporation of a piece of ground near the London Road in St. George's Fields and built workshops and houses there (Plate 26). Further leases were obtained in 1805 and 1811 and the land was subsequently purchased. The society was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1806. (fn. 189) Its income was derived partly from collections at services held in the large chapel in St. George's Road (Plate 27), opened in November, 1806, (fn. n3) which was built with a view to making a profit for the institution, and partly from the sale of work done by the children. The boys were taught printing, book-binding, shoe making, tailoring, rope making and twine spinning. The girls were trained to be "menial servants"; they made their own clothing and shirts for the boys, and washed and mended for the manufactory. (fn. 186)

By the 1840's the income of the society had declined and it was compelled to limit its exertions "to the Reformation of criminal Boys." In 1848 it procured parliamentary permission (fn. 190) to sell or lease the St. George's Fields site and to move further out, where running expenses would be lower and the boys could be employed in agriculture. The Royal Philanthropic Society's School at Redhill is now an Approved School under the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933.

The site of the institution is bounded by Gladstone Street, Garden Row and St. George's Road. A row of houses in Gladstone Street bears the inscription "ALBERT TERRACE 1849." The chapel was used for a number of years as the parish church of St. Jude. (fn. 191) The present church, consecrated in 1899, stands on the same site. (fn. 192)

The Joseph Lancaster (British and Foreign Society) Schools and Borough Road Training College

In 1798 a Quaker named Joseph Lancaster, then a young man in his early 20's, opened a school on non-sectarian lines for poor children of Southwark. (fn. 186) His monitorial system, an adaptation of the Madras system advocated by Dr. Bell, and his strong personality, enabled him to control and to give some instruction in the three Rs to large numbers of children. From the initial 90 children in one room their number increased to 500 or more. At first he charged a small fee, (fn. 193) but realizing that this prevented the very poorest from benefiting he sought financial help from wealthy patrons. His Outline of a Plan … issued in 1806 had this end in view, and the Royal Lancasterian Society was formed in 1808 by Joseph Fox, William Allen and Samuel Whitbread. (fn. 186) In 1810 Lancaster applied (fn. 9) to the City Corporation for a new lease of the land on the west side of Union Street (now Lancaster Street, north of Borough Road) of which he was already in occupation. (fn. n4) He planned to build both a girls' and a boys' school there, but this plan seems to have fallen through mainly because of Lancaster's financial difficulties and partly perhaps because the opposition of the established church, begun as a result of Mrs. Trimmer's pamphleteering, boiled up in 1811. (fn. 194) Nevertheless, the teaching of children by Lancaster's methods continued to spread both in Southwark and elsewhere. The society, renamed the British and Foreign Society in 1812, took over the management and finances of the schools and Lancaster was employed at a salary as Teaching Superintendent. He soon regretted his lost independence and resigned the position to start a boarding school at Tooting. He emigrated to America in 1818 and never returned to this country. (fn. 25)

In 1816 the society applied for and obtained a lease (fn. 9) of ground on the south side of Borough Road, and there permanent buildings were erected for boys' and girls' schools and for the training of young teachers (Plate 7b). The training college continued in the Borough Road until 1888 when the remainder of the lease was bought by the Executive Committee of the South London Polytechnic Council. After extensive structural alterations the premises were opened in 1892 as the Borough Road Polytechnic Institute (now the Borough Polytechnic). (fn. 195) Parts of the old school buildings still exist behind the later façade. The training college was moved to Isleworth.

The School for the Indigent Blind

The School for the Indigent Blind, the first institution of its kind in London, was one of four schools for the blind started in the United Kingdom on the model of the school in Paris, the others being in Liverpool, Bristol and Edinburgh. (fn. 196) A committee was formed in 1799, of which Thomas Boddington, Samuel Bosanquet, James Ware and William Houlston were the leading members, and in 1800 they began the school in a small way with 15 pupils in the Long Room at the Dog and Duck. (fn. 186) A year or so later they took over the lease of the tavern and its gardens, and in a short while the school had 35 male and 17 female pupils, who were completely clothed, boarded, lodged and instructed by the society. The head lease to James Hedger was due to expire in 1810 and, as the City Corporation was contemplating letting the land to the Governors of Bethlem Hospital, the school committee, having discussed and decided against the idea of building on land in the Gray's Inn Road belonging to the Foundling Hospital, (fn. 186) obtained a lease from the City Corporation of just under 2 acres of ground between the obelisk at St. George's Circus and the premises of the Philanthropic Society. (fn. 9) The building shown on Plate 31, described by Elmes (fn. 167) as "more commendable for utility than for its beauty" was erected from the designs of George Tappen, (fn. n5) (fn. 197) at the angle between Lambeth and London Roads in 1811–12. It formed the entrance to the grounds of the school, the main buildings of which lay behind the houses in Crescent Place and had no frontage to Lambeth Road. The building encroached on the area of the circus as defined by Act of Parliament (fn. 162) and the Trustees for the Surrey New Roads demanded its demolition, but they finally agreed to the insertion of a clause in a new Act (fn. 163) which enabled the building to stand, and provided for the erection of concave flanking walls on either side of it.

