Ancestry UK

Tower Hamlets Mission Shoeblack Brigade, Mile End, London

The Tower Hamlets Mission Shoeblack Brigade was established in 1873, one of the dozen or so Shoeblack Brigades established in London in the mid-19th century to provide employment and accommodation for homeless and destitute boys. The Brigade was based at 23A Tollet Street, Globe Road, Mile End, where up to 35 boys were housed. Admission to the Brigade was at the discretion of manager of the home, to whom application could be made between the hours of 7 and 8 p.m. daily. Applicants had to be between the ages of 13 and 15 years. Attendance was required at school and religious instruction during week nights after work.

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

Shoeblacks were usually 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. At Tower Hamlets, however, boys could be placed at better stations according to their conduct. Each Brigade had a distinctive uniform, with the Tower Hamlets boys adopting a red guernsey with dark blue facings. 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.

As soon as a boy had qualified himself for other and more remunerative employment, the Brigade's Committee helped him to find it. In 1890, it was noted that six boys from the Brigade had been sent to Canada in April and May 1888 with suitable outfit, free, by Tower Hamlets Mission; five had joined the army; several boys gone back to their former situations, sent for by their former masters; and several returned to their homes.

The Tower Hamlets Brigade appears to have ceased operation in the 1890s.


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  • None identfied at present — any information welcome.


  • None identified at present.