The alleys near the docks were dark, dank, and foul with refuse. Robbers lay in wait for sailors stepping ashore from their ships after months, even years, at sea. Stray cats slithered like treacle over fences as they any mangy dogs prowled for scraps or escaped the grasping hands of animal thieves. On the wet slippery roads the wretched, beaten horses strained and slipped as they tried, often in vain, to pull their loads along the icy roads or up the steep hills leading out of the city.
This was London, seven years after the Battle of Waterloo- the London of coffee houses which had seen the birth of great adventures as different as the first stirrings of Lloyd's of London and the early beat of the guitar. Some ideas failed; others succeeded beyond man's wildest dreams.
In St. Martin's Lane, not far from Piccadilly Circus, stood Old Slaughter's Coffee House- named after its original owner- and on the evening of June 16, 1824, it was busier than usual. A row of the then fashionable stove-pipe hats hung from the rack near the front door. They belonged to men who had come to attend a meeting- one which was to succeed magnificently; a meeting to discuss ways of protecting animals from cruelty.
Two years previously an Irish member of Parliament, Richard Martin, had piloted a Bill through the House of Commons to give protection to domestic animals, but it needed teeth, it needed men of vision and courage to see that the clauses of the bill were put into effect. One man was determined to see that animal justice was done, to try and assist the police who in those days had more than enough work enforcing the laws protecting life and property.
That man was the Reverend Arthur Broome, who at the age of 42 had become Vicar of the parish of Bromley-by-Bow. Arthur Broome was a Devonshire man, educated at Balliol, an MA, who spent four years at Bromley- and about whom, ironically, little is known except the beautiful handwriting of his Minutes. We do not even know where he was buried when he died in 1837- but we do know that this quiet unassuming pioneer (who also had a practical streak to his character) was destined to change the face of humanity in its attitude to animals, that from these early endeavors a crusade of animal welfare would eventually encompass the globe. And so steadfast was his purpose, so great was his determination that he even languished in a debtor's prison after spending his money- and more besides- on the early struggles of the RSPCA which he founded.
So it all started in Old Slaughter's Coffee House, famous as a resort of painters and actors. The building has long since been demolished, though there is a plaque on a shop near Long Acre to commemorate the founding of the Society. Arthur Broome's idea was that if he could persuade a few prominent people to support him, he would found a society, employ an inspector to see that Martin's Act (as it was known) was properly enforced. Richard Martin nicknamed "Humanity Dick" by George IV was delighted, came to the meeting, and, among others who attended was a quiet, gentle man with a great social conscience His name was William Wilberforce.
Each realized the need for an organised effort to educate and publicise, to enforce the law, particularly as the magistrates in the Britain of those days viewed Martin's Act with, in the words of one historian, "professional torpor." So, out of this historic assembly was born the SPCA.
Arthur Broome must have been a man of enormous determination, for this was his second attempt to form a society. His first, two years previously just after Martin's Act had been passed, had failed- and it is interesting to note that the same fate befell a group of people in Liverpool who even earlier in 1809 formed a "Society for the Suppression and Prevention of Wanton Cruelty to Animals". (This in fact was the first Society ever to be formed but though we have records of these first meetings it seems to have been unable to continue.)
For two years Mr. Broome struggled to interest people- and raise money. And at the end, in 1824, he was successful, as this extract from the Minutes of June 16 shows- the first minutes of the Society that was to become a world-wide organization:
"At a meeting of the Society instituted for the purpose of preventing cruelty to animals, on the 16th day of June 1824, at Old Slaughter's Coffee House, St. Martin's Lane: T F Buxton Esqr, MP, in the Chair,It was resolved:
That a committee be appointed to superintend the Publication of Tracts, Sermons, and similar modes of influencing public opinion, to consist of the following Gentlemen:
Sir Jas. Mackintosh MP, A Warre Esqr. MP, Wm. Wilberforce Esqr. MP, Basil Montagu Esqr., Revd. A Broome, Revd. G Bonner, Revd G A Hatch, A E Kendal Esqr., Lewis Gompertz Esqr., Wm. Mudford Esqr., Dr. Henderson.
That a Committee be appointed to adopt measures for Inspecting the Markets and Streets of the Metropolis, the Slaughter Houses, the conduct of Coachmen, etc.- etc, consisting of the following Gentlemen:
T F Buxton Esqr. MP, Richard Martin Esqr., MP, Sir James Graham, L B Allen Esqr., C C Wilson Esqr., Jno. Brogden Esqr., Alderman Brydges, A E Kendal Esqr., E Lodge Esqr., J Martin Esqr. T G Meymott Esqr.
Mr. Broome was not a man to waste time. Within four days one of the committees was meeting again, and Mr. Broome was able to announce that the Rector of Marylebone had offered to preach his sermon in support of the cause and that he had received an anonymous donation of £50.
Yet during the next two years, the newly-formed SPCA all but foundered. The young Society was served by energetic and dedicated committee members, yet few had sufficient funds to tide the organisation over. By 1826 the funds were coming to an end and much of the work was suspended for nearly two years, even though Mr. Broome had resigned his living to devote his whole time to the cause.
