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Charles Booth, charity control, and the London churches, 1897-1903.


BY 1897, CHARLES BOOTH, a Liverpool shipping magnate, philanthropist, and social scientist, had spent a considerable amount of money and more than a decade of his life studying the poor of late Victorian London. His investigators had compiled their notes into nine detailed volumes devoted to conditions of poverty and the current state of London-based industries. (1) After all this--after interviews with employers, unionists, laborers, teachers, clergymen, councillors, vestrymen, ministers, doctors, priests, and Poor Law Guardians--Booth found himself, in the final years of the survey and amid the social wreckage of Blackfriars Road, asking this question: "What role can religion play in these conditions?" (2)

Over the next six years, Booth and his team collected 1,800 interviews with a wide range of London's religious and secular leaders. He mined the team's unpublished notebooks to produce the seven volumes that made up the "Religious Influences" series (published 1902-03). Many historians have dismissed these as a relevant historical source. W. S. F. Pickering calls them "useless," Owen Chadwick rules them out as "impressionistic," and Ross McKibbin finds them "redundant to most of the questions the historian might ask." (3) A close reading of these interviews, however, tells us as much about church charity as it does about religion. Most importantly, they tell us that there was much less conflict in the late nineteenth-century debate over "charity organization" than historians have suggested. Charles Booth and his investigators found not only clergymen but also women and working people enthusiastically engaged in the strict allocation of charity. Their interviews help us correct overoptimistic assessments of a wide range of contemporary actors, from Christian Socialists to social scientists. Disguising often ruthless charity work in a new incarnationalist theology, High and Anglo-Catholic clergy strove to limit charity to their most deserving cases, while "old-fashioned" Low clergymen, Nonconformists, women, and working people worked equally hard to make the charity organization campaign a success.

Christians of all kinds placed their faith in a kind of New Christianity in this period. London's High and Anglo-Catholic clergymen stood out most prominently in this respect--men controversial not only for their abandonment (in ritual, dress, and architecture) of Evangelicalism's aesthetic blandness, but also for the exotic and ambivalently masculine picture they presented to London parishes. (4) A new language of human fellowship based in Christ's incarnation had brought them into a closer relationship with the city's poor. Late in June 1907, Arthur Stanton of St. Alban's, Holborn, explained the meaning of this "new love" for the poor. To his 700 listeners--all of them workingmen holding a town hall meeting in his honor--Stanton proclaimed a brotherhood between himself and those before him, a love between them. "God has given me the love of my fellow men," Stanton said, and the men burst into applause. "Amor vincit omnia," Stanton cried, "love conquers everything--and the one verse in God's holy word that I pick out, which I should like to be written over my grave is this: 'God hath made of one blood all nations of men.'" The men roared their applause. "Those words lie at the bottom of all credal and social difficulties and differences to unite all men together. It is a blood and a heart that make men one ..." (5)

Boyd Hilton and Cheryl Walsh tell us that High and ritualist clergymen such as Stanton were symptomatic of a theological shift in the Anglican Church. Around the 1850s, Anglican thought had moved from an insensitive era of Christian antipauperism--what Hilton called the "Age of Atonement"--to a more socially responsible "Age of Incarnation." (6) In the 1830s and the 1840s, atonement-centered thought had emphasized the divine nature of sinful men suffering through poverty (or any other hardship) in order to achieve economic and spiritual salvation. By the 1870s and the 1880s, Anglo-Catholics like Stewart Headlam could declare that membership in a church and participation in its rituals (baptism, communion, the Eucharist) constituted membership in a "social entity." Like Stanton, he repeated the words "brotherhood" and "humanity" in his sermons and publications, refused earlier evangelical notions of human depravity, and declared that his Christian activism could be embraced by all. "The people," according to Headlam, would by these means make a Kingdom of God on Earth. (7) In this way, Anglo-Catholics acquired their "social" conscience by late century, and by these means they "detached themselves" from an atonement-centered churchmanship emphasizing personal salvation. The salvation of the Church and society, Anglo-Catholics said, was open to all, and this universalist stance allowed Christian Socialists to plot "a new course for the church in its relations with secular society, particularly with regard to social reform and the working classes." (8)

Vestment-adorned Anglo-Catholics preaching "worldly compassion" may have stolen the limelight from their evangelical colleagues, but historians such as Hugh McLeod remind us that they were not the only sects "going social." Clergymen of all denominations shifted their rhetoric toward what seems in retrospect a kind of universalism. If High and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans stressed the incarnation as the foundation of their ideas of brotherhood (God had become man, and so human life was holy), Low Anglicans and Nonconformist Evangelicals found themselves likewise preaching a new Social Gospel. (9) Both wished to win the masses back to religious worship and both envisaged a new brotherhood of man.

However they preached their new social approaches, Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals alike "found themselves sooner or later providing food or clothing, or other kinds of material help [to the poor]." (10) From the 1850s, the Anglican Church provided an example that clergymen of all denominations would follow by late century. Charles Kemble's Suggestive Hints on Parochial Machinery (1859), notes Jeffrey Cox, set out as the object of all Anglican clergymen the diffusion of "Christian influence through all classes": the "moral improvement" of society through the institution of new social functions for the Church. (11) Following Kemble's instructions, the Churches created a battery of church auxiliaries responsible for poor relief, thrift societies, temperance societies (or Bands of Hope), medical services, education, clubs, recreation, and entertainment.

Most historians agree that the introduction of these institutions signaled a change of attitudes among London churchmen. "It is impossible," Cox writes,
   to identify one motive which outweighs the other motives for
   collective action in this case. There was guilt, certainly, and
   fear and compassion, but also piety. Late Victorian churchgoers
   heard a lot about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Evangelicals
   wanted to save souls, but almost all of Lambeth's Christians wanted
   to do something for their fellow man. Large numbers of ordinary
   people in churches and chapels rejected the theory behind the
   Victorian Poor Law--that those who cannot make it go to the
   workhouse--and those who did not reject it were repeatedly told
   that they should. Social control was one, but not the only
   function of religious philanthropy and liberal out-relief by
   the Guardians did not usually entail the rejection of the need
   to distinguish, as a matter of policy, between the deserving
   and undeserving poor. But by 1900 some religious philanthropists,
   usually liberal Nonconformists, were strenuously urging upon their
   hearers the evil consequences of that distinction.

"Both Christian compassion and Christian universalism," for Cox, combined thereafter "to produce the attitude behind much of Britain's welfare-state legislation in the twentieth century--that everyone should be taken care of with dignity." Christianity now demanded "the protection of the weak" through "the spirit of kindness which does not break the bruised reed." (12)

A number of historians of Christian social work have interpreted contemporary conceptions of love as a combination of brotherhood and generosity. Leonard Cowie, for example, cites Canon Samuel Barnett's 1897 pledge to "trust all men more" and to "give to the poorest more responsibility," and argues that "the Barnetts, rather than Sidney and Beatrice Webb, might be considered the founders of the modern welfare state." D. B. McIlheney and Jeffrey Cox echo this opinion. Both Cox and Hugh McLeod agree that churchmen's efforts "made a small, but none the less significant contribution to alleviating poverty"--a "genuine expression of Christian concern" until "central and local government took over most of the churches' functions in education and charity." Prominent Christian Socialists such as Stewart Headlam are discussed as pioneers of social care. Edward Norman, in a discussion of Headlam's Christ-centered theology, emphasizes how--in a more materialistic sense and in opposition to contemporary material conditions--such thinking portrayed Christ's miracles as having "prefigured social welfare." McLeod notes how dissertations such as that of Alan Bartlett "went even further in correcting [Charles] Booth's negative evaluation" of church-work, stressing "how much church-based health care, youth clubs, savings banks, and so on, met real human needs and how much these efforts were motivated by an admirable humanitarianism." (13) This propensity among historians to give positive assessments of church auxiliary activity may explain why they have paid insufficient attention to church charitable practices, practices often severely lacking in humanitarian scope. In contrast to scholars who have given church auxiliary activity a flavor of universal compassion, a flavor of welfare, this study contends that the London churches did not effect such a broad revolution of attitudes before 1914.


