Ancestry UK

South London Shoeblack Society, Southwark, London

The South London Shoeblack Society was established in 1854, 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 1884, the Society was based at 223 Borough High Street, Southwark, and was apparently not offering residential accommodation at that date. By 1890, however, it had moved to premises at 15 Bath Terrace, Union Road, Southwark, which could house 35 boys under the age of 16. The Brigade's membership explicitly included boys who were deaf and dumb or physically disabled.

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

Shoeblacks were usually allocated pitches or 'stations' by the police and these were rotated frequently so that everyone had a turn at working at the most lucrative locations. Each Brigade had a distinctive uniform, with the South London boys' wearing a red guernsey. 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 boys' uniform, brushes etc. were supplied by the Society and paid for out of their wages.

The South London Shoeblack Brigade appears to have ceased operation in the early 1900s.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.