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Roots and heritage

The Victorian past

Field Lane is a modern charity with a long and interesting past originating in the crowded courtyards and alleys of Clerkenwell. The lane, which has now been incorporated into Saffron Hill EC1, was well known to Charles Dickens.

Andrew Provan, a London City Missioner, came to the notorious ‘Field Lane’ area in 1841 to teach the children and young people the Christian gospel. By 1860 the ragged school he founded was teaching up to 523 children and young people every day in one enormous classroom.

It was clear to the founders from the start that unemployment, sickness, family breakdown, overcrowding in the houses and tenements and lack of opportunity were all major obstacles for their pupils. Many new services were opened to help their pupils and the local ‘ragged’ young people. Services were introduced such as visiting the sick, distributing maternity baskets, providing job training and placements through the industrial schools and even small businesses were opened. Night refuges were opened with an immediate demand. In 1860 the male refuge recorded 32,736 nights lodgings and the female refuge over 16,000. The charity was at the forefront of the Victorian awakening to the plight and the potential of these children. The Field Lane Ragged School enjoyed the support of The Times and many well known figures and became one of the most famous of these schools.

Illustrious supporters

Lord Shaftesbury became President in 1843 and he was constant in his support for the work of the Field Lane Ragged School until his death in 1885. He used his knowledge of the schools and the refuges and his understanding of the families living conditions to press for change in legislation. Lord Shaftesbury was also the President of the Ragged School Union, later to become the Shaftesbury Society, which Field Lane had helped to found in 1844.

Charles Dickens began his association with the school in 1843 and was so moved by his visit that he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ for immediate publication. He kept in touch and donated a trough and some money ‘so the boys may wash and for a supervisor’! (from a letter to Field Lane) and later wrote about the school and his experience there in ‘Household Words’. He had earlier used the area called Field Lane as a setting for Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist (1837).

Adapting to new needs

Working with older people

The largely unmet needs of older people in 1947 even though the new welfare state was unrolling, caught Field Lane’s attention and sense of compassion. The loneliness, failing health, inadequate and unsuitable housing the committee could see around them were all things that the Foundation felt it could address. This new work led to the conversion of existing buildings, the purchase of new ones and mergers with other charities in order to offer older people a wide range of options. These ranged from residential and nursing care to sheltered accommodation and staying home with day care.

Field Lane registered as a Housing Association in order to develop sheltered housing Field Lane also developed an expertise in dementia as so many people’s lives are now touched by dementia.

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Working with families

The Bed and Breakfast conditions in which homeless families in London were being forced to live also attracted the charity’s attention and in 1985 a support service was opened. This work with families has expanded and adapted and it now offers supported housing with directed and specialist learning opportunities for families coupled with flexible forms of support.
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Working with people with learning disabilities

An approach by the NHS during the closure of a hospital for people with a learning disability in Southend led Field Lane to open a nursing home in 1993. This has since become a flagship of positive and innovative approach to disability and the success has encouraged the charity to use this new expertise for the benefit of more people with a learning disability. New supported housing schemes that promote life quality and independence are being opened and domiciliary care agencies are offering a service to the wider community.
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More history
To find out more on Field Lane’s history, please contact us and visit our Central Office.
Field Lane, 16 Vine Hill, London EC1R 5EA


We have annual reports dating back to the 1840s which give a good overview of how our work and society evolved as well as a good testimony of the times in which Field Lane has evolved.

You can also download, or request your own hard copy of “The Field Lane Story”, which has vivid descriptions and illustrations of the work from the past archives.

You can also consult our records and archives at the London Metropolitan Archives

Unfortunately very few records exist of the young people who attended the Industrial Schools in Hampstead.
Download some Field Lane archives of Charles Dickens letter to S.R. Starey.

Other interesting research links are:

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