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Pleasing Spectacles and Elegant Dinners: Conviviality, Benevolence, and Charity Anniversaries in Eighteenth-Century London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 May 2013


As the number and interests of charitable institutions expanded throughout Britain during the eighteenth century, so special fund-raising events, anniversary celebrations, and meetings multiplied. During 1775, for example, the major metropolitan charities and a plethora of minor benevolent societies courted middle- and upper-class Londoners with invitations to concerts and exhibitions. Men could support various hospitals and other good causes by dining in taverns and City Livery Halls in company with civic and ecclesiastical dignitaries, even noble and royal dukes. Both men and women might attend charities' anniversary services, ornamented with special music and a sermon, choosing among dispensaries, hospitals, lying-in charities, religious societies, and various efforts to reform and reclaim the poor for public benefit. On Sundays, armed with tickets, special prayer books, and even keys to their rented pews, women and men might attend the chapel of a philanthropic institution. Alternatively, they could listen to a fund-raising sermon and watch charity-school children arrayed in the gallery of a parish church. Toward the end of the year, they might pay half a guinea each to hear Handel's Messiah in the Foundling Hospital Chapel or go to Covent Garden and Drury Lane to watch tragedies and farces. Charitable activity thus extended beyond churches, alms, and sermons into the theater. It spilled onto the streets as gentlemen processed to dinner; it accompanied art and music. Conversely, waves of fashion drove visitors to one philanthropic institution or another to see deserving recipients, hear a particularly popular preacher, or to be observed themselves.

Research Article
Copyright © North American Conference of British Studies 2002

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1 Public Advertiser (January-December 1775). This is not a comprehensive account of charity events in London in 1775.

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32 This is the framework used in the following studies of charity institutions: Borsay, Anne, “‘Persons of Honour and Reputation’: The Voluntary Hospital in an Age of Corruption,” Medical History 35 (1991): 281–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Wilson, Adrian, “Conflict, Consensus and Charity: Politics and the Provincial Voluntary Hospitals in the Eighteenth Century,” English Historical Review 111 (1996): 599619CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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34 The Charity for the Relief of the Poor Widows and Children of Clergymen (more commonly known as the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy) was founded in 1655 and granted a charter in 1678. First held in 1674, the festival raised an annual collection to apprentice clergymen's orphans (male and female). In 1749, the stewards who managed the festival established themselves as a separate society open to subscribers of both sexes to ensure a “constant succession of stewards” and educate clergymen's orphans until old enough to be apprenticed. Twelve stewards were appointed each year, and they paid the expenses of the festival. From 1753, the anniversary was held on the second Thursday in May, preceded on the previous Tuesday by the “Rehearsal” of music, an event that had developed into an important fund-raising event. Pearce, The Sons of the Clergy; Cox, Bridging the Gap.

35 Conybeare, John, Sermon (Oxford 1752), pp. 2425Google Scholar (Sons of the Clergy, Bristol); Burton, Nicholas, Sermon (Newcastle, 1712), pp. 1–3, 17Google Scholar (Sons of the Clergy, Newcastle upon Tyne); Downes, Henry, Sermon (Dublin, 1721), pp. 1419Google Scholar (Dublin charity schools); Hurd, Richard, Sermon (Cambridge, 1753), p. 15Google Scholar (Cambridge charity schools); Archer, Edmund, Sermon (Oxford, 1713)Google Scholar (Oxford charity schools).

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38 Twenty Five Sermons Preached at the Anniversary Meetings of the Children Educated in the Charity-Schools in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, on Thursday in Whitson Week, from 1704 … to 1728 … (London, 1729)Google Scholar.

39 St. Saviour's Girls' Charity School Southwark, Trustees and Subscribers' Minute Book, A/NWC/1, 4 May 1708 (hereafter cited as St. Saviour's Girls' Charity School minutes).

40 The anniversary dinner was moved to the day of the procession in the mid-1730s; for accounts of dinners, see Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 22 April 1762; NS/SP/1/4, 10 December 1778.

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43 Rosser, “Going to the Fraternity Feast.”

44 Cunningham, , Children of the Poor, pp. 3849Google Scholar. Cunningham analyzes this event as a carefully orchestrated demonstration of order and assertion of national pride that worked on the emotions to idealize, even misrepresent the children. Most of his evidence concerns the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

45 For example, Spectator, no. 294 (6 February 1712).

46 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 17 April 1729, 1 April 1736.

