Letter in the Attic

Records of the Mendicity Society

About this contribution:


In 1872, the Brighton Mendicity Society was formed to coordinate poor relief in Brighton. These case notes and letters give a unique insight into the lives of approximately 150 of the poorest people in Victorian Brighton.

There are approximately 150 casenote files, following a sequence ordered from 1 upwards to 217, beginning in 1872. There are gaps in this sequence. While all the records were initiated in the years 1872-1874, some of casenote files contains later entries, which date up to c1910.

Each casenote relates to a particular individual who has requested charity. The casenote typically consists of details of that person's name, address, occupation and family; a description of the charitable assistance that has been requested; and a report by a Mendicity Society investigator into the case.

Many of the casenotes also include associated correspondence, such as requests from charitable donors to the Mendicity Society to investigate whether a particular individual is deserving of charitable relief. The casenotes give details of names, addresses and dates.

Biographical information

The following information is based on an edited version of an article by Jackie Grigg from the Money Advice and Community Support Service (the Brighton organisation which has evolved from the Mendicity Society). The article is called MACS Background and was written on the 29 Nov 2003.

'In 1872, the Brighton Mendicity Society was formed to coordinate poor relief in Brighton. Prior to this, the needs of the poor had been met by the work of individuals, private charities and the church.

Nationally, competition to distribute alms, exploitation and duplication had brought the growing awareness that efforts were needed to organise the charitable movement. In 1869, The Charity Organisation Society (COS) was formed. Its original title, the Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity, accurately described its purpose. It later became known as the Family Welfare Association.

The COS sought to set up local offices in each Poor Law district. Brighton was quick to realise the value of the co-ordinated approach of the COS and the urgent need to address the effects of poverty. At a public meeting in 1871 an agency of the COS, the Charity Organisation Society for Brighton, Hove and Preston (originally called The Mendicity Society) was founded. The organisation set about mapping the work of charities and private individuals. Names of those applying for help were gathered, information catalogued and reports based on these investigations were sent to the charities concerned.

A more sophisticated approach to assistance was developed whereby the actual benefit to the applicant became a primary consideration and poverty itself became the focus rather than its effects.'

Name of creator(s)

Mendicity Society

Dates covered by the material


Extent and form of the material

Approximately 150 casenote files about particular applicants for charity.

Access conditions



To be donated to the East Sussex Record Office.



Images of this contribution:

Image: Illustrative image: Casenote related to Caroline Taylor (LIA/53/4/1)
Illustrative image: Casenote related to Caroline Taylor (LIA/53/4/1)