COS: Its Pre-history

[...] Its origins are hard to discover: for a pamphlet on its history, written as early as 1874, provoked four rejoinders and unsuccessful appeal to the Council of the Society for a decision on the question of origins. It is clear that the ideas behind it had long been in the air, and trace back at least to the founding of the Society for the Relief of Distress in 1860. An early member of this society, G.M.Hicks, read a paper to it in February 1861 in which he adovocated the establishment of district offices staffed by almoners who would investigate applications for help and would co-operate with the Poor Law authorites. Nothing came of this except a sub-committee's endorsement, but Hicks returned to the subject in March 1868 in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette outlining a plan for a central board of charities to make an annual report on all charities and to audit their accounts. An article by J.R.Green on poverty in the East End, in the Saturday Review for December 28, 1867, had emphasised the chaos of numerous competing charities whose unco-ordinated efforts often served to increase mendicacy and pauperism.

Matters moved forward in June 1868, when a paper was read at a meeting of the Society of Arts, under the chairmanship of A.C.Tait, the Bishop of London, with the title 'How to deal with the Unemployed Poor of London and with its "Rough" ad Criminal Class'. Its aouthor was Henry Solley(1813-1903), son of a Baltic timber merchant of London, a Congregational minister who was for a few years the secretary of the Working Men's Club and Institute Union after its founding in 1862, and was later interested in the subject of industrial villages. The paper contained little or nothing about charity organisation, and would be of no importance to us except that it led to plans for starting a society.

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