Booth's unpublished interviews contain very little evidence of an ascendant Christian universalism. Discrimination against the so-called "undeserving poor" showed no sign of decline among the newly activist churchmen of the 1890s. Instead, it appears that these clergymen became more coordinated, more sophisticated, and more systematic in their charitable practices. Historians have noted this increasing systematization. From about the 1870s, notes Ellen Ross, England's Churches placed themselves in the vanguard of a number of metropolitan charitable organizations "attempting to operate ... on a more systematic, even scientific footing." The stated wish behind such charity was to "advance the long term interests of the receivers," but like much philanthropic language in these decades, its words hid a darker agenda. (14)

What appeared as a twinge of universality in the clergy's discourse of improvement in reality masked a policy of discrimination. Real compassion for the poor when distributing charity demanded selectivity. Targets had to be chosen carefully in the hope that the respectable among the poor might be "raised," "elevated," or "picked up." The churchmen's chief anxiety became charitable overlap--the overprovision of charity to those already receiving it from another organization. Special concern focused on those who (from the look of them) would be demoralized or pauperized by its receipt. Overindulgence of certain of the poor would "corrupt" them, would cause them "harm," and so many churchmen of the survey saw to the development of sophisticated church surveillance techniques coordinated around the practice of house-to-house visitation and always described in terms of "systematic" administration. Every clergyman and district visitor knew the dangers of giving to the wrong people because in the East London parishes of Poplar and Limehouse, Bow and Bromley, Bethnal Green, Hackney and South Hackney, many and sometimes most of the population were considered as "invertebrate, lazy loafers," a cadging or demoralized people, or a casually employed people with no moral fiber. To all of these, because of the fragility of their character, it would be ill-advised, many Christian workers believed, to provide even a coal ticket. (15)

Within such language, one sees most clearly the uncompromising nature of Anglican charity control discourse in the 1890s. Both the High and the Low clergy, despite the "advanced" "social" pretensions of the former, employed the rhetoric of charity control. Both, moreover, found common ground with Booth's investigators, all of whom were strong advocates of charity organization. (16) From the praise afforded to certain clergymen over others, the Booth team and the men they interviewed clearly accepted that in order to "form character," sometimes it was necessary to give very little or nothing at all. To a greater extent than they discussed the church's "religious influence," the Booth interviews centered most persistently on the money churchmen doled out to the poor and out-of-work. The Booth team even took time to interview the local government and working-class community leaders on the subject of district charity, making the Booth survey more like an audit of charitable relief practices than one measuring the extent to which London was "touched by religion."

Strong opinions from the more extreme of these charity policemen abound: "They don't come for what they can get because they get nothing," said Bethnal Green's Rev. Green. Plain services, "no attractions," and no attempts to induce by almsgiving, said the Low Churchman, Rev. Sweetnam. Tickets for "coal, bread, meat, etc. but no money" said Richard Free of Millwall who avoided those out of work "as much as possible." "Never give to out of work cases," said Rev. Morcom of Hackney. "Money is never given," said Rev. Mason adding, "practically nothing is given directly." "Give no money," indeed, was the immediate response of a number of clergymen interviewed by the Booth team, one that interviewers found not cold, but sensible. (17)

Of course, someone was on the receiving end of the charity distributed to the poor in cash or kind during this period. In an average Anglican Church, relief (not including hospital letters) usually came to about one hundred pounds per year. "[T]housands of visitors entering hundreds of thousands of households each year in London" made distributions in cash or in kind. (18) To find the recipients of this charity, however, one must wade through the "no money" rhetoric and the judgments of a large number of churchmen, appalled by the charitable improprieties of careless colleagues, churchwomen, and voluntary, municipal, and state authorities. Blame shot in various directions, but interestingly, women topped the list. Testimony from nearly all the Low Churchmen of Bethnal Green, for example, saw women churchworkers dishing out indiscriminate charity all over the place, paying back-rents, believing everything the poor told them. Some saw an endless damage. People called Whitehead Street a "show slum" for these women. (19) Others blamed the negligent state relief. For Revs. Mason, Parry, and Hare, a "loose hand," an absurd lack of personal inquiry, and too many relief officers pushing retirement produced an abominable harm in Bow. They thought it at once all wrong and heart breaking. (20) Churchmen even blamed themselves. Discussing weekly mothers' meetings, two churchmen remarked how their certainty that they had drilled into their people that "cadging [was] of no use" came to no avail. "I don't believe in them a bit," said one; "women only come because they expect to make something out of it." "I'm not gone on mothers' meetings," said the other. The women come with a sense of "obliging you." Several, on their death beds, had told him, "we never came from the right motive, treats and teas brought us." (21)


These anxieties reveal (particularly in the case of overgenerous lady visitors and "careless" relief officers) no introduction of kindness and generosity to relief practices. Women charity workers and working-class community leaders, also interviewed by the survey, expressed the same urgent need to stop charitable overindulgence, the accidental relief to (what one churchman called) the "scamps" who did a "brisk trade" in qualifying for church and chapel treats and Bands of Hope. (22) An overoptimistic appreciation of women churchworkers in the 1890s and a reluctance to acknowledge a morally charged classism among workingmen have perhaps caused a misinterpretation of the role that they took for themselves, both in visiting work and on church relief committees.

First, despite the gendered notions of female philanthropy, middle-class women were hardly suckers for a sob story. The "silly" and "sentimental" district visitor was conceived in opposition to a churchman's firm hand and to rational, scientific, male charity administration generally. Churchmen's testimony in this respect probably signaled more their own insecurities than it provided proof of female churchworkers' inability to spot the "scrounger." Women, after all, did most of the neighborhood visiting, appraised most working-class homes, and determined through their reports a family's moral eligibility for charitable aid. According to Alan Bartlett, "lady workers did the brunt of the everyday visiting, ran the clubs and societies for girls and women, helped in the Sunday Schools and above all supervised relief." (23) Women who aspired to break into the administration of social work at this time did not do so by demanding the distribution of indiscriminate charity: they fought gendered ideas of women's philanthropy by being as discriminating as they could be. Female churchworkers, writes Sean Gill, understood that "[d]irect giving of assistance" was a "problematic" practice and that it "required careful monitoring, since it was thought likely to foster what it is now fashionable to call a culture of dependence." (24) As Sisters, deaconesses, district visitors, bible women, parish nurses, and Nonconformist Sisters of the People, women, unlike the clergy, did most of the groundwork in the discrimination of the needy from the needy.

If, however, insecurity plagued churchmen (bewildered as they were by empty pews and the female domination of their church charitable machinery), then women sometimes exercised too tight a hand on the auxiliaries for which they had charge: "You deceitful old bitches, I know what you've been doing while I've been away: you've been going to Father Jay, so losing the chance not only of the relief I should give you in this life, but at the same time imperiling your immortal souls." So barked a Miss Macpherson of the Kilburn Sisters in early 1898, recently returned from Canada to her duties in the "Nichol," the infamous Shoreditch neighborhood. That the women of her church mothers' meeting might be ministered to by anyone other than herself threw her into a rage, sparking "the extraordinary plainness of speech" evident here. (25)

Testimony such as this appears rarely in leading texts on church philanthropy. Geoffrey Finlayson, for example, rightly accepts that the Anglican parochial system constituted "a much more extensive organization than any in the country" to carry out philanthropic activity, but he identifies the motives behind this vast network of parish work simply as altruistic, humanitarian, and religious. Brian Harrison argues that the motives behind church philanthropy were "religious in essence" and perhaps too easily "neglected or deprecated by the secularized twentieth century mind." (26) The problem here is that this manner of discussion leaves little room for the veritable turf war that existed between the churchwomen of London at this time, a war which saw each "lady" compete tooth and nail in her attempt morally to dredge, and be seen morally to dredge, the remaining poor and respectable from the slums around them. The Booth interviews see women attempting desperately to avoid tags of the "lady bountiful," each woman administering charity according to her own professional ideal.

Jeff Cox's rather optimistic account of Nonconformist antipoverty activism should not lead us to conceive of an opposition between (dominating, moralistic) Anglican churchwomen and (resisting, humanitarian) women workers in the London chapels. At the Old Ford Wesleyan Mission Church in Bow, Sister Nellie could tell you at which house on Ramwell Street she found a dead child in the front room, how Lamprell Street ranked the district's worst, how even the "large respectable-looking houses" on Parnell Road had "very poor folk" tucked into their back rooms, many of them widowed women. She knew everyone, but it still followed that--as charity or in her clothing clubs--she "did not give the women money." She impressed the Booth team with her methods, her testimony taken verbatim by George Arkell:
   Charitable Relief: When necessary give tickets but would not give
   unless she had investigated the case. First go to the house and
   then make enquiries in the neighbourhood. Goes at unexpected times
   so that people may not prepare for a visit. Don't think they have
   much chance of deceiving them. (27)

Interviewed in late June 1897, Nellie described her work as a process of Christianization. Some women were already classified as "Christian women" when they entered the chapel; others were "brought in whilst attending the mothers' meeting." By Bible class, by class meeting, by mothers' meeting--she gathered these young women by various means. She found herself "speaking to one at an entertainment, to another at the service, by visitation and by speaking to them in the street." With such immense duties, her work never stopped; for the girls she felt were worth it, she did great things. "I have," she said, "picked them up." (28) Historians who doubt that these charity control proponents did what they said they did should look to the "Religious Influences" series interviews to see how often comments concerning charity control arise.

