The Royal Philanthropic Society
A group of gentlemen meet in the St Paul’s coffee house to discuss business. But they are also concerned about what is happening on the streets of London with the increasing number of homeless children begging and stealing. They decide to do something about it and form the Philanthropic Society bringing together Royalty, Archbishops and wealthy individuals to try to help these children. Download a history of the Royal Philanthropic Society (pdf, 2MB).
At this time there were an estimated 200 ‘flash houses’ in London where around 6,000 homeless children were trained to become thieves and pickpockets.
'The majority are trained and educated by experienced thieves in a course of dishonesty and are as regular brought up in this way of life as other persons are to common trades and professions.'
Extract from an early Society report.
The Philanthropic Society was the second children’s charity to be set up, following the Thomas Coram Foundation, but it was the first with the aim of preventing children from committing crimes. At that time, children could be sent to the gallows and many were sent to prison for minor crimes. The Society opened homes to feed and care for the children and also to train them in cottage industries such as printing, shoemaking and twinespinning often going on to be apprenticed to local craftsmen.
In 1806 The Philanthropic Society is incorporated by Act of Parliament and King George III becomes its patron. Its work in grappling with the problem of juvenile delinquency is now officially sanctioned. In 1832 with the belief that their work would be more successful away from the streets of London and out in the clean country air, the Society opened a residential school. Individual houses were built where couples would look after the boys and on the same site there was a school, workshops, a farm and a church. This was a revolution in the way young offenders were dealt with.
To find out more about the school and its pupils visit the website of the Surrey Records Centre.
By 1848 the Society had helped 1,500 boys and according to the archives as few as five per cent went on to commit further crimes.
'It is a rule almost without exception that the boy has been left untaught and uncared for – has been the subject of much ill-treatment and neglect – and that the gentler influences of a mother’s care and the comforts of an honest and happy home have been unknown to him.'
Extract from a Society report, 1848.
In 1854 an Act of Parliament, prompted by a popular movement fostered by Charles Dickens, a visitor to the school, allows the court to refer young offenders to the Philanthropic Society Reformatory as an alternative to prison. Reformation was added to the Society’s aims along with prevention and after much consideration, the Society goes into partnership with the Government who gave money for the boys placed at the school.
In 1986 the Redhill Philanthropic School was closed. Much had changed over the 150 years that it had been running – not least the Society becoming the Royal Philanthropic Society in 1952. Over the years the Government had increased its involvement in relation to young offenders. Many Acts of Parliament were passed that set up special juvenile courts, children’s departments, borstals, approved schools and children’s homes with education. In the later decades of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth the Society, along with other charities such as Dr Barnardo's, sent ‘their boys’ to Australia and Canada believing that would give them a better start in life. Staff were employed to make sure they were taken care of.
In its last years the Redhill School was a Children’s Home with Education taking both young offenders and those facing problems at home. A secure unit had been added but the philosophy of education, training and guidance was not that dissimilar to its original philosophy.
By the early 1980s theories as to what help young people needed began to change. Residential care went out of fashion and the numbers at the school began to reduce. Throughout the decades the Society members with their Royal patronage and board of trustees continued to administer the affairs of the Society still owning the land and buildings. An enlightened Chairman Alan Fogg led the board to take the decision to close the school in 1986 and reform the Society into a community-based charity. The school and land were sold to the Royal Society for the Blind.
From the knowledge gained in the school they knew that young offenders were often put into custody unnecessarily whilst waiting for the court to hear their case and that a bail service was needed. They were also aware that young people leaving the school were left to fend for themselves and that the social services (of the time) offered little support. They therefore started new services – 'Bail and Remand' so young offenders could stay at home and out of trouble before sentencing and 'Leaving Care' services, helping young people with the transition to independence and adulthood. It did not take long for the Government to make these statutory services.
A merger of the Royal Philanthropic Society and the Rainer Foundation took place in 1997 to form RPSRainer. In 2003 it changed its name to Rainer. The combined charities were a strong presence in the fields of youth crime, supported housing for young people and young parents, care-leaving services and remedial or alternative education work. Working with young people up to 25 became the distinguishing feature of the charity and set it apart from most of the other children’s charities.
In 1839 a similar school was established in Mettray near Tours in France and a European movement was begun. Dr Frederic-Auguste Demetz developed the theory and practice, which was replicated in a number of countries including Poland and the Netherlands. This European network was re-established in 1989 and Catch22 continues to be a member of what is now known as Euromet. http://www.euromet.nu/