Ancestry UK

The Barnardo Story

Conflict and Controversy

The mid-1870s were a difficult time for Barnardo, triggered largely by the rivalry that had developed between various East End church missions. In 1874, a Baptist preacher named George Reynolds, who believed that many of his flock had been lured away by Barnardo's nearby Edinburgh Castle mission, began spreading false rumours about an improper relationship between Barnardo and a former landlady. In the same year, Fred Charrington — a member of the brewing family but with evangelical ambitions in his home area of Mile End — was angered by Barnardo's plans to open another large coffee palace and mission on Mile End Road to be known as the Dublin Castle. Reynolds and Charrington soon joined forces to mount a campaign against Barnardo through letters to the press which questioned his right to use the title "Doctor", whether funds donated for his work were properly being accounted for, and reiterating the charge of sexual impropriety. Things were brought to a head in September 1875 by a lengthy letter in the Tower Hamlets Independent signed "Clerical Junius" which defended Barnardo while colourfully caricaturing Reynolds and Charrington and their "mean treachery and sordid aims". Barnardo initially seemed to enjoy the sensation produced by the letter's publication. However, after realising the outrage it had provoked — particularly when the author was said to be an Anglican clergyman — he wrote to the East London Observer condemning the attack, fiercely denying that he was its author, and announcing his own legal action against Reynolds and Charrington.

In light of the cost and publicity that would result from court proceedings, Barnardo was persuaded to withdraw his action in return for a written promise from Reynolds and Charrington to end the matter. The question of his medical qualification did not go away, however, and he was embarrassed when a letter he produced from the University of Giessen concerning its award to him of an MD degree was shown to be a forgery. However, in the spring of 1876 he rectified matters by gaining a diploma at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

Further problems began at the end of 1876 when Reynolds published a pamphlet entitled Startling Revelations which repeating all his previous accusations and claimed to prove that "Clerical Junius" was in fact Barnardo. The publication also claimed that Barnardo's homes were incompetently managed; that the children were mistreated, not given moral and religious instruction, and detained against their will; that Barnardo took money under false pretences; and that he made misleading use of children's photos in his appeals. Fortuitously, over the previous year, Barnardo had been persuaded to place the ownership and legal responsibility for the homes in the hands of a board of trustees, served by a treasurer, an independent auditor, and with himself as their lifetime honorary Director. After satisfying themselves that the accounts were in order, the trustees decided that the dispute should be submitted to a process of legal arbitration.

Typical Barnardo 'before and after' publicity photos, c.1880s. © Peter Higginbotham

Despite his point-blank refusal to reveal the true identity of "Clerical Junius", Barnardo emerged from the hearing virtually unscathed. The arbitrators found no evidence of financial malpractice or cruelty to children although they did criticise his former practice of placing miscreant boys in solitary confinement. Barnardo's resort to "artistic fiction" in his use of children's photos in his promotional materials was severely criticised, however. On the "Clerical Junius" question, the arbitrators made it clear that even if Barnardo was not the author, he had clearly been deeply involved in their writing and thus had as much moral responsibility as the putative writer. In conclusion, though, the arbitrators praised the valuable work being performed by Barnardo's home which they saw as worthy of public confidence and support.