The testimony of working-class caregivers reinforces the point. One historian of working-class radicalism, Alistair Reid, writes how Christian behavior among late-century working people rarely strayed from attempts to regulate the market--"to take account of the considerations of humanity and social justice." He tells us "the fundamental moral ideal of [working-class] Christianity" from 1870-1900 was that of "caring for others and sharing one's resources with them." By 1900, he claims, it became "clearly impossible" for plebeian radicals "to accept the assumptions of economic and social individualism." (29)

Caring and sharing and attachment or nonattachment to individualism, however, have ceased to be very helpful descriptions of working people in this period. A better way to cut to the heart of the matter is to ask whether or not they believed in the "loafer." Poplar's Will Crooks, working-class celebrity, Guardian, and London County Councillor, certainly did. From a family of Congregationalists, he embodied the "decent" working-class culture, a man whom parents and children had heard of, voted for, and admired. Like his fellow Guardians, he shared a seemingly "popular" concern over charitable excess. In his interview with George Duckworth, Crooks described his election to the same Board of Guardians that took him as a boy into the workhouse after an accident had left his father disabled. Now an elected member of the London County Council, Crooks said he had never pandered to the working man: he preached the doctrine "help yourself," with "self-reliance" as his "underlying principle." Speaking of the district, he described the "infinite" improvement in Poplar and pointed out that even in the "lowest streets" (Sophie Street and Rook Street) all had clean blinds. He had known the time "when they were only taken down at Christmas." Questions inevitably arose from the Booth team regarding the provision of out-relief by Crooks' Board of Guardians. Crooks spoke confidently that relief was limited to "deserving paupers" and cases displaying "good character." Aged people would receive relief if they had carefully put away money for their rent (he had a soft spot for them and wanted them to live decently), but he "never relieve[d] cases of want of work." Uncleanliness was "punished by the House." Applicants were always examined, and a medical officer examined sick cases. Relief, when granted, stretched for "two weeks during which time the case was watched carefully and reported on by the Relieving Officer." "No relief [was] given without strict investigation." (30)

Crooks thought that churchwork in Poplar was doing more than ever before in his life. He considered Rev. Chandler (a High Churchman) a "very active fellow." An Unemployed Committee, organized four years previously at the Rectory, ensured that every penny went into giving employment through the District Board of Works. Workingmen had been invited to join the committee, and Crooks was encouraged when he found that case papers were "given round" for him and for other workingmen to peruse. He described how he himself had never set foot inside the Rectory before then and that he was "indifferent when he first saw the parsons." This changed when Poplar's working elite joined its parsons at the committee table. Because of the workingmen's participation on the committee, Crooks said, "working men rejected 50% more cases than did the parsons," and that was just the beginning. The "man who investigated the case took the money ... to the family and supervised its spending." "Relief first, then work": that was the rule. "Men who did not turn up were struck off," he said, "and no begging could get them back on again." Crooks thought that this produced "extremely good" results. Men got about three days of work, and with 5,000 [pounds sterling] worth of work done, the money collected by the Unemployment Committee "more than covered their loss." (31)

Historians of working people will perhaps question whether or not Crooks' answers were "put-on"--made for the consumption of both Charles Booth and a wider relief-conscious public. Yet Crooks' own biographer wrote him up the same way, perhaps in harder terms in reference to his charitable beliefs. "The most successful scheme for relieving distress with which Crooks was associated in the severe winters of the early nineties," George Haw wrote, "was one on which a dozen years later the Unemployment Act was based. It represented co-operation between a committee of citizens and the local authorities."

The Committee was formed in the first instance as a relief committee by the Rector of Poplar. When Crooks joined at the rector's request and found himself sitting among none but parsons, representing every denomination in the district, he told them their first duty was to widen their ranks.
   You will never do anything so long as your committee is confined to
   gentlemen like these," he told the clerical chairman. "What you
   need is to get hold of trade union secretaries of the friendly and
   temperance societies and members of working men's clubs. They will
   soon discriminate between the waster and the deserving man. The
   waster is always boasting that parsons are so easily deceived.

Besides the Labour men, representatives of other classes were invited to join the committee. The Bishop of London and Canon Scott Holland backed up the Committee's appeal to the public for funds, and about 5,000 [pounds sterling] was raised to meet Poplar's needs. (32)

Crooks' comments about men unworthy of charity came straight from the chest, and many probably respected him for his unfailing ability to spot a "man." Crooks' additional compliments concerning the work of Anglican curates of the district seem a powerful proof of his strong approval of churchwork there, and the time allotted to the interview, as well as the investigator's favorable description of Crooks as a gruff-voiced, clean-shirted, trim-whiskered neighborhood peacemaker, reveal the admiration he inspired from all classes of society.

Robert Roberts, a working-class contemporary, said that opinion in the "narrow, integrated society" of working people "still continued to be created and molded by word of mouth rather than by any other medium." "The top-class natural leaders of the workers"--people like Crooks--who were the "good, intelligent talkers,"
   acted above all else as assessors, arbiters and makers of the common
   conscience, most, although having abandoned church and chapel, still
   espousing a Christian ethic. The pressure of their beliefs,
   prejudices and errors seeped slowly through the social layers of
   working-class life and conditioned the minds of all. Though a man
   might fear the law he feared too the disapproval of his neighbours
   and especially the condemnation of those who through articulateness,
   intelligence, economic and social standing acted as exemplars within
   the community. It is, perhaps, the almost complete disappearance of
   this elite from the manual working class of the present day that has
   caused such a shift in conduct and morals. (33)

Noting Crooks' comments about "wasters," then, and imagining the effect they must have had in his community of Poplar (and subsequently Woolwich where he was one of the Labor Party's first members of Parliament) gives us further evidence of a strong belief in moral notions of poverty among working Londoners. (34) Evidence from the Booth interviews reveals that church attendance among working people often depended on whether or not as attendees they were viewed as the receivers of church "doles." Working people would avoid the Church if this meant that they would be tagged as beggars asking for handouts. One Unitarian minister interviewed in Hampstead, Dr. Hereford Brooke, believed that "the great disinclination of working men to go to a place of worship" arose partly from fear of a "dole system" that they felt operated in some churches. "With the sturdier working class," Brooke said, "Trade Unions and friendly societies have taken the place of the church ... [workingmen] say (alluding to those who do attend)[:] "We don't want to be mixed up with that crowd. They only go for what they can get." (35)

Rev. Vyvyan of the Charterhouse Mission in Bermondsey agreed, noting that "Among the people generally, but especially among [working] men, it is the accepted creed that all churchgoers, are 'mumpers' (i.e. hypocrites and cadgers), and apart from the general ignorance and indifference, the chaff and persecution entailed, is the great obstacle to [their] churchgoing." (36) This latter evidence contradicts what most British historians of working-class religion have generally understood as "chaff'--that is, teasing and harassment for being too "churchy" and for putting on puritanical airs in relation to home, work, and drink. (37) Here, such evidence tells us that to go to a certain church could blackball a family as charity mongers, offensive to a working-class code, which demanded families to act like they could control the market through their own respectable living (even though they could not possibly do this).