The institution was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1826. (fn. 198) It was given power to buy and sell land in 1831, (fn. 199) and in the following year bought the freehold of the ground on which the school stood. (fn. 196) By 1833 the school included 55 males and 57 females and it became necessary to enlarge the buildings. (fn. 200) An additional piece of ground was leased from the City Corporation, (fn. 9) and extensive new premises, incorporating parts of the old, were erected from the designs of John Newman (fn. 25) in 1835–38 (Plate 32b). The school continued to train blind pupils in the traditional trades of mat making, basket making, knitting, etc. After 1874, many of its trainees were employed in a workshop which was established in the basement, the predecessor of the Blind Employment Factory in the Waterloo Road. (fn. 196) In 1901, the school site was purchased under compulsory powers by the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, and the school was moved to Leatherhead. (fn. 196) The Tube depôt, with one-storey shops in front, now occupies the site.


  • n1. Joel Johnson (c. 1721–99) also designed the church of St. John the Baptist, Wapping.
  • n2. It is now an approved classifying school for senior girls.
  • n3. The chapel was built by a loan of 120 shares at £50 each. In 1808 the income from collections, pew rents and donations amounted to £1,341 6s. 4d.
  • n4. Lancaster stated in his application to the City that there were two houses and some outhouses on the ground. These he was presumably using for his school. He also held a lease of a small piece of adjoining ground from the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, i.e. in St. Martin's Street, now Miniver Street.
  • n5. George Tappen (c. 1771–1830) also designed the Royal Caledonian Asylum, Islington.
  • 9. C.R.O., Journal of Bridge House Committee.
  • 25. Dict. of Nat. Biog.
  • 108. J. Aubrey, The Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey, 1719, Vol. V.
  • 118. O. Manning and W. Bray, The History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey, 1814, Vol. III.
  • 136. Endowed Charities (London), Vol. IV, 1901.
  • 162. Local Act 50 Geo. III cap. 191.
  • 163. Local Act 52 Geo. III cap. 211.
  • 167. J. Elmes, Metropolitan Improvements, 1827.
  • 179. Guildhall Library, Court Ledger of the Fishmongers' Company.
  • 180. R. W. Bowers, Sketches of Southwark Old and New, 1905.
  • 181. A. H. Johnson, The History of the Worshipful Company of the Drapers of London, 1922, Vol. III, p. 254.
  • 182. 182. H. F. B. Compston, The Magdalen Hospital, 1917.
  • 183. Public Act 9 Geo. III cap. 31.
  • 184. Local Act 29 & 30 Vic. cap. 130.
  • 185. City Comptroller, B.H.E. 289/3.
  • 186. N. Highmore, Pietas Londinensis: The History … of … Public Charities in and near London, 1810.
  • 187. IIIustrated London News.
  • 188. M. D. George, London Life in the XVIIIth century, 1925.
  • 189. Local Act 46 Geo. III cap. 144.
  • 190. Local Act 11 & 12 Vic. cap. 109.
  • 191. Vic. County Hist., Surrey, Vol. IV.
  • 192. The Times, 11th July, 1899.
  • 193. D. Salmon, Joseph Lancaster, 1904, p. 16.
  • 194. M. G. Jones, The Charity School Movement in the XVIIIth century, 1938, P. 339.
  • 195. E. Bayley, The Borough Polytechnic Institute, 1910, pp. 5, 6.
  • 196. School for the Blind, Leatherhead, Records.
  • 197. J. Summerson, Georgian London, 1947.
  • 198. Local Act 7 Geo. IV cap. 68.
  • 199. Local Act 1 Will. IV cap. 19.
  • 200. The Mirror, 21st Feb. 1835.