47 Stanhope, George, “Sermon” (1705), in Twenty Five Sermons, p. 45Google Scholar.

48 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 31 May 1716; Kennett, Cunningham, Children of the Poor, pp. 20–4Google Scholar; White, , “Sermon” (1706) in Twenty Five Sermons, pp. 6063Google Scholar; Rogers, Rosser, “Going to the Fraternity Feast,” p. 441Google Scholar; Porter, , “The Gift Relation,” p. 174Google Scholar; Nicholas, , Crowds, Culture and Politics in Georgian Britain (Oxford, 1998)Google Scholar; Rogers, , Whigs and Cities, pp. 347–89Google Scholar.

49 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 14 April 1713, 20 August 1714.

50 SPCK Early Eighteenth-Century Archives, pt. C, Letters and Memorials, Official Letters of the Secretary: Newman's Draft Correspondence, vol. 14, p. 65 (1724, to Viscount Percival), reiterated in almost identical terms in vol. 22, pp. 58–59 (1731, to the countess of Hertford).

51 Barry, , “Bourgeois Collectivism?” pp. 97, 102–3Google Scholar; for discussion of practices that stretched concepts of national, even political inclusion, see Wilson, Sense of the People; Colley, Britons.

52 The Times (3 June 1796); see also Gentleman's Magazine (May 1803), p. 474Google Scholar.

53 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 14 January 1762; NS/SP/1/1, 21 February 172[9], 1 April 1736; NS/SP/1/4, 13 February 1772; Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (22 May 1771).

54 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 11 April 1712. For examples of troublesome mothers, see St. Saviour's Girls' Charity School minutes, A/NWC/1, 1 July 1707; 9 November 1708; 3 May, 7 June and 4 October 1709; 14 January 1717; Welsh School minutes, vol. 3, 5 August 1765, 3 May 1773, 1 May 1775.

55 SPCK Early Eighteenth-Century Archives, pt. A, vol. 5, 12 June 1712, p. 287Google Scholar; Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 9 April 1767, 14 March 1771.

56 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 10 January 1771; NS/SP/1/4, 13 February 1772; see also NS/SP/1/1, 9 and 30 June 1713.

57 For example, see the following from Charity Schools minutes: on precedency, NS/SP/1/1, 1 March 173[8]; on badges, NS/SP/1/3, 14 January 1762; on porters, etc., NS/SP/1/3, 10 January 1771; NS/SP/1/3, 11 April 1765; NS/SP/1/3, 8 March 1770; on stewards, NS/SP/1/2, 12 February 1761; NS/SP/1/3, 9 April 1767; NS/SP/1/3, 11 April 1771.

58 Rose, “‘Seminarys of Faction and Rebellion.’”

59 “Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 2 April 1713, 14 February 1755; NS/SP/1/3, 14 March 1771.

60 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 1 September 1714.

61 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 14 March 1771; Rose, Craig, “Evangelical Philanthropy and Anglican Revival: The Charity Schools of Augustan London, 1698–1740,” London Journal 16, no. 1 (1991): 3565CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

62 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 14 April 1713.

63 Kennett, , “Sermon,” pp. 4950Google Scholar; sermons by Stanhope, Robert Moss, Samuel Bradford, Andrew Snape, Nathaniel Marshall, Hugh Boulter, Thomas Mangey, and Joseph Watson in Twenty Five Sermons make the same appeal to the visual.

64 For another example of the metaphor of consumption used to discuss charity, see Astell, Mary, The Christian Religion, as Profess'd by a Daughter of the Church of England (London, 1705), p. 204Google Scholar.

65 Mandeville, , Essay on Charity Schools, p. 320Google Scholar; see also p. 304.

66 Ibid., pp. 318–19.

67 For example, Welsh School minutes, vol. 1, 20 December 1722 (boy discharged for “scurilous language”); Walpole, Kennett, “Sermon,” p. 61Google Scholar; Horace, , Correspondence, ed. Lewis, W. S. (New Haven, Conn., 19371983), 34:115Google Scholar.

68 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 12 November 1767; Moss, , “Sermon” (1708) in Twenty Five Sermons, p. 118Google Scholar; Stow, , Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, 2:165Google Scholar.