That a Southwark father might beat his daughters severely for getting free meals from a mission and thereby threatening his family's station surely points to the same prevalence of moral ideas of poverty among working people. (38) So, too, does the testimony from Walworth and Greenwich of workingmen resolutely forbidding their wives to attend church mothers' meetings--meetings they saw as places of begging old women. (39) Last, we must not ignore the testimony from clergymen in Woolwich, Greenwich, Deptford, and Peckham describing how workingwomen had begun to compete with women of the middle class for the position of district visitor, and more than this, how ministers in these places often found their new recruits as uncommonly strict managers of their charity. Woolwich's Rev. Escreet of St. Mary Magdalene "call[ed] himself a Socialist, [was] a member of the [Stewart Headlam's] Guild of St. Matthew, and ... always aimed especially at the working class." Arthur Baxter noted that
   Mr. E. lays much stress on visitation ... All his visitors are of
   [the] working class, and he much prefers that it should be so: "of
   course" he said "if you consider it the duty of visitors to
   distribute shillings, and to patronise[,] ours would be no good,"
   but for collecting, for reporting to the clergy, and eventually as
   spiritual agents owing to their greater sympathy with and
   understanding of those whom they visit, working women are he thinks
   much better than ladies. (40)


This brings us to the men if not "in charge" then at the head of church relief committees overseeing poor London parishes from one side of the city to the other. Low Churchmen, for their part, had no absence of solutions to the problem. They repeatedly mentioned "clearing list plans," "no money" policies, and close collaboration with the dependably tight-fisted Charity Organization Society (COS). In Poplar, seven out of ten clergymen, Low and High alike, explicitly affirmed their commitment to the local COS. (41) Bow's Rev. Mason, another Evangelical, "kept a complete receipt of all sick cases" and had a weekly committee to discuss each case of need. (42) Finally, Bethnal Green's Watts Ditchfield, to be safe, confined his relief entirely to the sick--no relief of any sort was given without consultation among his staff. (43)

Low Churchmen's efforts, however, drew much less attention than a new generation of slum clergymen--young, energetic, High Churchmen--some of them employing ritualistic services. A rising star among such clergymen, Arthur Stanton, felt that bringing a new "social" religion to parish work would demonstrate how obsolete Low Church evangelism had become, lie wrote to his mother in the mid-1860s how "religious thought was undergoing a great change." He "despised the religionism of the old system," and while he "honoured and loved the good ... who were brought up under it," he "believed that they had been good despite, and not in consequence of, the system." Such men as Stanton "loved ritual, and the visible vestige of the divine: their aesthetic sense was strong and they entered with zest into every detail of form and colour and material when planning a mission room or decorating an oratory." They tried to make it clear--to a disapproving society--that they "were no dreamy dilettante admirer[s] of an ecclesiastical past" and that "they were firmly convinced that [their] form of Christianity was the only one that could get a grip on living men and women--especially on the degraded ones swarming around [their churches]." The basis of their ritualism, moreover, "was a belief that all human flesh was loveable and venerable, because CHRIST had worn the human form, and therefore, [that] the most depraved ought to be looked after as'--in Stanton's words--"saintly brethren in obstructed embryo." (44)

It would be too easy to take this sincere if deeply nuanced language at face value. Most have taken High Churchmen like Hackney's Rev. Walker at his word when he remarked how, without interest in poor people's bodies, a congregation "won't believe you care about their souls." The praise of the Booth investigators only adds to our positive impressions. Booth's men found Walker a "really good fellow" with a tremendously popular staff of young, Oxford-educated sportsmen. Importantly, they did so at least in part because he made the poor women of his parish understand "very well" that "cadging [was] of no use." (45)

The Booth team's Arthur Baxter interviewed Anglicans most often. (46) With his obvious admiration of High and Anglo-Catholic churchmanship, Baxter affirmed that High Churchmen figured among "the finest characters and the hardest workers among the clergy that we have met ..." (47) Booth later added that "most of the young men who take Orders, and especially the keenest spirits among them, ranged on the side of the High Church." "[T]he higher the ritual," he noted, "the easier it [was] to obtain the number of curates required," and these "brought to their work an unequalled spirit of devotion." (48) Booth juxtaposed the High Church with its guilds and confraternities against the sometimes sleepy nature of Low Church social work. "Amongst the Evangelicals," he said, there was "something lacking"--a "want of organized Church work." (49)

In East and South London's High Churches, rarely could this be said. Social agencies connected with High and Anglo-Catholic Churches were often massive. Hackney's Revs. Donaldson, Fletcher, and Sanky provided local theater, dances, concerts, and flower shows to spice up people's lives. (50) "Throughout the winter entertainments, dances, etc. are incessant," Booth's investigator wrote of Rev. Fletcher.
   Mr. Fletcher is inclined to rebel against all trouble at times, but
   on the whole thinks they work for the good: the respectable poor
   hate music halls and it is the duty of the Church to provide them
   with decent amusements. To those who are attached to the Church it
   is the chief interest in their lives, and they are doing something
   in connection with it. The greatest of the social functions are the
   boys' and girls' annual pantomime which is a great success. (51)

As in the case of temperance and thrift societies, one cannot deny that such entertainments constituted a meaningful form of giving--giving through a variety of new community services sometimes viewed with considerable suspicion by a late Victorian public. But giving beyond this, the "put-the-money-in-my-hand" giving, appears as something historians have assumed more than proven. The motive behind church giving practices remains very important--especially if these proto-welfare agencies served as a model for England's welfare state.

Rev. Carroll, a High Churchman at St. Frideswide's in Bow, was a local favorite of the Booth team. Even the poorest--assuming they had not pawned their best clothes--came in considerable numbers to see Carroll preach. Notably, however, Carroll--this favorite of classes both high and low--was "very careful not to induce people to come by bribing." Carroll told Arthur Baxter that a previous vicar had dove all that he could to pauperize the people, apparently moved "first and almost solely by pity." He had "lavished money" and "gathered round him a lot of old humbugs." Carroll appeared to feel that this way did not show one's love for the poor. Upon his advent in Bow, therefore, he had immediately taken steps to stop the doles of his church. His "humbugging old women" had been, in Carroll's words, "shed." Like many churchmen, he was blessed with a lady churchworker (Sr. Constance). "She is of the straitest sect of the COS," Baxter wrote, "and often refuses to help when Mr. C would like to." For the Booth team, young Carroll was "the best type of Oxford person, of those who take orders not merely as a profession, but from a genuine devotion to the work." He ran "essentially one of the most active parishes" in the district--"both spiritually and socially." Carroll exhibited a particular pride in his vigorous young people's clubs. His boys' club, run by his enthusiastic curate, Rodney, could keep the lowest boys without driving away the better class. There were open-air sermons and temperance societies, a number of mothers' meetings, cricket clubs, football clubs and lectures, a COS collecting bank, and Sunday Schools catering to 900 boys and girls a week. "A great deal doing," said Baxter, and importantly, "all worked on sensible lines." This "very cheerful, pleasant and genial young man," he said, "was nothing less than a first rate fellow," "a man sure to be popular both with women, men and young people." (52) To the residents of his poor Bow parish, Rev. Carroll must have developed into something of a local celebrity, a community leader, a holy man with a social conscience. In this time, and in this place, such a status may have been quite compatible with the deliberate exclusion of those "shed" from his church, those suspected of cadging, those blackballed as unimproveable.


"Nothing but religion will permanently improve the condition of the people," commented Hackney High Churchman Rev. Donaldson. (53) Given the Booth team's special praise for High Church efforts, Charles Booth very likely thought the same thing. Of course, Booth had thought as much for some time. The Simeys in their Charles Booth: Social Scientist (1960) note how in 1870 Booth concluded that "the only way in which the thoughts and habits of the people in general could be influenced for the better was by means of an organized religious influence." (54) Thirty years later, as he studied the workingmen of Blackfriar's Road, his views had not changed. Waterside laborers here made up the "lowest casual and loafing class, including thieves and prostitutes." Precisely the "lowness and wickedness" of the place--even more than its poverty--may have impressed Booth most. (55) Booth had always believed that religion might provide a civilizing effect upon such people, prompting a steadier, more regular lifestyle as well as more decent habits. Booth's primary "concern with the matter of religion," he said in his published work, was "solely with the extent to which people accept the doctrines, conform to the disciplines, and share the work of religious bodies, and the effect produced, or apparently produced, on their lives." (56) He was disturbed, in his wife's words, "because ... immense efforts were being made" on the part of religious bodies "to give people uplift and were not succeeding." (57)

