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Portraits Of Working Lads Of Whitechapel

June 23, 2020
by the gentle author

These portraits were taken around 1900 at the Working Lads Institute, known today as the Whitechapel Mission. Founded in 1876, the Institute offered a home to young men who had been involved in petty criminal activity, rehabilitating them through working at the Mission which tended to the poor and needy in Whitechapel. Once a lad had proved himself, he was able to seek independent employment with the support and recommendation of the Institute.

The Working Lads Institute was the first of its kind in London to admit black people and Rev Thomas Jackson, the founder, is pictured here with five soldiers at the time of World War I

Stained glass window with a figure embodying ‘Industry’ as an inspiration to the lads

In the dormitory

Rev Thomas Jackson & the lads collect for the Red Cross outside the Mission

Click here to learn more about The Whitechapel Mission

You may also like to take a look at

Colin O’Brien at the Whitechapel Mission

14 Responses leave one →
  1. June 23, 2020

    Excellent gallery this, thanks!

  2. Nina Archer permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Interesting article, thankyou (… surely No.10
    lad is Mick Jagger in a former life ….)

  3. Carol Pickersgill permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Each time I study these portraits, I’m dismayed by the condition of some of the lads’ footwear. A coat with arms too long, or trousers with legs too short, could not have been in the same UNIVERSE of discomfort as such ill-fitting, blown-out boots. I doubt some of the lads even had the benefit of a pair of stockings. My own feet smart in too-late sympathy. Bless the Reverend Jackson for his Mission.

  4. June 23, 2020

    Greetings. A fascinating and evocative series of portraits. Are they in the archives of The Whitechapel Mission? If they are do we know who took them and what the accession numbers are?

    Thanks for all your dedication to preserving and documenting the complex and always intriguing histories of London.

  5. Richard Smith permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Fascinating. I wonder how they fared in life, their life stories would no doubt be interesting. Thank you.

  6. June 23, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what an interesting gallery of young men being given the chance for a step up in life by the Whitechapel Mission. I am sure that a warm bed and the support of the Institute was really appreciated by those in need. Let’s hope that at least most succeeded.

  7. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 23, 2020

    What moving photographs.

    That white sheet backdrop in the hallway is about the cleanest thing to be found, other than the snow on the rooftop.
    Such dignity as they stand in probably all they own, ill-fitting, stretched-out woolen suits that never had a pressing, only harsh water washings, if that.

    Even with the layers of clothing, some of these lads are thin. Some cheeks are hollow.

    Those who went on to enlist in the First World War, if they survived, would later say the army years were the first time they had their own clothes, their own bed, and three meals a day.

    My father, born two months before the Great War ended, said that after he served in the Second World War.

  8. Roger Gaess permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Really splendid portraits, with depth of life evident in so many of the faces!

  9. paul loften permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Thank you for the photos. They are a stark reminder that any of us can go through hard times in life yet the story remains forever untold.

  10. jennifer prior permalink
    June 23, 2020

    Some of the saddest photos I have ever seen. Young men that look like old men, obvious extreme poverty, hopelessness in some of their eyes. Thank God for the work of this mission. I hope some of them had some happiness in their lives.

  11. Susan permalink
    June 23, 2020

    So many faces of poverty. The lad with the checked scarf looks especially young, but was probably 14 or 15 – the result of a lifetime of limited, poor quality food.

  12. June 23, 2020

    What Amazing Vintage Pictures of these People. Thank You So Very Much!!???????

  13. Gary Barnett permalink
    June 29, 2020

    Are there any names on the photos. These lads were of my granddad’s generation. He was born in Spitalfields in 1882.

  14. Catherine Moris permalink
    July 14, 2020

    For the ones who survived the war, the training would have provided them with a good chance to earn a living and bring up families of their own, maybe to immigrate to a better life.

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