The social reformer Charles Gilpin (31 March 1815 – 8 September 1874) was active during Victoria’s reign. So little has been written about him, hence this is my online contribution to making his name more widely known. I discovered his name for the first time at Bishopsgate in April 2017 and set about to find out more about him.
He hailed from a family of 13 children in Bristol and was schooled at Sidcot, a Quaker establishment near Weston Super Mare. As soon as he was old enough he moved to Manchester, where he learnt much from from his uncle, especially the art of public speaking. He became a very successful young orator and by the age of twenty five was in great demand as a speaker up and down the country.
Gilpin lived at 10 Bedford Square, Bloomsbury.
10 Bedford Square is a substantial town house in Central London at the bottom end of Gower Street on the corner of Montague Place which leads to the British Museum. This five storey building is where Gilpin lived. Alas there’s no blue plaque, which I think is an oversight.
Gilpin was a philanthropist, politician and publisher. he was very active in these, and many other fields too, a practically tireless campaigner who fought for a lot of things he passionately believed in. The issue of freedom was a central tenet of his campaigns, namely that people should not be slaves, oppressed, overtly punished, or even sentenced to death.
Gilpin the publisher
As a Quaker and pacifist, Gilpin advocated world peace. In 1842 he set up a publishing company that dealt in books pertaining towards peace or the solution of society’s ills. This was the Phoenix Library, based at 5, Bishopsgate Without. I assume this was somewhere by St Boltoph’s, especially as the local Friends Meeting House was opposite the church.
One of the more interesting books to be published had a somewhat misleading title. The Revolt of the Bees (first edition in 1826 and the fourth by Gilpin in 1850.) The bees in revolt were a parable for the many questions that revovled around society such as human labour, science, the state and politics.
The Revolt of the Bees by John Minter Morgan, pub Charles Gilpin 1850.
The relevancy of Revolt of the Bees is perhaps somewhere between Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and published as a reprint by Gilpin, Dunbar’s Essays on the History of Mankind in Rude and Cultivated Ages (1781), and Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945). The book revolves around a bee colony in the Pentland Hills, Scotland. Its a sort of Animal Farm book where the bees have intelligence, politics, power and morals. The book examines at length the workings and the faults of the bees’ system, essentially reflecting the ones in which humans themselves live, and puting forward ideas on how education could be used to put humanity on the right path.
One notable book on anti-slavery Gilpin rejected, and later regretted, was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is not known why he rejected Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, but it was certainly regrettable in view of the book’s popularity and influence in highlighting the issues of slavery. I assume its quite possible Gilpin’s rejection may have been due to elements of stereotyping depicted within the book.
The London Times’ review of the book in September 1852 commented: ‘Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe is an abolitionist, and her book is a vehement and unrestrained argument in favor of her creed.” Clearly Gilpin must have kicked himself upon reading such strong and glowing statements on Stowe. Perhaps it is this monumental error that prompted him to retire from the book publishing business just a few months later.
The tweet below shows some other examples of books published by Gilpin:
— Christy Hyman (ON HIATUS) (@Christy_SpaceHW) October 10, 2017
He became chairman of the National Freehold Company in Moorgate, and also director of the National Provident Life Assurance Company. The National Freehold was the forerunner to the Abbey National.
Gilpin in politics
Gilpin became Parliamentary Secretary to the Poor Law Board between 1859 and 1865. He agreed to this position on the condition he would be able to express his own political opinions.
The abolition of slavery. Gilpin was a Quaker, and it was they who were among the first to campaign against the notion of slavery during the 17th Century. The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was passed when Gilpin was just 18 years old, hence his interest in the matter lay in its abolition elsewhere, such as the US, Europe and India. He was a leading committee member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.
The abolition of the death penalty. The move to abolish this had begun as early as 1808 when the death penalty was removed for light crimes such as pickpocketing. The penalties were gradually reduced over the years, however campaigners, such as Gilpin, wanted it removed altogether. Sadly it would be more than a hundred years before the death penalty was abolished completely.
Charles Gilpin MP, SACP committee,1867.
Gilpin was in fact one of the main leads in the UK campaigning to abolish the death penalty. The organisation, known as the S.A.C.P (Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment) was established in 1846 and he would be associated with it for most of his life.
Prison Reform. Gilpin followed on from Elizabeth Fry, a fellow Quaker, who had been most notable in advocating prison reform. The problem for Gilpin was that during his political career, prisons were increasingly seen as a hardcore solution for criminals. This was in part due to what was claimed to be a flood of criminals and an increase in all forms of crimes. In 1851 Gilpin published Reformatory Schools, for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes, and for Juvenile Offenders written by Mary Carpenter. Basically the idea of Reformatory Schools was to argue that education was a way forward to help lessen the impact of crime upon those who were less fortunate, such as the poor.
Sadly in spite of Gilpin’s efforts, prisons were made into a harsher regime under the direction of Sir Edmund Frederick Du Cane, Director of Prisons from 1863-1877. Du Cane was the guy who inspired Sir Francis Galton to devise the now discredited system of identifying criminals (an early form of eugenics) by means of particular characters or physiognomy especially the creation of photographic composite portraits that were designed to assist in the identification of criminals through certain facial characteristics.