How should Booth's religious bias affect our assessment of Booth and his series, and moreover, how should it affect our understanding of social science at this time? Booth's most recent historians have assumed that "Religious Influences" was a positive development. Like most, Rosemary O'Day has questioned why Booth veered off in 1897 from his studies of poverty and industry to complete a seven-volume inquiry into Christianity's influence in the metropolis. She emphasizes correctly that religious and social influences were, for Booth, related phenomena. In Mr. Charles Booth's Inquiry, she notes that "Booth saw religious influences as a social influence"--that religious and social influences, in his mind, were not separate things. However, she asserts little more than that Booth had exhibited an interest in the "consideration of moral questions" and that this interest led him to attempt a measurement of the "civilizing" influence religion brought to bear on the poor. (58) Uncritically, O'Day notes simply that detailed cases and empirical evidence were used to determine the extent to which religion was a civilizing influence, and that "[t]o understand the civilizing effect of religion, one had to understand the living London," a London that Booth and his team would personally describe, district by district, parish by parish. (59)

Booth's commitment to charity control calls for a revision of our understanding of Booth and his survey. Booth did not, in Rosemary O'Day's words, make it possible for the informed reader to measure accurately the Church's efforts to civilize through religion "against the nature and extent of local, social, moral and economic problems." (60) The prostitutes, casual laborers, and "paupers" never lacked a sense of "civilization." Their chief difficulty in life resided in lack of money. Booth's evidence, based as it was in the moral assessments of the working population, was only partially "empirical." (61) But this makes the survey no less valuable to historians. Indeed, its morally charged interviews help us to understand how Booth and "philanthropists" like him could in good conscience ask people to fall back on resources they never had in the hopes of an independence that the three in ten working Londoners who lacked money would never enjoy. It reminds historians gauging the motives behind contemporary "discourses of improvement" that hidden within languages of "civilization," for some, was disqualification--disqualification from charity certainly, but more broadly, disqualification from membership in a "moral" community. In view of all of this, O'Day concluded: first, that "[i]n years to come clergymen ... were advised to read in addition to the Scriptures, not the Fathers of the Reformation Divines, but Charles Booth on London Life," and second, that "[t]his was the value of the 'New Booth' to the contemporary audience for whom it was intended--an audience of the informed, concerned and involved middle class, of ministers and philanthropists." This now seems less comforting. (62)


As surprising as Booth's spiritual solutions for the problem of poverty seem, perhaps more surprising is that the findings of the "Religious Influences" inquiry led him to conclude that the Anglican Church--England's state-supported spiritual authority and administrator of a wide variety of social services--should be retired as a national charitable agency. It seems clear that the "Religious Influences" series interviews doubled for Booth as a survey of the representatives from every relief agency in London. It allowed him both to assess contemporary relief practices and, with an eye to "real" social improvement, to recommend a more cautious administration of metropolitan charity. For Booth, the grand task of metropolitan charity demanded extreme care from churchworkers about whom they indulged. By the completion of the "Religious Influences" series, Booth wondered whether or not the churches could meet that task. Was the present system of London relief capable of reliably "improving" the people, or should the state intervene further in relief matters and provide a more aggressive solution to the Churches' socio-spiritual problem?

In the closing pages of the series' seventh volume, under the discrete section entitled "Religion and Charity," Booth's answer emerged. This subject, he said, "presents many complications, and I would wish, if possible, to draw the threads together." Of the "undeniable fact of the existence of poverty" and, moreover, of the fact that "hundreds of thousands of our neighbours in London are ill-fed, ill-clad and ill-housed," Booth was now sure. He was sure of another "great fact"--the worry of charity organizers across the metropolis--"that the neighbors of those poor people, in numbers perhaps no fewer, are endowed in varying degrees with surplus wealth." Not for centuries, Booth noted, had money gone to the poor for one's "soul's sake," but modern Britons of London's West End still found a "salve for their consciences" by persisting in "supporting charitable undertakings ... " (63) For centuries, the churches had functioned as the conduit for the distribution of this "surplus wealth." In 1903, the situation was much the same: West Enders sent money and their sons and daughters to the service of the poor, while churchmen and their countless churchworkers "organiz[ed] all in the name of God." (64)

At this point, Booth's discussion turned from a rather commonplace assessment of London charity to an outright attack on its providers. The rich might offer cash and personal service, Booth said, but if they did so through the organizational apparatus of the churches, such efforts were worse than wasted. The system of charity offered by the churches, he said, had "satisfied the consciences of the rich or enlisted them in God's service, and strengthened the Church; but as regards the poor, the results have not proved satisfactory in the past, and neither response nor results are greatly different now." In a few sentences, Booth had pronounced the Churches' citywide campaign for charity organization meaningless and even counterproductive in the fight against poverty. Poverty, indeed, was probably only being "aggravated by [the churches'] ill-considered attempts to relieve it ..." (65)

At the root of this charitable negligence, Booth believed, was the Christian religion itself. Ideology and tradition prevented churchmen from allowing the undeserving poor to remain without care. Christianity made one give; it made one incapable of controlling the impulse to give. A real danger therefore existed in that the Church might never relinquish a potentially harmful "duty to its parishioners." Heedless of the damage they caused, clergymen felt compelled to answer the call of their brethren, if not the dictates of their Christian hearts. (66)

Booth thought that "Christian compassion" (which he almost certainly overstated) rendered churchmen incapable of distinguishing between the "truly suffering" and the "beggar." "Thus something must be done," he wrote, "but 'what' and 'how,' remain questions to be asked and answered." Booth considered the "enormous amount" of money given to the poor, more than half of it by private charity and the remainder by the churches, and concluded that it was "incontestable" that "much of this" had been "wasted and worse than wasted." (67)

Despite many churchmen having impressed his investigators with the words "Relief careful," Booth knew better. He thought that poor people had outsmarted the Church when the Church was not engaged itself in "the practice of 'easy giving.'" The money spent did "more harm than good," one witness said. People were being overvisited by "tender-hearted sisters" and others whose Christianity had gotten the better of them. London was filled, Booth suggested, with churchmen and women "of the religiously charitable who do not shrink at all" from giving in the face of "a spiritual opportunity," with those who "weakly" testified, "You can't go into starving homes without giving." (68)

Booth's sweeping condemnation of turn-of-the-century church relief work has caused some confusion among historians. We have assumed all too easily that Booth was right--that churchwork had taken on the universalism Anglo-Catholics said it had, that it had taken on a flavor of welfare. As a result, historians have sought to rescue religious men and women from what they see as Booth's "pessimism" about church social work. Their "genuine expression of Christian concern," one author contends, provides clear evidence of "how much church-based health care, youth clubs, savings banks, and so on, met real human needs and how much these efforts were motivated by humanitarianism." (69) But men and women who wholly defied moral notions of poverty were very rare in this period and, consequently, present-day universalist notions of humanitarianism are inappropriately imposed on late Victorian attitudes. We should avoid creating artificial oppositions (in this case, among Booth and the COS and a "new" churchman or churchwoman) when harsh acts of charity control were practiced by both.

Booth's pessimism resulted not because London's church auxiliary organizations ineffectively performed their expected social role. Rather, his pessimism emerged because a few sentimental church leaders (in his view) had spoiled a great effort against the pauperization of the poor. It did not matter to Booth that in this effort the clergy of all denominations and notably High Churchmen had excelled. It did not matter that the givers of indiscriminate charity among them were few. To Booth, a few counted as too many, and seeing no other choice, he tarred them all with the same brush.


Thus, in the final pages of his survey, Booth proposed the abolition of all church relief work. He separated London's poor into three claimant classes: (1) the "Poor Law cases," (2) the "clergy cases," and (3) the "Charity Organization cases." Endorsing what he called the "great aim" of the COS, Booth recommended a halt to all church charity. Three claimant classes would be reduced to two, then officials would be given a mandate to secure assistance for those who could be "solidly benefited," "relegating others to the Poor Law." (70)

"I here make no attempt to lay down rules or judge between conflicting theories on this subject," Booth wrote. "My sole object is to develop the position of religion in connection with charitable relief." Yet Booth had indeed judged. He had judged that certain representatives of metropolitan charity organization (specifically those of the COS and the Poor Law) were superior to those doing a similar, equally selective work in the churches.

At the dawn of a new century, therefore, instead of seeing the birth of a new generation of charity police, Booth concluded his "Religious Influences" series by reiterating how most religious charity workers met real difficulty in squaring teaching found "in many passages in the Bible" with "practical rules of action now laid down, not only by the COS, but by "all serious thinkers." These thinkers included "the leading representatives of every religious community in London, Jew or Christian, Roman Catholic or Protestant, Established or Nonconformist, Trinitarian or Unitarian."

