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Bloomsbury Institutions


Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

Also known as London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children/National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)


It was founded by child protection campaigner Rev. Benjamin Waugh in London in July 1884 as the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, following the success of a similar society in Liverpool (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

Waugh became its Hon. Secretary (The Times, 25 January 1887) and later a paid Director of the Society (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)

In 1888 its medical officer was Dr John Gabe of Mecklenburgh Square (The Times, 29 March 1888); he has been the object of much more attention because of his presence at one of the Jack the Ripper murder scenes later that year than for his work for the Society

In his capacity as a divisional surgeon for the police, Gabe was later also called in to investigate the “Bloomsbury Murder Mystery” of 1917, when the headless body of a woman was found in Regent Square (The Times, 3 November 1917)

The Society’s first shelter was opened at 7 Harpur Street in October 1884 (George K. Behlmer, Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England, 1870–1908, 1982) (Behlmer’s book wrongly has this as 71 Harpur Street)

The Society was controversial from the beginning, as were similar attempts to afford legal protection and universal rights to children

Its prosecution of the Shrewsbury case in 1886 caused a particular stir, because the parents prosecuted in this case were well-to-do

On 21 January 1887 The Times published a letter on this subject from “Hesba Stretton” (Sarah Smith), one of the early champions of the Society

She commented that the Society, which had “already prosecuted 38 cases of cruelty among poor and uneducated people, could not in honour pass over such a crime when committed by wealthy and presumably cultivated parents” (The Times, 21 January 1887)

What was reforming about it?

It sought to afford children the protection from cruelty then only afforded to animals in Britain

Its interference in family life was considered by many critics to be unwarranted and insulting

Where in Bloomsbury

At first both the Society’s “Office and Shelter” could be found at 7 Harpur Street (The Times, 25 January 1887)

It is now based in Shoreditch

Website of current institution

www.nspcc.org.uk (opens in new window)

Books about it

A History of the NSPCC: Protecting Children from Cruelty since 1884 (2000) (published by the Society)

The Child’s Guardian (monthly newsletter published by the Society in its early years; series now continued by NSPCC News)


The Society holds the archive of its records from 1884, but access is restricted

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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