Ancestry UK

Union Jack Shoeblack and Rag-collecting Brigades, Limehouse, London

A property variously known as Mitre House or Mitre Court at 8 Three Colt Street, Limehouse, was the base for the Union Jack Shoeblack and Rag-collecting Brigades, founded in 1868 to provide work for homeless and destitute boys. The Shoeblack Brigade operated an on-street shoe-cleaning service and wore a blue uniform with white facings. As well as rags, the Rag-collecting Brigade collected waste paper from offices.

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

A limited amount of accommodation was also available at the premises. In 1884, the rag-collecting brigade was described as housing sixteen boys, aged 9 to 14, who were "beyond parental control, or whose parents are very poor".

Originally independent, the Union Jack Shoeblack Brigade became affiliated with Barnardo's in 1875, with the Rag-collecting Brigade following suit in 1886.

The Three Colt Street premises appear to have closed in the early 1900s.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.


  • Barnardo, Syrie Louise, and Marchant, James Memoirs of the Late Dr Barnardo (Hodder & Stoughton, 1907)
  • Batt, J.H. Dr. Barnardo: The Foster-Father of "Nobody's Children" (S.W. Partridge, 1904)
  • Bready, J. Wesley Doctor Barnardo (Allen & Unwin, 1930)
  • Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain's Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
  • Rose, June For the Sake of the Children: Inside Dr. Barnardo's: 120 years of caring for children (Hodder & Stoughton, 1987)
  • Wagner, Gillian Barnardo (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1979)