Such leadership, however, could not sway what Booth saw as a larger, increasingly "humanitarian" rank-and-file. "By all," Booth concluded, "the difficulty is evaded rather than met," the Gospel precepts fundamentally compromising all attempts at a responsible church charity. (71)


Making his case against the metropolitan churchworkers demanded that Booth ignore some of the testimony he received from them. Despite many churchmen's commitment to COS-style relief strategies, Booth nevertheless wrote that too many churchmen "could not go with the Charity Organization Society." "[T]he Church should breathe love," one had told him, "not discover humbug." The problem with clergymen, Booth explained, was that they simply could not follow "cast iron" or "doctrinaire" rules of giving. To prove it, he quoted one who remarked that, "[i]n practice the thing is to have rules and to break them; if you do so with your eyes open you are not likely to do much harm." (72)

Booth rarely identified the man or woman interviewed, and he did not in this case. However, a look at the unpublished Booth notebooks reveals the source as Hackney's Rev. Donaldson. Donaldson's interview contains such comments as: "In the winter it is impossible to help out of work cases at times, but if the character of the man is really bad no help is ever given either to him or his family," and "a large part of the out of work is through bad character." These seemingly imply a dedication (present in most interviews) on the part of clergymen to avoid the undeserving. Yet, Donaldson's later, less precise comments that there were "a number of poor, helpless, incapable creatures who must keep their heads above water in the summer and are thrown out in the winter through no fault of their own" probably rendered null Donaldson's earlier commitments for Booth. Consequently, he lumped Donaldson with the rest of the Church's "irresponsible" minority. (73) Booth, over the course of the survey, had tired of clergymen's "moments of weakness." He showed frustration with otherwise strict men who said that they infrequently helped cases that the COS would have refused. Approvingly, he quoted one COS officer who said that the clergy always "had one eye on their own cause" and that they were "unable to think simply of the effect of charity on the recipient." (74)

Indeed, Booth became so tired of these men that at least once he "cooked" his own books, deliberately misquoting a South London Rector. Chastising the Rev. Henry Lewis in his published volumes, Booth condemned St. Mary Magdalene's, Bermondsey, for charitable practices tending, he said, "to drag both character and conditions down to a lower level": (75)
   The destitute and sick are helped by relief tickets and doles,
   hospital letters, and in various other minor ways. Every
   year some thousands of articles of clothing, old and
   new, are distributed, dinners and teas are provided, and
   excursions for poor women and school children are arranged. (76)

Booth, however, deliberately failed to include one sentence from the notes that the Rector had provided the Booth team concerning his parish machinery. Those words, indicated here in italics, if left in may have led the reader to suppose that this church more actively supervised charity distribution.
   In addition to the above we distributed every year some
   thousands of articles of clothing--old and
   new--and many dinners and teas and excursions for our
   poor women and school children are given in the course of the
   year. All our Charity distribution is done in Council with our
   Clergy and workers, who meet every week on Wednesdays for
   this purpose. This minimizes imposition. We secure and
   give needy cases many hospital letters--convalescent home
   letters--and Surgical Aid letters. (77)


When it came to the motive behind late Victorian expressions of Christian love in the field of charity, Booth got it all wrong. Both Booth and the clergymen that his team interviewed favored essentially the same solution to the problem of pauperization. Both would have agreed that loving the people, loving them truly (as the most advanced "churchfare" pioneers tell us they did), required drastic steps. When the state did appropriate "churchfare" institutions for its own to create Edwardian "welfare," the reforming classes (in their many forms) would share high hopes that Christian "love" (and the moral exclusion that went with it) might finally be "scientifically" applied.

In this light, mass exclusion from Edwardian benefit schemes--a concomitant of "welfare" before 1914--appears to take on a particularly religious tone. The Pension, National Insurance, and Labor Exchanges Acts, in the words of two historians, ultimately constituted machinery designed "to separate the deserving and undeserving labourers as impersonally as possible, with a minimum of inquiry." Pat Thane has commented on the means-tested basis used to grant pensions and on the Pension Act's Poor Law-like "respectability test" (which excluded all but a miserable minority of "very poor, very old" workers from its meager five-shilling benefit). Almost two-thirds of those insured by the National Insurance Act possessed precisely what London's dockers, domestic workers, "casuals," and factory laborers did not: high, regular pay. One of the Act's architects (Hubert Llewellyn Smith, an associate of Booth and, notably, an interviewer for his "Industry Series") summed up the hard truth of National Insurance at the time: "Armed with [the] double weapon of a maximum benefit and a minimum contribution the operation of the scheme will automatically exclude the loafer." Labor Exchanges, located in "dismal and inconvenient buildings," situated in the "slummiest parts of town," and staffed by men with "business rather than bureaucratic experience" delivered a further insult to the poor. Deserving and undeserving distinctions, moreover, found explicit enforcement, both in the form of the Poor Law's "separate cell" workhouse policy (adopted by 434 Boards of Guardians by 1904) and in the introduction of the Prevention of Crime Act. The latter Act allowed policemen, "on the grounds of character alone," to arrest alleged "vagrants" for ludicrous offenses like "loitering with intent." V. A. C. Gatrell's assessment is telling: Edwardian society, as a result of a contemporary crackdown on "misfits, inebriates, mental defectives and paupers," became more closely regulated than it had ever been in the previous century or would be in the interwar period. All of this occurred in the same period that the Edwardian state conferred the most generous allowances that the citizens of Britain had ever received. Clearly, welfare based on the model of the churches had nothing to do with the dignified treatment of the poor. (78)

Brian Dickey employs a tone of undiluted admiration in describing the methods of mid-century evangelical philanthropic societies--methods little different from the incarnationalist clergymen discussed here:
   The methods these societies used were consonant with the evangelical
   preference for particular and personal action. Applicants had to
   apply in person, their particular needs were assessed, the aid
   appropriate was decided upon. The rhythm of this process,
   whether at the admission desk of a hospital, the office
   of a benevolent society, or the matron's room of a refuge, was
   unmistakably similar to the penitent's progress from sin to
   salvation--admitting need, looking to the all-powerful
   provider of hope, and proceeding now equipped with resources,
   to a new life with fear and trembling. It was a rhythm which
   made a great deal of sense, and one which avoided the
   pitfalls of the bureaucratic state, the unrestrained juggernaut
   of rights-based claims to universal benefits which has all but
   bankrupted the optimism of the "welfare state" in the generations
   since the Second World War. (79)

The history of giving in Great Britain must regain its sense of balance. Bernard Harris advocates a middle ground, siding not with "provoluntarists" such as Dickey, nor "social control" theorists such as Gareth Stedman Jones, but rather showing "that it is possible to hold both points of view" in our accounts of the way Victorian churchworkers did their job. (80) Victorians, Bernard writes, were both "deeply convinced of the importance of philanthropy, both as a moral duty, and as a way of improving others," and at the same time they were the holders of prejudices common to an unequal society, many of them regarding giving as a "way of maintaining order and preserving deference." (81) This article has suggested that the metropolitan churchman simply topped a hierarchy of women and working-class churchworkers and that in the cautious, selective provision of church charity all claimed a strong sense of moral authority. It has demonstrated that churchworkers' networks of charity control extended beyond the "middle" or "ruling classes," that churchworkers who employed an antiloafer discourse encouraged hurtful, hard-hearted social relations in poor London neighborhoods, and that in the bleakness that was the world before welfare, their methods left many without proper care.


The question of who received the cash and goods distributed by the churchworkers during this period remains. The answer is not so difficult to find. They were those classed as the "respectable poor"--men and women who could establish a reputation with prominent community authorities and who, with the support of neighbors around them, kept a continuous vigil so that they might negotiate the vicious prejudices of the working-class society. These individuals struggled hard to establish and maintain a place in the working class's vast hierarchy. This "double negotiation" assured a family the status of "deserving" or "genuine" when times got rough. Working-class respectability was determined by subjective, moral-religious criteria, however, and claims to it among the poor could never be made surefire.

