Victorian London - Charities - Mendicity Society

MENDICITY SOCIETY, Office, 13, RED LION SQUARE. The society gives meals and money, supplies mill and other work to applicants, investigates begging-letter cases, and apprehends vagrants and impostors. Each meal consists of ten ounces of bread, and one pint of good soup, or a quarter of a pound of cheese. The affairs of the Society are administered by a Board of forty-eight managers. The Mendicity Society's tickets, given to a street beggar, will procure for him, if really necessitous, food and work. They are a touch-stone to impostures: the beggar by profession throws them aside. This meritorious Society deserves every encouragement. Tickets are furnished to subscribers.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

Beggars -- Visitors should bear in mind -- what residents should know already -- that the impostorship of street-beggars is the one rule to which, as yet, there has been no known exception. London beggardom is a close corporation, and allows of nonprofessional interlopers. If you wish to relieve "distress" of any deserving -- or undeserving -- object enquire, according to your personal predilections, of the parish clergyman, the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the relieving officer, and you may find plenty. In the streets you will find none but professional toll-takers, levying ad valorem dues on personal weakness. To get rid of your beggar, when wearisome, if he be English, take no notice of him at all. He will follow you till you meet a more likely-looking person, but no farther. If your tormenter be an Italian, lift your forefinger, knuckle upwards, to the level of your wrist, as it hangs by your side, and wag at twice or thrice from side to side. Your Italian, who will take no other negative, accepts that instantly. If he has anything to sell, reply simply "Got one," and pass on. Charitably disposed persons, especially residents in London, who, by reason of their public position, or even from the fact of their names being in the "Court Guide," or in any of the charity subscription lists, are objects of interest to the great army of begging letter writers, cannot do better than become members of the Society for the Suppression of Mendicity. This institution, which has been established upwards of 60 years, has its office in Red Lion-square, Holborn, where the secretary may be addressed. The plan of the society is stated in its retort to be the issue of printed tickets to be given to street beggars instead of money; which tickets refer them to the society's office where their cases are investigated and disposed of according to circumstances. Relief in money, blankets, clothing, etc., is afforded to applicants who, upon investigation, are proved to be deserving. The society is in constant communication with the several metropolitan parishes, hospitals, dispensaries, &c. with a view to provide for necessitous and afflicted persons; whilst the managers also have it in their power to offer suitable employment at the society's labour premises to every able-bodied mendicant referred to the office. Governors may obtain tickets for distribution at any time on applying by letter, or personally, at the society's office. The annual payment of £1 1s. constitutes the donor a governor, and the payment of £10 10s. at one time, or within one year, a governor for life. A system of enquiry into the merits of persons who are in the habit of begging by letter is incorporated with the society's proceedings. The following persons are entitled to refer such letters to the office for investigation -- it being understood that the eventual relief rests with the subscriber sending the case: all contributors to the general funds of the society to the amount of £21; all contributors to the general funds of the society to the amount of £10 10s., and who also subscribe £1 1s. annually; all subscribers of £2 2s. and upwards per annum. The Charity Organisation Society also undertakes the investigation of the cases of persons soliciting relief from the benevolent, but there is a general impression, not altogether without foundation, that the business of this association is conducted with a somewhat undue amount of harshness, and too strict an adherence to "hard and fast" rules.

source: Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879