Charity Pensions

Prior to the advent of the state pension and the broad provision of occupational pensions in the twentieth century, support for people in old age was piecemeal and patchy. People could look to the parish for support, but the stigma associated with this increased with the amendments made to the Poor Law in 1834. Charities made an important contribution to supporting people in old age, with money, fuel or other benefits.

Two examples from Bethnal Green, brought to light by the PAT Research Guide project, highlight the need for pensions in one area of London, and what an impact the introduction of the state pension and occupational pension schemes would have to improving quality of life in old age.

Bethnal Green Poor Lands Charity

The Bethnal Green Poor Lands charity dates back to 1678, with the profits made from the lease of three closes of land used to distribute coal and pensions to the poor.

On the left is a page from a volume containing the Bethnal Green Poor Lands’ annual lists of pensioners, held at London Metropolitan Archives (A/PLC/07/001), which records the recipients of the charity’s annual gift of half a ton of coals and ten shillings to selected pensioners at Christmas.

The ledger notes the name and address of the recipient and, from 1852, their ages. Occasionally the death of the recipient or other information about changes to the recipient’s circumstances is entered in the register.

Poor Lands’ pensioners were not necessarily elderly, although the majority of entries are for people over 60: the page on the left shows that Eleanor Edwards, who had been receiving a pension from the charity for a number of years, continued to do so in her 100th year.

Bethnal Green Poor Lands annual lists of pensioners, A/PLC/07/001 © London Metropolitan Archives, City of London Corporation

Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension Society

he Poor Lands’ pensioners appear to have been elected, which is also the case in the second example, the Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension Society. The Monthly Meeting Minute book of the Society’s Director is held at London Metropolitan Archives (ACC/1844/E/01/001), and includes copies of posters publicising the results of polls held to elect the Society’s pensioners (an example from the poll held on the 18th October 1916 is shown on the right).

The Society was founded by subscribers in 1822 to make weekly grants to the aged. Subscribers selected recipients to receive the pensions in polls: the results of the 18th Oct 1916 poll show that two male and four female pensioners were elected. The poll result shows that subscribers were given information on the candidates’ age, trade and income, length of residency in the parish, health, family circumstances and the number of applications they had made to the charity in order to make a decision. In October 1916’s poll some candidates had already made six applications to the Society.

Polls conducted during the First World War also listed how many of the candidates had sons serving in the British Expeditionary Forces. The winning candidate in Oct 1916 election, Emma Neve, had 5 sons serving in France.

Bethnal Green Philanthropic Pension Society Monthly Meeting Minute book, ACC/1844/E/01/001 © London Metropolitan Archives, City of London Corporation