69 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/3, 12 February and 12 November 1767; on 30 June 1713, the committee unanimously rejected a proposal that one of the children should make a speech to the queen as she passed on her way to St. Paul's to celebrate the Peace of Utrecht (Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1); Campbell, Thomas, Diary of a Visit to England in 1775, by an Irishman, ed. Raymond, Samuel (Sydney, 1854), p. 28Google Scholar; Young, Percy M., The Concert Tradition: From the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century (London, 1965), pp. 2223Google Scholar.

70 Moss, , “Sermon,” p. 117Google Scholar.

71 SPCK Early Eighteenth-Century Archives, pt. A, vol. 7, 13 October 1715, pp. 7677Google Scholar.

72 McClure, , Coram's Children, p. 69Google Scholar; Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 13 May 1784.

73 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 9 May 1780; Warren, James, A Sermon Preached at the Anniversary Meeting of the Sons of the Clergy … (1728) (London, [1778]), app., p. 28Google Scholar.

74 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 8 March 1775.

75 For example, Public Advertiser (10 May 1753); Public Advertiser (18 February 1762), Magdalen-House Charity (advertisement); Public Advertiser (23 May 1775), Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children (advertisement); Walpole, , Correspondence, 9:273–74Google Scholar, on his visit to the Magdalen-House Chapel.

76 Public Advertiser (5 April 1775).

77 Daily Post (11 December 1724); London Journal (17 February 1727–28); Warren, , Sermon, p. 26Google Scholar.

78 Cox, , Bridging the Gap, pp. 7677Google Scholar.

79 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 14 May 1782.

80 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 7 May 1795.

81 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 15 May 1781; for the Turkish ambassador's attendance at the 1798 anniversary, see Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 10 May 1798.

82 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 9 May 1780 (“genteel to a degree”); 4 February 1783 (“very numerous and respectable company”); 6 March 1788 (“numerous Assemblage of the first Persons of Rank”); 14 May 1789 (“brilliant”); 18 May 1790 (“select”); 16 May 1793 (“splendid”); 5 May 1795 (“company thin”); Public Advertiser (10 May 1765) (“many reputable Citizens”); London Chronicle (13–15 May 1777) (“a very respectable and brilliant audience”); Daily Universal Register (11 May 1787) (“a pretty numerous assemblage of Ladies and Gentlemen”); The Times (15 May 1793) (“a very numerous and respectable audience”); The Times (21 May 1794) (“we never witnessed so large or so respectable an assemblage of all ranks of people on the like occasion as yesterday”).

83 Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/1, 21 May 1712; SPCK Early Eighteenth-Century Archives, pt. A, vol. 6, 13 November 1712, p. 33Google Scholar.

84 For example, SPCK Early Eighteenth-Century Archives, pt. A, Minutes, vol. 1, 8 June 1704, p. 294Google Scholar; Daily Post (11 December 1721), Sons of the Clergy (advertisement); Public Advertiser (5 April 1753), Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children (advertisement); Public Advertiser (10 July 1754), London Hospital (advertisement); Public Advertiser (18 September 1754), London Hospital (ad vertisement); Public Advertiser (8 March 1775), Society for Discharge and Relief of Persons imprisoned for Small Debts (advertisement); Public Advertiser (6 May 1762), Sons of the Clergy (advertisement); Public Advertiser (3 October 1775), John Rawlinson to the governors, etc., of the City of London Lying-in Hospital (advertisement); Borsay, , Medicine and Charity in Georgian Bath, pp. 4344Google Scholar.

85 Warren, , Sermon, p. 27Google Scholar; Daily Post (4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, and 17 April 1744).

86 The Times (22 May 1797): “It has been suggested to the Stewards of the Anniversary Meeting of the Sons of the Clergy, that there is a probability that the Prince and Princess of Wirtenberg may honour the Cathedral Church of St. Paul with their presence on Wednesday next” (they did not attend); Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 24 February 1778; Public Advertiser (18 January 1775), Society for Discharge and Relief of Persons imprisoned for Small Debts (advertisement); Public Advertiser (26 October 1762), the Asylum (advertisement); Wilson, , Sense of the People, pp. 7475Google Scholar; Borsay, , “‘Persons of Honour and Reputation’”; London Journal (4 April 1730).Google Scholar

87 Johns, Adrian, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (Chicago, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see, e.g., Public Advertiser (28 March 1775), Hospitals for the Small-Pox and Inoculation (advertisement).

88 Brasbridge, J., The Fruits of Experience; or, Memoir of Joseph Brasbridge, Written in His 80th year (London, 1824), pp. 40, 5051Google Scholar.