This remarkable man not only provided his time for nothing- he paid all the out-of-pocket expenses when there was no money in the bank. By January 1826, the Society was nearly £300 in debt and even though Ann Radcliffe, one of the most successful novelists of her time, left a legacy of £100, the Society's first office- in the Quadrant in Regent Street- had to be closed, and future meetings had to take place in coffee houses.
Worse was to come. Arthur Broome- being responsible for the debts of the Society- was thrown into prison in January 1826; as one historian puts it with typical British understatement, 'a most unfortunate position for a clergyman'. Lewis Gompertz who had attended the first meeting was appointed "Hon. Secretary Pro Tem in the absence of Mr Broome,' a delicate way of covering up Mr Broome's unavoidable absence from home. Gompertz and a few friends hastily collected enough money to pay the debts, and Mr Broome was released. Even so the Committee could only repay Mr Broome £10 towards the sum the Society owed him. He never was repaid the remaining £70.
To punish cat-skinners
With only the slenderest financial resources, the Society struggled on on many fronts. It tried to ameliorate the shocking conduct of the Smithfield meat market, to punish cat skinners, men who used dogs as draft animals, and to alleviate the misery of horses.
The gallant Mr Broome was finding it increasingly difficult to attend the committee meetings and so Mr Gompertz dropped the words 'Pro Tem' and was elected official Honorary Secretary.
Gompertz has often been described as an eccentric. He was certainly a remarkable man, with 38 inventions to his credit who was also a talented author. He would never, he said, do anything that would cause suffering to animals and it was a creed he stuck to every day of his life, not only did he refuse to eat meat, but he would never ride in a coach because of the suffering to the horses.
He not only endeavored to abolish dog-pits- where animals fought to the death for the amusement of the onlookers- but he tried to ban bull-fighting and bull-baiting; perhaps even more important, he arranged for committee members to hold regular meetings with magistrates in an attempt to make them realise the importance of enforcing Martin's Act. And in this, of course, 'Humanity Dick' was only too eager to help.
That animals have rights
To Dick Martin must go the honour of being the first man in the world to force through any Parliament a law establishing as a legal principle that animals have certain rights. A man of great urbanity and wit, of passion and perseverance, "Humanity Dick" was a tremendous character, as his portrait in the Society's boardroom shows. He had an amusing habit of lapsing into Irish brogue, especially if angry. Annoyed once by an offensive report in the Morning Post about a speech of his, he waited for the editor, pointed out the offending passage and indignantly demanded, 'Sir! Did I ever spake in italics?'
He was also a fine duelist, and when King George IV visited Ireland at the time of an election, he solemnly asked 'Humanity Dick' which candidate would be returned, Martin bowed and replied, 'The survivor, Sire!'
'Humanity Dick's' fame spread as far as the US, and today the San Francisco SPCA bears on a frieze these words: 'Richard Martin known as 'Humanity Dick,' author of the first law to protect animals in England- 1822.'
He was not going to allow the magistrates to forget his Act, which in broad terms, stipulated that anyone ill-treating larger animals faced a fine of up to £5, or imprisonment for up to two months.
The only trouble was- more often than not the magistrates took no notice of the Act. Many regarded it as little more than a joke- or did until Dick Martin decided on a dramatic way to bring it to the public notice.
Bill Burns and his ass
He himself prosecuted a costermonger [fruit seller] called Bill Burns with cruelty to an ass. Though Burns was obviously guilty, 'Humanity Dick' sensed that- as so often happened in those days- the magistrates seemed hesitant to convict. The magistrates were obviously bored, couldn't care less about the fate of a miserable donkey, and Martin suddenly realised that the case was about to be lost.
He never hesitated. Without a word of warning, he sent for the donkey. Before the astounded magistrates and court officials, the donkey was led into the well of the courthouse, where its wounds could plainly be seen. Bill Burns was fined- and Dick Martin received all the publicity he wanted. An artist called Matthews painted a picture of the scene. Even better, the comedians in the music halls started singing a new ditty:
o 'If I had a donkey wot wouldn't go,
o D' ye think I'd wollop him? No, no, no!
o But gentle means I'd try, d' ye see,
o Because I hate all cruelty.
o If all had been like me, in fact,
o There'd ha' been no occasion for Martin's Act.'
Much of the early success of the SPCA rested on its attempts to enforce Martin's Law, and from the earliest days the Society had employed an Inspector- indeed it seems that Mr Broome even employed a Mr Wheeler personally form 1822-when his first efforts to form the Society failed- until 1824 when it was successfully launched.
63 offenders taken
Wheeler was the first of the now famous corps of over 250 British inspectors who today work for the RSPCA, and a year after the Society was formed, Wheeler asked for an assistant. No-one quite knows where the money came from, but a Mr Charles Teasdale was appointed and took 63 offenders, mostly from Smithfield Market, to court where they were successfully convicted.
Alas, the money ran out, and Inspector Wheeler's services had to be dispensed with, though he seems to have continued working as a volunteer, and was presented with the Society's Silver Medal in recognition of his services.