Those who fell into the ranks of the very poor looked to this life with envy. Among these, charity constituted an important element of the household economy. Of necessity, they engaged in an extremely busy routine, (82) pawning goods at appropriate times of the week, running the gamut of church charities for needed goods and services, and keeping homes ready for display to church visitors--all of this amid the painful half-scorn of "better" workingmen and women. Their "performance art" aimed at "looking deserving." Too many people were watching, after all, many of them religious workers and some people from their own class. Arthur Harding, an East London contemporary, perhaps best described this routine:
   My mother was a forager. God bless her, she foraged all her life,
   that's how she brought us up. She got a few bob off the people in
   the Mission. She would tell the hard-luck story so as to get
   herself in. Well it was a true story. The whole thing was
   having your poverty well known to the people who had the
   giving of charity. They noticed that mother was a dead cripple,
   and that father was a loafer, and that she had the children
   to bring up. And so she got on the list for any of the gifts
   which came from wealthy families, to distribute among the
   poor. They made out she was "deserving." They were always
   asking whether we was good school children or not, and whether
   we were clean, and whether we went to Sunday School. The whole
   idea was to get your nose in, so that they'd know the poverty
   you were living in. If you wasn't poor, you had to look poor.
   The clothes you wore had to be something that didn't
   fit--so that they would give you some, so that you could
   get something that did fit you, for your Sunday best. But you
   had to be clean and that was easy--soap and water didn't
   cost a lot of money. (83)

Harding demonstrates well how the very poor spent their lives dodging from one deserving status to another. Charles Booth's evidence shows us that religious social activists spent their lives fighting for the professional privilege of determining, on any given day, what manner of "poor" they were.

(1.) The "Religious Influences" series investigators included Booth, Jesse Argyle, George Arkell, Arthur Baxter, and George Duckworth.

(2.) Charles Booth, "Religious Influences," in The Life and Labour of the People in London, 3d series, 17 vols. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1902-03), vol. 4, 14.

(3.) W. S. F. Pickering, "Abraham Hume (1814-1884): A Forgotten Pioneer in Religious Sociology," Archives de sociologie des religions 33 (1972): 33-34; Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church, vol. 2 (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1970), 234; R. I. McKibbin, "Social Class and Social Investigation in Edwardian England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser. 28 (1978): 176. All are quoted by Rosemary O'Day in Rosemary O'Day and David Englander, Mr. Charles Booth's Inquiry: Life and Labour of the People in London Reconsidered (London: Hambledon Press, 1993), 161-62.

(4.) Hugh McLeod, Religion and Society in England, 1850-1914 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996), 156.

(5.) George W. E. Russell, Arthur Stanton: A Memoir (London: Longman's Green & Co., 1917), 267-68.

(6.) Boyd Hilton, Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1795-1865 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 5. Hilton connects a "new emphasis on Jesus ... with the growth of Christian social action during the second half of the nineteenth century." According to A. M. Ramsey and A. J. M. Milne, the age of incarnational theology (beginning roughly around the time of F. D. Maurice's popularity) "remained the mainstream in the Church of England down to the 1930s." See D. W. Bebbington's review of Hilton in Bebbington, "Religion and Society in the Nineteenth Century," Historical Journal 32.4 (1989): 1002-03; A. M. Ramsey, From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology Between "Lux Mundi" and the Second World War, 1889-1939 (London: Longmans, 1960); A. J. M. Milne, The Social Philosophy of English Idealism (London: Allen and Unwin, 1962).

(7.) Cheryl Walsh, "The Incarnation and the Christian Socialist Conscience in the Victorian Church of England," Journal of British Studies 34 (July 1995): 366-70.

(8.) Ibid., 374.

(9.) See McLeod, Religion and Society in England, 140-44.

(10.) Ibid., 143-44.

(11.) Kemble's instructions were to "diffuse Christian influence through all classes; to present Christianity under its practical aspect; to gather out God's people; to effect a moral improvement in society; to edify God's church." Quoted in Jeffrey Cox, The English Churches in a Secular Society: Lambeth, 1870-1930 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 50.

(12.) Ibid., 89.

(13.) Leonard Cowie, "Recalling Two True Founders of the Welfare State," Church Times (15 December, 1972): 11; D. B. McIlheney, A Gentleman in Every Slum (Allison Park: Pickwick Publications, 1988), 48; Cox, The English Churches in a Secular Society; McLeod, "Working-Class Religion in Late Victorian London: Booth's 'Religious Influences' Revisited," in Retrieved Riches: Social Investigation in Britain 1840-1914, eds. David Englander and Rosemary O'Day (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995), 269-70; Edward Norman, The Victorian Christian Socialists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 108; Alan Bartlett, "The Church in Bermondsey, 1880-1939" (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1987).

(14.) Ellen Ross, " 'Human Communion' or a Free Lunch: School Dinners in Victorian and Edwardian London," in Giving: Western Ideas of Philanthropy, ed. J. B. Schneewind (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 180.

(15.) These were the pauperized "other" of the Anglican Churches--one that relentlessly studs discussions of charitable practices in the Booth interviews. For "invertebrate" "lazy" "loafers," see Booth Collection (Group B, Notebooks relating to the Survey of Life and Labour of the People in London) in the British Library of Political and Economic Science (London): Rev. Chandler, B169:3; Rev. Barly, B175:229; Rev. Gurdon, B169:95; Rev. Blatch, B185:5. For citations of "demoralisation," see Rev. Bedford, 169:183; and Rev. Dinnis, B182:11, who bemoaned how the "slums are very much over-visited and demoralised thereby." For accusations of a popular deficiency in moral fortitude, see Rev. Barly, B175:241; Rev. Chandler, 169:3; and Rev. Hawkins, B185:217.

(16.) A. M. McBriar suggests, in her discussion of the 1905-09 Poor Law Commission, that there was a "wide acceptance of basic C[harityl O[rganisation] S[ociety] views in informed circles in Edwardian times; indeed, it is probable that those views were widely accepted without being thought of as being the peculiar property of the COS--they were thought to be 'common sense'." A. M. McBriar, An Edwardian Mixed Doubles: The Bosanquets Versus The Webbs: A Study in British Social Policy, 1890-1929 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 194.

(17.) Booth Collection: Rev. Green, B182:83; Rev. Sweemam, B175:85; Rev. Free B170:19; Rev. Morcom, B185:35-37; Rev. Mason, B175:37-39; Rev. Barly, B175:243.

(18.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:412; Frank Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 106.

(19.) Booth Collection: Rev. Hollings, B182:91-93; Rev. Watts Ditchfield, B182:141; Rev. Dirmis, B182:11; Rev. Morcom, B185:37.

(20.) Ibid., Rev. Mason, B175:41; Rev. Parry, B175:65; Rev. Hare, B175:219.

(21.) Ibid., Rev. Walker, B185:71; Rev. Hartley, B185:171.

(22.) Ibid., Rev. Bedford, B169:181.

(23.) Bartlett, 133-78.

(24.) Sean Gill, Women in the Church of England: Prom the Eighteenth Century to the Present (London: SPCK, 1994), 135.

(25.) Booth Collection: Rev. Jay, B228:49.

(26.) Geoffrey Finlayson, Citizen State and Social Welfare in Britain, 1830-1990 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 48; Brian Harrison, Peaceable Kingdom: Stability and Change in Modern Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), 226, 228. Frank Prochaska, probably the most oft-quoted scholar of nineteenth century women's philanthropy, leaves us with the (utterly unrebuttable) argument that "[i]f there was a conviction peculiar to nineteenth century philanthropic women ... it was their belief, inspired by Christ, that love would transform society ..." Women and Philanthropy, 15.

(27.) Booth Collection: St. Nellie, B176:179, 181, 191, 193.

(28.) Ibid., B176:185.

(29.) Alistair J. Reid, "Old Unionism Reconsidered: The Radicalism of Robert Knight, 1870-1900," in Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850-1914, eds. Eugenio F. Biagini and Mistair J. Reid (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 223.

(30.) Booth Collection: Crooks, B173:47, 49, 51, 53.

(31.) Crooks acknowledged in particular Chandler's curates as men who "do a lot of work" and who were known more for "carrying out than directing." This was not small praise from a figure such as Crooks. Ibid., B174:53, 55.

(32.) George Haw, From Workhouse to Westminster: The Life Story of Will Crooks (London: Cassell and Co. Ltd., 1909), 223-24. Evidence of working-class participation on relief committees comes also from South London. At Rev. Martyn Bardsley's Christ Church, Rotherhithe, where the COS dubbed the relief "carefully managed," the Parish Relief Committee was "thus composed: a working-man; the Mission-woman; the wife of a lighterman; the wife of the Superintendent of the Baths; a man in the Customs; the Nurse; a fruit-salesman, who is also churchwarden; the wife of the last; a coffee vendor, who goes round with basket and stall along "The Wall"; a working foreman; a lighterman; the scripture-reader; the niece of the lighterman, and Mrs. Bardsley. In addition, there are the Vicar, Curate, and a Mr. Sutton, the Sec." The Church even had its own relief form. "It is a genuine committee," said Ernest Aves. Booth Collection: Rev. Bardsley, B279:83, 93.

