This is an official report for the London Orphan Asylum whose mission was ‘to afford maintenance, instruction and clothing to destitute orphans of both sexes, and to put them out in situations where they may have the prospect of an honest livelihood’. In other words, the Asylum functioned as a charitable boarding-school.
Dating from 1821, the small pamphlet contains an Address, which appeals to its readers to recognise the orphan’s cause, as well as lists of children enrolled at the Asylum and the subscribers.
The Address suggests that during the early 19th century, the public was becoming increasingly aware of society’s dispossessed and destitute and subsequently more alert to charitable causes (‘The widow and orphan have an undisputed, perhaps an unrivalled, claim to our benevolence’). Indeed, there was a corresponding increase in charitable giving (‘The present day is the period of benevolence and philanthropy’; ‘London […] is highly celebrated for her charities’).
How did the Asylum originate?
Andrew Reed, one of the leading philanthropists of his day, established the Asylum in 1813 in response to the increasing numbers of orphans. During this period, the government provided no financial and organisational support for parentless children apart from the workhouse.
The Asylum was also a response to a fear felt by wider society that orphans, without careful guidance, were likely to end up leading a life of ‘vice and crime’.
The Asylum was based in East London, firstly at Shoreditch and Bethnal Green and later, in the 1820s, in a unified building in Clapton. Part of this original building still exists today.
Reed drew on his wide circle of contacts – members of his church congregation, city merchants, and even royalty – to raise thousands of pounds towards the charity. His success is emphasised in the report’s List of Subscribers, which runs to 97 pages.
What kind of children did the Asylum admit?
Although the Asylum is an admirable example of charity, it exercised prejudice against children from certain social backgrounds. The report’s title page states that it assists children, 'Descending from Respectable Parents', while later it states that their parents must have been married. Troublingly, this would have excluded many parentless children from receiving support.
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