89 Habermas, Structural Transformation. There is a substantial literature on gender and the public sphere. See Goodman, Dena, “Public Sphere and Private Life: Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime,” History and Theory 31 (1992): 120CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Landes, Joan, “The Public and the Private Sphere: A Feminist Reconsideration” in Feminists Read Habermas: Gendering the Subject of Discourse, edited by Meehan, J. (London and New York, 1995), pp. 91116Google Scholar; Klein, Lawrence E., “Gender and the Public/Private Distinction in the Eighteenth Century: Some Questions about Evidence and Analytic Procedure,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 29 (1995): 97109CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

90 Hanbury, William, The History of the Rise and Progress of the Charitable Foundations of Church Langton (London, 1767), p. 81Google Scholar.

91 Solkin, , Painting for Money, pp. 165, 187Google Scholar; Gentleman's Magazine 36 (January 1766): 35Google Scholar.

92 Rosser, , “Going to the Fraternity Feast,” pp. 436–37Google Scholar; Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 8 March 1775; servants were also excluded from other charities' dinners; see, e.g., Public Advertiser (26 April 1775), the Asylum (advertisement).

93 For example, Public Advertiser (17 February 1752), Small-Pox Hospital (advertisement); London Chronicle (20–22 April 1769), London Hospital on the Sons of the Clergy discontinuing music at the hall in 1753, “as being thought not only useless, but disagreeable,” see Warren, , Sermon, p. 34Google Scholar.

94 Epstein, “Radical Dining.”

95 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 6 March 1788, 22 May 1783; dinner was provided for 240 at the 1779 anniversary dinner of the London and Westminster charity schools; see Charity Schools minutes, NS/SP/1/4, 6 May 1779.

96 Heal, Hospitality in Early Modern England; Nicholl, John, Ancient British Hospitality (sermon preached before the Society of Ancient Britons) (London, 1741)Google Scholar.

97 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 16 May 1793.

98 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 9 May 1775.

99 Hierarchy and fraternity were not necessarily contradictory. See, Rosser, , “Going to the Fraternity Feast,” p. 444Google Scholar; for a different explanation, see Borsay, , English Urban Renaissance, p. 278Google Scholar.

100 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 15 May 1781; see also 16 May 1786.

101 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 16 May 1793 (Bacon noted that it was fortunate that a dispute between the musicians occurred on the day following the anniversary “or such a Discord would have unharmonized the Day”); Goody, Jack, Cooking, Cuisine and Class: A Study in Comparative Sociology (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also Phythian-Adams, , Desolation of a City, p. 110Google Scholar.

102 On sociability, see Borsay, , English Urban Renaissance, pp. 267–83Google Scholar.

103 Epstein, , “Radical Dining,” p. 286Google Scholar.

104 Public Advertiser (26 April 1753).

105 Key, , “Political Culture,” p. 239Google Scholar. Collection totals for 1775 were as follows: £210.16.3 at the rehearsal, £211.10.3 at the anniversary service, and £444.17.3 at the feast. Eminent supporters probably reserved their donations until the feast. Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 9 May 1775, 11 May 1775.

106 For example, Croxson, , “Public and Private Faces,” pp. 141–42Google Scholar.

107 Weekly-Journal or Saturday's-Post (7 December 1717).

108 Minutes do not survive for this period; in 1741, however, the stewards rejected French wine because of war with France. See Warren, , Sermon, p. 31Google Scholar.

109 London Chronicle (21–24 April 1764); see also Public Advertiser (6 May 1762) on Sons of the Clergy.

110 Sons of the Clergy minutes, A/FSC/1, 14 May 1782, 16 May 1793.

111 Brewer, John, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1997), pp. 102–7Google Scholar.

112 Andrew, , Philanthropy and Police, pp. 135–62Google Scholar; The Police: VIII,” Oxford Magazine (February 1771)Google Scholar.

113 Langford, Paul, A Polite and Commercial People: England, 1727–1783 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 567613Google Scholar.

114 The correspondence can be found in the Public Advertiser: “J.H.” (8 May 1777); “An old Steward of the Sons of the Clergy, and a Layman” (12 May 1777); “A Layman” (14 May 1777). For material identifying “J.H.,” see Hanway, , Defects of Police, pp. 275–77Google Scholar. Warren also entered into the debate in his Sermon at the 1778 anniversary (pp. 22–24).

