Thomas West – A cunning thief reformed

This is Thomas West’s page (p.145) in the admission register for the reform school built by the Royal Philanthropic Society (SHC ref: 2271/10/1), where  Thomas West resided from 1793-1798.

In 1793, Thomas West, a thirteen year old black pauper, was caught stealing in Lord Sydney’s home, Frognal House in Sidcup, Kent. Lord Sydney quickly reacted by placing the miscreant in the care of the Royal Philanthropic School in Southwark, London.

While the Royal Philanthropic School was in charge of Thomas West, he learnt a number of trades. Five years later, in 1798 , he was ready to leave and begin an apprenticeship with a mealman in Hertford.

The Royal Philanthropic Society, whose records are held in the Surrey History Centre, was founded in 1788 to reform the many London paupers who had found themselves part of London’s crimnal underbelly. The records of Thomas West are interesting because they record a rare instance of a black pauper living in Georgian London. We not only have a record of his beginnings, but we see him put on the path of reform and begin a new, stable life outside the city and out of his poor, criminal surroundings.

Click here to read about the records of Thomas West’s time in the Royal Philanthropic Society’s reform school.

Read more about Thomas West on the Kingston University History Blog

Sources at Surrey History Centre:

Proceedings of the Philanthropic Society, 1793-6 (SHC Ref. 2271/2/1).
Proceedings of the Philanthropic Society, 1796-9 (SHC Ref. 2271/2/2).
Applications for Admission to the Royal Philanthropic School 1810-33 (SHC Ref. 2271/9/1).
Characters of the Boys Admitted into the Reform 1788-1806 (SHC Ref. 2271/10/1).
Pamphlet entitled ‘Royal Philanthropic Society, St. George’s Fields, Southwark: An Account of its Nature & Views, Laws Regulations &c, &c, 1797’ (SHC Ref. 2271/40/2).


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