Ancestry UK

North-West London Shoeblack Society, Marylebone, London

The North-West London Shoeblack Society was established in 1857, one of a dozen or so Shoeblack Brigades established in London in the mid-19th century to provide employment and accommodation for homeless and destitute boys. In 1882, the Brigade was based at 33 (or 33A) John Street West, off Edgware Road. By 1884, however, it was using premises at 241 Marylebone Road which could house 45 boys aged 13-16, although some of its members lived outside the home. The Brigade's membership explicitly included boys who were deaf and dumb or physically disabled. The Marylebone Road site included a Ragged School where they boys were taught by a certified master. A gymnasium was also provided, together with games, newspapers and periodicals. In the 1890s, the Brigade was using both the John Street West and Marylebone Road sites, one perhaps acting as a home for boys from the Brigade who had begun other employment. By 1900, only the Marylebone Road premises appear to have been in use.

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

Shoeblacks 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. Each Brigade had a distinctive uniform, with the North-West London boys' outfit was red with black facings and a check cap (later black with a red band). 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.

The North-West London Brigade appears to have ceased operation at the time of the First World War.


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.

  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.