The Sheriffs’ & Recorder’s Fund was born in the exciting days of social progress at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As with Elizabeth Fry later, it was the horrors of Newgate Prison, where prisoners had to pay for their own food and children lived with their condemned parents in filth and fear, which stirred the Sheriffs of the City of London into action.
In 1808, when public hangings were still taking place outside the debtors’ door of Newgate, Sir Richard Phillips, of whom this portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery, and Alderman Sir Christopher Smith of the Worshipful Company of Drapers and later Lord Mayor of London, started a fund to help inmates and their families.
The Fund provided grants to enable prisoners and their destitute dependants to buy food, clothing, footwear, coal and candles. Later, emigration grants to begin a new life were added It was a remarkable philanthropic venture, way ahead of its time.
The first donors were all individuals, led by the Lord Mayor of London and the Bishop of Durham. Poor Boxes at the prisons were the forerunners of Life Governors, 200 Club donors, legators and Livery Company Charity committees. All through its existence, the Fund has relied on the generosity of individuals and institutions in the City of London.
The first administrators of the Fund were the London Prison Chaplains and in 1828 trustees and a treasurer were appointed, but there are few solid records until the middle of the nineteenth century when in 1845 the Duke of Cambridge attended the first official fund-raising event, a dinner at the Mansion House. In 1846 the first donation by a Livery Company, the Cutlers, is recorded. The most consistent Livery Company supporter appears to be the Armourers and Brasiers, who have been giving since 1876.
The first annual report appeared in 1846 when the objectives of the Fund were described as ‘the temporary relief of the distressed families of persons in confinement; a temporary provision for persons who on being discharged from confinement have no means of present subsistence and habitation; the purchase of such tools, implements and materials as may be conducive to habits of industry in debtors and criminals’. Two hundred years on, the Fund’s mission is remarkably similar: training, tools, equipment and clothing to help ex-offenders find their feet and a way forward.
From the outset, the Fund recognised the innocence of prisoners’ dependants and the particular problems of women ex-prisoners whose family responsibilities limited their ability to earn; grants for mangles and sewing machines appeared regularly – the nineteenth century equivalents of washing machines and clothing.
The need for decent clothing was consistently supported. For example, in 1887 the Fund provided 284 hats, 106 skirts, 102 jackets, 120 bodices, 38 chemises, 54 pairs of stockings and 96 petticoats. During the Second World War under rationing secondhand clothing and blankets were available from the Fund’s office in the Old Bailey.
As well as its close relationship with the City, over the past century the Fund has grown closer to the Law. In 1931 the Fund merged with the Recorder’s Fund for ‘assistance of cases on probation’. When the Old Bailey south wing was built in 1970, on the site of Newgate Prison, the Corporation of London generously gave the Fund the financial life-saver of a small office from which it still operates.
So, in its modern form, the Fund works mainly through the Probation Service. The two City of London Sheriffs and the Recorder of London are its Presidents and Vice-President, and the individuals and corporate bodies of the City of London its main supporters.
A remarkably consistent City institution, doing good in a fundamental way for over 200 years.