Ancestry UK

Islington and North London Shoeblack Brigade, King's Cross, London

The Islington and North London Shoeblack Society was established in 1858, one of a dozen or so Shoeblack Brigades established in London in the mid-19th century to provide employment and accommodation for homeless and destitute boys. For many years, the Brigade was based at 30 York Road, King's Cross, where accommodation was provided for 50 boys aged, including some who were physically disabled. The boys, aged 14 to 16 at their time of admission, were required to attend school four nights a week. A library was also provided at the home, together with newspapers, periodicals, games, and a singing class. In the early 1890s, the Brigade moved to smaller premises at 146B King's Cross Road, where 29 boys could be housed.

A London Shoeblack, c.1880s. © Peter Higginbotham

Shoeblacks were allocated pitches or 'stations' by the police and these were rotated twice a week so everyone had a turn at working at the most lucrative locations. Each Brigade had a distinctive uniform, with the Islington and North London boys adopting a brown guernsey. The boys' earnings were paid into the home each day with a third of the money paying for their keep, a third being placed into their individual bank savings accounts, and a third given back to them. As soon as a boy had qualified himself for other and more remunerative employment, the Brigade's Committee helped him to find it.

The Islington and North London Brigade appears to have ceased operation by the time of the First World War.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.