Subscriptions raised money for charities–and for destitute friends

© Cheryl Bolen

In the days before organized non-profits and charity fetes, the British raised money for the less fortunate through subscriptions advertised in newspapers. Subscribers could donate an amount with which they were comfortable. The higher the person’s rank, the more they were expected to give. It was a coup to use the name of a member of the Royal Family as having donated.

Here are a few subscription notices that appeared on the front page of The Morning Chronicle in 1817.

Subscription for Poor Irish laborers

Donating £50

 HRH the Princess Charlotte Auguste of Saxe Coburg

His Serene H the Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg 

Donating £20 

Right Hon. G. Ponsonby

the Right Honorable Viscount Castlereagh 

Donating £10 

the Hon. Louisa Cavendish

A Case of Real Distress

Rt. Hon. John George—Lord Arden, Registrar of the Admiralty, Ld of the Bedchamber, etc., etc. It appears from the most unexceptional authority this truly unfortunate nobleman is now actually out of pocket by his sinecure. This case is recommended to all charitably disposed persons. . . the smallest sums will be thankfully received—Messrs. Curtis & Co. Downing Street: Rev. Dr. Sidmouth, Spring Gardens. . . the following subscribers have already been received . . .

It is likely that Curtis & Co. on Downing Street would have been solicitors who handled the subscription and its dispensation.

Friends would often come to others’ aids with subscriptions, such as in the case of statesman Charles James Fox. In a 1793 letter to his wife, who was on the Continent, Lord Bessborough wrote, “We have had a subscription for Charles Fox, who was in distress; Dudley North (Whig M.P.) and Charles Pelham (another M.P.) were the chief movers of it, and they have got as much money as will buy him annuity for his life of £2,000 a year. I should have thought it would have better to have done it without a publick meeting, as they had got nearly money enough without it. However they chose to have it. I had not much to give (huge gambling losses had decimated the Bessborough’s fortune) so I only subscribed £200.”

A week later he wrote

I have been this morning to a meeting about Charles fox’s affairs. We had a very handsome letter from him, & his politicks this years have been kept clear of in what was said; I understand they have got £33,000 paid, which is very extraordinary at this time, & £10,000 more promised. they are in hopes of paying his debts & having enough to get him annuity of £2,000 for his life. I understand they have agreed to buy the annuity of the Duke of Bedford & Ld. Spencer at 11 years purchase.

The grandson of a duke, Fox had inherited enormous wealth from his father, Baron Holland, but squandered it away at the gaming tables. Twice. An annuity of £2,000 would have been an extremely comfortable income. In Fox’s case, subscribers generously reached into their pockets because he was so affable, clever, and well liked.

Still, Fox’s debts, in today’s dollars, would have been roughly $4.5 million. It is doubtful the poor Irish laborers received anything approaching that hefty amount.—Cheryl Bolen, the NY Times and USA bestselling author of two dozen Regency romance novels, has just released Oh What a (Wedding) Night.

Resources

Morning Chronicle, February 6, 1817

Lady Bessborough and Her Family Circle, Earl Bessborough in collaboration with A. Aspinall, John Murray, London, 1940.

 

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Subscriptions raised money for charities–and for destitute friends

  1. There were also subscription balls and concerts in aid of various charitable causes. I have noticed quite a few in the newspapers and one account of how a singer had vegetables thrown at her at an ordinary concert for taking too large a fee to appear at a previous charity concert. I should keep all those odd snippets, shouldn’t I….

    • Sarah, I’ve never seen evidence of a Regency-era charity ball. I admit most of my knowledge has been gleaned from diaries and letter from those who lived in the era. I have a difficult time finding period newspapers. Those I’ve quoted here I copied from an exhibit on the Regency at the Huntington in California. I took a spiral notebook and scribbled notes for hours. Any advice on how to track down those newspapers?

      • Yes, they’re on British Newspapers online. Which you may decide to take out a subscription for because the wealth of trivia is enormous, from ‘subscription ball to the benefit of … through ‘fine messuage and land for sale in ….’ to ‘wanted, information which will lead to the apprehension of the thief and return of my bay mare’ to ‘the wind blew so strong in Brighton today after a sharp shower that the ladies were quite embarrassed as their wet gowns clung tightly to them. Needless to say the gentlemen were much entertained’ etc etc. It’s eighty quid a year, though they do have special offers from time to time, and worth every penny.
        If you don’t want to take out a subscription, let me know and I’ll screenshot a few for you.
        http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s