Ancestry UK

West London Shoeblack Society, Pimlico, London

The 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. For many years, the Society was based at 57 Bessborough Place, Pimlico, where 53 boys could be housed. In around 1895, however, it moved to Earl Street, Westminster, where accommodation was provided for 40. Applicants for admission were required to be between the ages of 13 and 16 years, and have a good moral character. School attendance was required on three nights a week.

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

The boys paid 1s. 6d. a week for lodging, and for board according to what they consumed. On Sundays, a good meat dinner, breakfast and tea, were provided free. They also paid from 4d. to 1s. 8d. a day for their pitches, according to the location.

Each Shoeblack Brigade had a distinctive uniform, with the West London boys' originally adopting a purple outfit though this later changed to blue with red facings.

The West 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.