Ancestry UK

Ragged School / Central (Reds) Shoeblack Society, Saffron Hill, London

Founded in 1851, the Ragged School Shoeblack Society, later known as the Central (Reds) Shoeblack Society, established the first of the capital's Shoeblack Brigades to provide employment and accommodation for homeless and destitute boys. The Society was based in Clerkenwell at 2 Saffron Hill (redesignated in the early 1900s as 28 Great Saffron Hill). In the 1880s, the Brigade had 70 members, of whom around 45 slept at the home. Boys were aged from 14 to 16 years at their admission and could stay until they were 18, at which time they would be found suitable situations or sent to sea. An evening school was held at the premises four days a the week.

Boys 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. 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.

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

Around a dozen shoe-black brigades were eventually formed, each with its own distinctive uniform — the Central Society's was a red jacket.

The Central Shoeblack Society was still operating in 1912 but appears not to have existed beyond the First World War.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.