Extracts from Daniel Defoe’s Account of London

Selected by Pat Rogers
Introduction and Contents


Next to these hospitals, whose foundations are so great and magnificent, is the work-house, or city work-house, properly so called, which being a late foundation, and founded upon meer charity, without any settled endowment, is the more remarkable, for here are a very great number of poor children taken in, and supported and maintained, fed, cloath’d, taught, and put out to trades, and that at an exceeding expence, and all this without one penny revenue.

It is established, or rather the establishment of it, is supported by an old Act of Parliament, 13, 14. Car. II. impowering the citizens to raise contributions for the charge of employing the poor, and suppressing vagrants and beggars, and it is now, by the voluntary assistance and bounty of benefactors, become so considerable, that in the year 1715 they gave the following state of the house., viz.


Vagabonds, beggars, &c. taken into the house,
including fifty-five which remained at the end
of the preceding year
- - - - - - - - - - - -
} 418
Discharged, including such as were put out to
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
} 356
Remaining in the house   62
Not one buried that whole year.    


But the supplies and charities to this commendable work, have not of late come in so readily as they used to do, which has put the governors to some difficulties; upon which, anno 1614, the Common Council, by virtue of the powers above-mentioned, agreed to raise five thousand pounds upon the whole city, for the support of the house; but we do not find that any new demand has been made since that.

There are three considerable charities given by private persons in the city of Westminster, viz.

1. The Gray-coat Hospital, founded by a generous subscription or contribution; but chiefly by the charity of one ----- Sands, Esq; It maintains 70 boys and 40 girls, cloathed, fed, and taught, and in some measure provided for, by being put out to trades.

2. The Green-coat Hospital, in the same Fields, founded by King Charles I. for poor fatherless children of St. Margaret’s parish; and next to this hospital is the house of correction, or the Westminster Bridewell.

3. The Emanuel Hospital, founded by the Lady Ann Dacres, for ten poor men, and ten poor women, in the forty-third year of Queen Elizabeth. Near this, are seven several setts of alms-houses; but not of any magnitude to be called hospitals.

There has been, also, a very noble hospital erected by contribution of the French refugees, for the maintenance of their poor: It stands near the Pest-house, in the foot-way to Islington in the parish of Cripplegate, and two ranges of new alms-houses in Kingsland Road beyond Shoreditch Church.

The hospital call’d the Charter House, or Sutton’s Hospital, is not by this supposed to be forgot, or the honour of it lessened. On the other hand, it must be recorded for ever, to be the greatest and noblest gift that ever was given for charity, by any one man, publick or private, in this nation, since history gives us any account of things; even not the great Bishop of Norwich excepted, who built the great church of Yarmouth, the cathedral at Norwich, and the church of St. Mary’s at Lynn; The revenue of Mr. Sutton’s hospital being, besides the purchase of the place, and the building of the house, and other expences, little less than 6000l. per annum revenue.

The Royal Hospitals at Greenwich and Chelsea, are also not mentioned in this account, as not being within the reach of the most extended bounds of the city of London.

These are the principal hospitals, the rest of smaller note are touch’d before; but it will not be a useless observation, nor altogether improper to take notice of it here, That this age has produced some of the most eminent acts of publick charity, and of the greatest value, I mean from private persons, that can be found in any age within the reach of our English history, excepting only that of Sutton’s Hospital; and yet they tell us, that even that of Mr. Sutton’s is exceeded in this of Mr. Guy’s, considering that this gentleman gave a very noble gift to this same hospital before; besides that as before, he had left an hundred thousand pounds in private gifts among his own relations; as to children he had none, for he never was married.

The other benefactions, I speak of which this age had produced, are already touch’d at in this work, and may be referred to in the reading, such as Dr. Ratcliffs Gift, amounting to above forty thousand pounds to the university of Oxford: The gift of ten thousand pounds to Magdalen College in the same university, by their late representative; the several charities of Sir Robert Clayton, Alderman Ask, Sir Stephen Fox, Dr. Busby, Sir John Morden and others.

These, added to the innumerable number of alms-houses which are to be seen in almost every part of the city, make it certain, that there is no city in the world can shew the like number of charities from private hands, there being, as I am told, not less than twenty thousand people maintained of charity, besides the charities of schooling for children, and besides the collections yearly at the annual feasts of several kinds, where money is given for putting out children apprentices, &c. so that the Papists have no reason to boast, that there were greater benefactions and acts of charity to the poor given in their times, than in our Protestant times; and this is indeed, one of the principal reasons for my making mention of it in this place; for let any particular age be singled out, and let the charities of this age, that is to say, for about fifteen or twenty years past, and the sums of money bestowed by protestants in this nation on meer acts of charity to the poor, not reckoning gifts to the church, be cast up, it will appear they are greater by far, than would be found in England in any the like number of years, take the time when we will.

Nor do I conclude in this, the money collected by briefs all over England, upon casualties by fire, though that is an eminent act of charity as any can be; nor the money given either in publick or private, for re-building St. Paul’s and other churches demolished by the Fire of London, or the augmentation of poor benefices by the bounty of Queen Ann, and many other such gifts.