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Working Lads Of Whitechapel

February 17, 2024
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

8 Responses leave one →
  1. February 17, 2024

    Physical labour creates a rugged life for many people, but the lads in your photos look very young and not very tough. I understand they had no choice .. they had to support their large families as best they could.

    But the stained glass window with a figure embodying ‘Industry’ was never an inspiration to the lads or their parents. It seems a nod to the rich employers for helping the economy by using children.

  2. Patrick Crowther permalink
    February 17, 2024

    Very interesting. They very much remind me of the series ‘Small Trades’ made by the great American photographer Irving Penn half a century later.

  3. February 17, 2024

    I was looking at these sad faces and thinking of my great grandfather who spent a considerable amount of time in the workhouse. This appears to have been a kinder regime that hopefully set them on a good path for the future. From what I have learned of the workhouses, this didn’t appear to be the case and my great grandfather was caught in an endless spiral, as a young man on his own, of never earning a decent living because he didn’t have a trade, so couldn’t afford rent and needed to return to the workhouse. I’m surprised that relatives didn’t help him more but then most of them were struggling too.
    Putting two and two together, I think it was only when he married, things improved and he had some stability.
    The Working Lads’ Institute and Whitechapel Mission clearly was a life raft for many tossed into the high seas of life.
    Thanks GA for this fascinating piece.

  4. February 17, 2024

    Every article you write makes me think!

    Thank you GA

  5. Cherub permalink
    February 17, 2024

    I hope these lads were able to keep on the straight and narrow and make a decent life for themselves. It would be interesting to know what happened to them.

  6. February 17, 2024

    at the risk of sounding facetious – these sad images sadly are now being re-invented as modern day fashion shoots?

  7. February 17, 2024

    I do hope the lads shown went on to have a fulfilling life. Great social history photos and story about the Mission.

  8. JLW permalink
    February 18, 2024

    I wonder how many of those lads want to war and how many made it back. Great photos. Does make you think, as Frances said.

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