115 Ward, Archer, History of the Haberdashers' Company, pp. 126, 130–32Google Scholar; [Ned, ], The Parish Gutt'lers: or, the Humours of a Select Vestry (London, 1722)Google Scholar.

116 McVeigh, , Concert Life in London, pp. 14–15, 58Google Scholar; Langford, , Polite and Commercial People, pp. 574–75Google Scholar.

117 Public Advertiser (24 April 1762). The hospital returned to this venue in subsequent years. See, e.g., Public Advertiser (5 June 1777); Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (16 May 1771).

118 For example, Hanway, Jonas, A Journal of Eight Days Journey from Portsmouth to Kingston upon Thames, … to Which is Added, an essay on Tea … (London, 1756)Google Scholar.

119 Solkin, , Painting for Money, pp. 78 ffGoogle Scholar.

120 Hanway, , Defects of Police, pp. 276–77Google Scholar.

121 Ibid., p. 277; Sekora, John, Luxury: The Concept in Western Thought, Eden to Smollett (Baltimore, 1977), pp. 119–22Google Scholar.

122 Russell, Kennett, “Sermon,” pp. 5152Google Scholar; Stanhope, , “Sermon,” p. 45Google Scholar; see also Snape, , “Sermon” (1711) in Twenty Five Sermons, p. 191Google Scholar; Andrew, , Philanthropy and Police, p. 80Google Scholar; Gillian, , The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics and Society, 1793–1815 (Oxford, 1995), pp. 137–39Google Scholar. In the 1760s, the Society of Musicians attempted to circumvent the bishop of London's restrictions on theatrical performances in Passion week by appealing to Archbishop Seeker, president of the Sons of the Clergy, and hinting that in return they would perform for nothing for that charity. See Lambeth Palace Library, Misc 1121, pp. 85–88.

123 Spectator, no. 294 (6 February 1712), and no. 372 (7 May 1712).

124 Mandeville, , Fable of the Bees, pp. 313, 321Google Scholar.

125 Brown, John, An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times, 3d ed. (London, 1757), pp. 6667Google Scholar.

126 Solkin, , Painting for Money, pp. 3037Google Scholar.

127 Lloyd, “‘Pleasure's Golden Bait.’”

128 Harkin, Maureen, “Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments: Sympathy, Women and Emulation,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 24 (1995): 175–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

129 Brown, , Estimate, p. 51Google Scholar.

130 For example, Public Advertiser (28 March 1753), Middlesex Hospital (advertisement); General Advertiser (28 February 1752), Smallpox Hospital (advertisement).

131 Hannah More to one of her family, 1776, The Letters of Hannah More, Selected with an Introduction by R. Brimley Johnson (London, 1925), p. 30Google Scholar.

132 Public Advertiser (1 May 1753): “At the Desire of several Ladies of Distinction, there will be a charitable Collection, for the Benefit of poor Clergymens Daughters, upon the Delivery of the Tickets going into the Choir.” This is later subsumed into the more general statement that the collection “is appropriated for apprenticing the Sons and Daughters of necessitous Clergymen.” See Public Advertiser (28 April 1775).

133 “Arrangements for the Annual Meeting,” York Ladies Female Friendly Society, York City Archives, Ace 50 YL/FF:12, 14 May 1794; Cappe, Catharine, An Account of Two Charity Schools for the Education of Girls: And of a Female Friendly Society in York: Interspersed with Reflections on Charity Schools and Friendly Societies in General (York, 1800), pp. 7172Google Scholar.

134 See also More to Wilberforce, 1791, The Letters of Hannah More, pp. 171–73.

135 Cappe, Catharine, Observations on Charity Schools, Female Friendly Societies, and Other Subjects Connected with the Views of the Ladies' Committee (York, 1805), p. ixGoogle Scholar.

136 Cappe, , Observations, p. 170nGoogle Scholar.

137 Cappe, Catharine, Memoirs of the Late Mrs Catharine Cappe, Written by Herself (London, 1822), p. 392Google Scholar.

138 For conceptual problems concerning female sentiment and virtue, see Harkin, “Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments.”

139 Jones, M. G., Hannah More (Cambridge, 1952)Google Scholar.

140 Public Advertiser (3 May 1757).

141 For example, London Chronicle (12–14 June 1783) on charity schools.

142 Klein, “Gender and the Public/Private Distinction.”