(33.) Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century (London: Penguin, 1971), 183.

(34.) In an early footnote of their Mr. Charles Booth's Inquiry, O'Day and Englander note that "negative [working-class] valuations" of poverty (similar in nature to "middle-class moralising") are not uncommon in the interviews of the Booth Inquiry. They do not comment on such testimony further, but they add that it "has not received sufficient attention." Ibid., 8 n. 24.

(35.) Booth Collection: Rev. Hereford Brooke, B218:7-9.

(36.) Ibid., Rev. Vyvyan, B275:77-79. Vyvyan hinted at the divisions in the working community of Bermondsey when he noted that those men who did attend church fought with their own charity against the tag of dependence. Vyvyan said he was "always explaining that so far from 'getting' there is much more 'giving' for the churchgoers, who alone contribute anything to the Mission Funds ..."

(37.) Hugh McLeod, the foremost historian of working-class religion in Britain, has moved significantly from his stance in 1974--which interpreted religion as a communitarian, "first state of proletarian consciousness"--to his recommendation in 1995 that "the charitable activity of the churches and the nature and extent of 'diffusive Christianity'" " need reevaluation and further exploration" if we are to understand better charity's working-class consumers. McLeod, Class and Religion in the Victorian City (London: Croom Helm, 1974), 54; McLeod, "Working-Class Religion," in Englander and O'Day, 278.

(38.) S. C. Williams, Religious Belief and Popular Culture in Southwark, c.1880-1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 46 n. 133.

(39.) Booth Collection: Rev Forster, B276:91 and Mr. Fiddes (a London City Missionary), B286:81. Mothers' meetings, according to Charles Booth, often overindulged poor women without proper inquiry as to their social and moral backgrounds. Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:18.

(40.) Booth Collection: Rev. Escreet, B288:1-3, 9. O'Day calls Escreet a "left-wing, reforming clergyman" in Mr. Charles Booth's Inquiry, a reminder of the dangers of treating late Victorians like "us." More seriously can we take Escreet's view, quoted by O'Day and common to many clergymen, that "Mr. Booth's books [were] the next most important thing for a clergyman after the Bible" (197).

(41.) Ibid., Rev. Chandler, B169:25; Rev. Gurdon, B169:104; Rev. Elliott, B169:125, 127; Rev. Bedford, B169:181; Rev. Coldwill, B169:193, 195; Rev. Beardall, 169:240; Rev. Free, B170:19.

(42.) Ibid., Rev. Mason, B175:37.

(43.) Ibid., Rev. Watts Ditchfield, B182:141.

(44.) Russell, 88, 100, 102.

(45.) Booth Collection: Rev. Walker, B185:71, 83, 85.

(46.) Baxter was the newest member of the Booth team, and conducted investigations only for the "Religious Influences" series. McLeod, "Working-Class Religion" in Englander and O'Day, 31.

(47.) Quoted in McLeod, Class and Religion, 252 n. 179.

(48.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:50.

(49.) Ibid., 7:13.

(50.) Booth Collection: Rev. Donaldson, B186:197; Rev. Sanky, B185:47; Rev. Fletcher, B185:101.

(51.) Ibid.

(52.) Ibid., Rev. Carroll, B175:99-115. Will Crooks described Carroll, a former curate of Poplar's Rev. Chandler, as a man known for his superb auxiliary work. Crooks, B173:55.

(53.) Ibid., Rev. Donaldson, B186:199.

(54.) T. S. and M. B. Simey, Charles Booth: Social Scientist London: Oxford University Press, 1960), 47.

(55.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 4:8-9.

(56.) Ibid., "Religious Influences," 1:5.

(57.) Quoted in O'Day and Englander, Mr. Charles Booth's Inquiry, 163.

(58.) Ibid., 164-65. Paul Johnson has noted the "surprisingly uncritical tone of the book," one that sees the authors stress "the reflective, humble and humane" approach of Booth, while giving only "passing acknowledgement that [he] consciously processed and selected material and no coherent analysis of the extent to which either the published or the manuscript material exhibits a systematic bias in terms of the residence, occupation or class of interviewees and respondents." Paul Johnson, English Historical Review 111 (February 1996): 244-45.

(59.) Ibid., 194, 196.

(60.) Ibid., 193.

(61.) Ibid., 196.

(62.) Ibid., 197.

(63.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:406. Booth had a wretchedly convoluted style of writing, and I have tried here to reproduce his ideas in a more readable form.

(64.) Ibid., 7:407.

(65.) Ibid., 7:406-07.

(66.) Ibid., 407-08.

(67.) Ibid., 7:408.

(68.) Ibid., 7:408-09.

(69.) McLeod, "Working-Class Religion," in Englander and O'Day, 269.

(70.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:412.

(71.) Ibid., 7:413. The Simeys also quote this passage, but misinterpret its meaning. See Simey and Simey, Charles Booth: Social Scientist, 151-52.

(72.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:409-10.

(73.) Booth Collection: Rev. Donaldson, B185:203, 201.

(74.) Booth, "Religious Influences," 7:411.

(75.) Ibid., 4:104-05.

(76.) Ibid., 4:103-04.

(77.) Rev. Lewis, B275:46-71, Henry Lewis, "Answers to Mr. Charles Booth's questions on Form A. as far as they relate to the mother Parish (St. Mary Magdalen) of Bermondsey. SE. Rector--Rev. Henry Lewis," 6.

(78.) Pat Thane, "Government and Society in England and Wales, 1750-1914," in The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950, vol. 3, Social Agencies and Institutions, ed. F. M. L. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 54; "The Working Class and State "Welfare" in Britain, 1880-1914," Historical Journa1 28 (1984): 896; Margaret Jones, "The 1908 Old Age Pensions Act: The Poor Law in a New Disguise?" in Social Conditions, Status and Community, 1860-c.1920, ed. Keith Laybourne (Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton, 1997), 83-103; Jose Harris, Unemployment and Politics: A .Study in English Social Polio); 1886-1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 312-13; Alan Deacon, In Search of the Scrounger: The Administration of Unemployment Insurance in Britain, 1920-1931 (London: G. Bell and Sons, 1976), 12; Harris, Unemployment and Politics, 349, 353, 352; Rachel Vorspan, "Vagrancy and the Poor Law in Late Victorian and Edwardian England," English Historical Review 92 (January 1977): 69; V. A. C. Gatrell, "Crime, Authority and the Policeman State," in The Cambridge Social History of Britain, 1750-1950, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 3: 308-09. For a discussion of similar "moral" discrimination in Late Victorian and Edwardian housing policy, see Thomas R. C. Brydon, "Poor, Unskilled and Unemployed: Perceptions of the English Underclass, 1889-1914" (M. A. Thesis, McGill University, 2001), 71-108.

(79.) Brian Dickey, " 'Going About and Doing Good': Evangelicals and Poverty c. 1815-1870," in Evangelical Faith and Public Zeal: Evangelicals and Society in Britain, 1780-1980, ed. John Wolffe (London: SPCK, 1995), 50-51.

(80.) Bernard Harris, The Origins of the British Welfare State: Social Welfare in England and Wales, 1800-1945 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 5. For a wholehearted rejection of welfare since 1945, see Corelli Barnett, The Audit of Wan The Illusion of Britain as a Great Nation (London: Macmillan, 1986). For two less polemical, but nevertheless "provoluntarist" accounts (common to the 1980s and the 1990s), see Finlayson, Citizen, State and Social Welfare, and Prochaska, The Voluntary Impulse: Philanthropy in Modern Britain (London: Faber, 1988).

(81.) Harris, Origins, 75.

(82.) David Vincent's excellent description of poverty as a "practice" is most relevant here. He tells us that the fewer resources one had, the more thought and energy was required. Even the most hopeless had "intricate strategies of survival which embodied complex normative and material aspirations and involved elaborate negotiations with a wide range of individuals and agencies." See Preface and Chapter 1 of Vincent, Poor Citizens: The State and the Poor in Twentieth Century Britain (London: Longman, 1991).

(83.) Raphael Samuel, East End Underworld: Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1981), 24.

Thomas R. C. Brydon is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at McGill University.
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Date:Sep 22, 2006
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