Ancestry UK

The Columbia Messenger and Shoeblack Brigade, Spitalfields, London

The Columbia Messenger and Shoeblack Brigade was founded in 1869, one of a dozen or so such organisations established in London in the mid-19th century to provide employment and accommodation for homeless and destitute boys. The Brigade owed its existence largely thanks to the support of the banking heiress and philanthropist Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts. The Brigade was based at 11 Wood Street, Spitalfields, and presumably took its name from the Baroness's Columbia Square model housing development at Bethnal Green. The Brigade provided a home for up to 24 boys aged from 14 to 16 years.

Boys were allocated pitches or 'stations' by the police and these were rotated twice a week so everyone had a turn at working at the most lucrative locations. The boys' earnings were paid into the home each day with a third of the money paying for their keep, a third being placed into their individual bank savings accounts, and a third given back to them.

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

The Columbia Shoeblack Brigade appears to have ceased operation by the 1890s.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.