My recent absence from these pages has been largely to do with boating matters, so I thought that a nautical theme might be appropriate to mark my return to blogging, and what more nautical than the Marine Society, the world’s first charity dedicated to seafarers
That society was formed by Jonas Hanway, whom we have mentioned before on this blog, but more for his eccentricities than for his philanthropy. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls him a philanthropist and a merchant and in 1756, when Britain was on the brink of war with Europe, Hanway was concerned that his crew would be poached to fight in the King’s navy.
He therefore came up with what would today be called a win-win solution: he recruited boys from poor backgrounds and gave them naval training so they were equipped to fight on the King’s ships. This not only helped him protect his business interests, it also opened up career prospects for those boys who would otherwise be limited in terms of job prospects.
Hanway’s philanthropic activities also embraced the Foundling Hospital, which received a £50 donation from him (the largest single donation he was ever to make to any charity, according to the ODNB); the Stepney Society, designed to apprentice poor boys to marine trades; the Troop Society, which provided clothing and shoes to British soldiers in Germany and North America; and the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. He also raised funds to relieve victims of foreign fires: one in Montreal in 1765 and another in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1766.
What does any of this have to do with London street names: First, the King’s Arms Tavern, where the Marine Society was founded, was in Change Alley. That is nothing to do with metamorphosis, but is an abbreviation of ‘Exchange Alley’ – from the Royal Exchange.
Hanway also lived in Red Lion Square, which takes its name from the Red Lyon tavern, “in olden times the most important hostelry in Holborn”, and developed by Nicholas Barbon; and for a time he lodged with his sister in lodgings in Strand – a name, apparently, of Saxon origin.