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Learn More About Our History And Heritage


The Victorian past

Field Lane has a modern approach but is a charity with a long and interesting past. It started in the notorious ‘Field Lane’ area, which has now been incorporated into Saffron Hill, London, EC1. Andrew Provan, a London City Missioner, came to the area in 1841 to teach children and young people. By 1860 the ‘ragged school’ he founded was teaching over 500 children and young people every day in one enormous classroom.


It was clear to Andrew Provan that unemployment, sickness, family breakdown, overcrowded housing and lack of opportunity were all major problems in the area. 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 also opened with immediate success. The Field Lane Ragged School enjoyed the support of many well known people and became one of the most famous of the ‘ragged schools’.

Well known supporters

Lord Shaftesbury became President of Field Lane in 1843 and his support continued until his death in 1885. He used his knowledge of the ‘ragged schools’ 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, which Field Lane helped to found in 1844. The Ragged School Union later became known as the Shaftesbury Society and in 2007 it merged with John Grooms to form the charity Livability.


Charles Dickens first visited The Field Lane Ragged School in 1843 and was so moved by his experience that he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’. He kept in touch, making donations, and later wrote about the school and his experience in ‘Household Words’. He had earlier used the area called Field Lane as a setting for Fagin’s den in Oliver Twist (1837).

Working with older people

In 1947, the unmet needs of older people caught Field Lane’s attention. The loneliness, failing health, inadequate and unsuitable housing were all things that Field Lane felt it could address. A range of options were offered to the elderly including residential and nursing care, sheltered accommodation and day care. Field Lane also developed an expertise in dementia. This was an area in which Field Lane continued to provide support until the early 21st century.

Working with vulnerable families

In 1995, the poor bed and breakfast conditions in which homeless families in London were being forced to live also attracted the charity’s attention and a support service was opened. This work with families has expanded and adapted and it now offers supported housing with specialist learning opportunities for families along with personalised support.

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. The success of this encouraged the charity to use this expertise to help more people with a learning disability. Field Lane opened its first supported housing scheme for adults with a learning disability in 2005. Similar homes, which promote life quality and independence, have been opened. Domiciliary care agencies, offering support to the wider community, have been established as well. New projects, aimed at making a difference to the everyday lives of people, continue to be developed.

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If you would like to read about the history of Field Lane in more detail then please download:

room in a local home
Old etching of Field Lane
Old etching - one of the rooms
Old etching - nursery
Fl ragged sch 2nd version
Fl Ragged School Girl and Sibling
FL Ragged School in West ST
Letter 1 Charles Dickens
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