Gilpin helped bring about the abolition of street tolls when he was elected to the Common Council of the City of London in 1848.
In 1849 Gilpin attended the Second General Peace Congress in Paris, the aim of these naturally being to ensure peace. This followed the first at Brussels in 1848, and these conferences helped the peace movement gain credibility. One of the most notable attendees at the 1849 conference was the classical liberalist and economist, Frédéric Bastiat.
In 1857 Gilpin realised a long held political ambition by becoming MP for Northampton in 1857. James Ewing Ritchie, the famous Victorian writer, described Northampton as a “very dissenting and radical borough.”
St Boltoph’s without Bishopsgate
In 1860 Charles Gilpin donated a fountain to St Boltoph’s Church near Liverpool Street station. At one time this church was almost opposite the Houndsditch Meeting House, which Glipin regularly attended. The church was also near Gilpin’s book publishing offices.
The fountain with its pink marble bowl.
Gilpin was too a prominent member of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, whose offices were nearby at 27 New Broad Street as well as chairman of the National Freehold Company in nearby Moorgate. Clearly Gilpin had many social/political connections with the locality.
We have already seen that Gilpin became associated with the area as early as 1842 by way of his publishing house. Records show Gilpin’s name linked to St Boltoph’s in 1847. There was a issue (described in records as distraints) between the church, Gilpin and Houndsditch Friends Meeting House.
The inscription on the side of the fountain.
There’s little to reference what was actually happening and I don’t want to elaborate with so little information at hand. In my view its possible the fountain was a gift by Gilpin to show no matter any animosity from whomever, bridges should always be built and forgiveness practised.
The fountain was originally between the church’s railings but by 1866 it had been moved in order to form part of a new entrance to the church grounds along with another fountain donated by the church’s wardens. Gilpin’s formed the north side pier and the wardens’ the south side pier of the new entrance to the churchyard.
Gilpin’s St Boltoph fountain mentioned in the Building News & Engineering Journal Vol 8 (1862)
Some sources claim the date reads as 1800 but my photo of the inscription stone clearly shows its 1860.
Metropolitan Railway directorship
Gilpin had an amazingly wide portfolio for a liberal socialist and quaker. He held railway directorships, quite possibly he saw the railways as a great leveller, and was on the boards of the South Eastern (later to become the South Eastern & Chatham) and the Metropolitan Underground railway. Gilpin was part of the ensemble who joined Gladstone on the famous trial run over parts of the unfinished Metropolitan Railway in May 1862.
Charles Gilpin on the noted Metropolitan trial run in 1862. Picture from the book on Sir John Folwer.
The above image is taken from the online version of the book, The life of Sir John Fowler engineer, B.A.R.T., K.C.M.G and shows the group at the unfinished Edgware Road station in May 1862.
Gilpin as one of the Metropolitan’s directors, naturally attended the official opening of the world’s first underground railway on 10th January 1863. He and the other guests gathered at Bishops Road station (now Paddington) and they departed on the very first Metropolitan train at 1.30pm, hauled by two locomotives, Locust and Bey, to Farringdon where the official opening dinner was held. Here he made a brief speech and proposed the “Health of the Solicitor to the Company.”
Gilpin’s toast to the solicitor of the Metropolitan Railway. 10 January 1863. Source: Telegraph History of the World
Gilpin clearly attended the construction of the Metropolitan Railway on many occasions. In this view from possibly late 1867 or early 1868, we see him once again with Gladstone on a trial run over the new western section at High Street Kensington.
The Gladstone trial run at High Street Kensington 1867/68. Gilpin is on the left behind Gladstone.
Image sourced from Philip Sheldrake.
Crop showing Charles Gilpin. William Gladstone is in front.
When Parliament debated whether to pass legislation (Regulation of Railways Act 1868) placing a duty on railway companies to provide smoking compartments, and extend this duty to the Metropolitan Railway, Charles Gilpin objected to the proposals, citing most journeys were only a few minutes long thus passengers ought to abstain from smoking for such short periods.
In addition to the Metropolitan Railway, he became director too of the new Metropolitan Railway Warehousing Limited, a company formed in August 1865 to provide warehousing facilities that would be served by the railway itself. The argument for establishing the company was an apparent lack of facilities in or around the City of London. Insufficient money was raised and the share issue failed, with just half being sold. The venture was wound up in November 1869.
As MP for Northampton he was popular. Despite being re-elected for a fourth term in February 1874, he died just a few months later on 8th September at the age of 59.
He is buried in the grounds of the Friends Meeting House at Winchmore Hill, North London. More than a thousand attended the funeral service held here a few days after his death.
In tradition with Quaker beliefs, Gilpin’s grave consists of a simple headstone. Because of his importance within the faith, as well as being a notable social and political reformer, the headstone is well looked after by the many who come to visit his grave.
General view of the burial grounds to the rear of Friends Meeting House.
Friends Meeting House, Winchmore Hill.
MP of the Month: Charles Gilpin (1815-1874) (See tweet below)
Our MP of the Month is Charles Gilpin. Martin Spychal blogs on this Radical backbencher, 1st Quaker govt minister: https://t.co/Y3UnGVDoo8
— TheVictorianCommons (@TheVictCommons) September 27, 2017