By 1832, however, there was more money in the bank- for the time being anyway, and two inspectors were appointed at a salary of 10s. a week, plus the moieties of penalties in successful prosecutions; others followed them, doing magnificent work in those early years, often in the face of ridicule, unfounded charges of bribery, and on many occasions at great personal risk, as when two inspectors went to Hanworth in Middlesex to try and stop a proposed cock fight.
They expected trouble- and wisely took along a bodyguard of two strong men. Together with Mr Henry Thomas, then Secretary of the Society- the party of five were waiting in 'The Swan,' a public house opposite the cockpit, when the 'cockers' launched a savage attack on them. Covered with blood, the men fought a retreating battle to another pub, 'The Brown Bear.' In the meantime, the Secretary had managed to call in six men of the Bow Street patrol, who arrested seven cock fighters, though not before one inspector, James Piper, was so badly beaten up that he had to be taken to hospital where he died.
Fortune smiles on the SPCA
Slowly, the society was growing from strength to strength, and by 1834 one of the committee members, Sir John de Beauvoir, went to Paris where, with French help, a society was subsequently started. But it was in the following year that fortune smiled on the SPCA. It came in the form of a letter dated July 4, 1835, from Kensington Palace, and it read:
'I have laid before the Duchess of Kent your letter of the 2nd inst. And its enclosure, relating to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals and Her Royal Highness very readily acceded to your request that her name and that of the Princess Victoria be placed on the list of Lady Patronesses.'
Within two years the Princess was to become Queen Victoria and her encouragement of the Society's activities was immediate and generous. She not only permitted the society to add the important prefix "Royal" to its name, but when the RSPCA asked her permission to establish a Queen's Medal, Victoria herself carefully sketched a cat into the group of animals in the proposed design. Ever since, the RSPCA has had a close association with Royalty.
More and more branches were opened- in Dublin, Wakefield, Plymouth. Sister societies sprung up abroad, in the most unlikely places as the British pattern was copied in Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Holland.
Many countries applied directly to the RSPCA for help in starting up similar organisations, though in many cases the Society did not wait for other countries to ask. It approached overseas powers through official channels, asking them to add animal welfare legislations to the laws of their country, while in some countries, local British residents took the initiative, starting societies in cities like Naples and Turin.
A fascinating digression
Now comes a fascinating slice of history even if it is a digression- the curious manner in which the RSPCA by chance became involved in leading the way to the formation of another great society-the NSPCC(National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The trail that was to help children can be said to have started in New York where-as a direct result of British efforts-magnificent work had been done in suppressing cruelty to animals in the United States. Two men were responsible for the early efforts: the Secretary of the RSPCA in London, Mr John Colam, and Mr Henry Bergh of New York who, helped by Mr Colam, founded the American SPCA in New York with branches soon flourishing in many American cities. But what had this to do with children?
One day in New York a woman who did a lot of charitable work was sitting by the bed of a dying woman and asked: 'Is there anything more I can do for you?' To her astonishment she received an incredible reply. 'Yes, please, madam. In the next room there lives a woman who has a child. She leaves it alone every morning without food, and when this woman comes home at night, she beats the poor child so severely that her shrieks distress me.'
'A little animal'
The lady accepted the message as a dying charge and went to the police. There she was told firmly that the police could not interfere between parents and children. She then consulted her lawyer. He tried to persuade her from pursuing the matter. Indeed he refused to take up the case.
Undaunted, the lady went to Mr Bergh whose work for animals was well known,- and told a white lie. 'There is a little animal suffering from the unkind treatment of a bad woman.' Bergh immediately promised to interfere on behalf of the 'little animal.' Only then was he told that the victim was a child.
'Well! You've done this cleverly,' replied Bergh. 'But don't worry-I will not go back on my promise.'
Sure enough, the SPCA investigated the matter and brought the case before the court where it was contended successfully that the child was an animal. Mr Bergh was commended and the child was given proper care. The immediate result was that Mr Bergh was inundated with so many cases of cruelty to children that a New York society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was formed.
The news quickly reached John Colam at the RSPCA in London, and his immediate reaction was to try and persuade Britain to start a similar institution. Thanks largely to Colam- backed by Dr Barnado among others-his efforts succeeded and by 1886 the NSPCC was being granted the use of the RSPCA's boardroom in Jermyn Street for its meetings.
The help of the RSPCA forming this sister organisation was given public acknowledgement at a meeting in the Royal Albert Hall in 1887 when the Rev. Benjamin Waugh, usually regarded as the founder of the NSPCC, said: 'Your Society, the RSPCA, has given birth to a kindred institution whose object is the protection of defenceless children. That Society owes its present position greatly to the help afforded by your Society, and especially are we indebted to Mr Colam, for the wonderful energy and discernment he has thrown into the work of the establishment of the offspring born of your admirable institution.'
Mr Colam became a member of the NSPCC Council and Committee, and thus began a liaison between the two bodies which has continued happily ever since.
A ridiculous charge
The history of how the RSPCA came to be so closely linked with the NSPCC would seem to be the appropriate moment to digress once again-and deal with one of the silliest charges regularly leveled at the RSPCA; that animal charities receive more support than those for humans. Nothing could be more ridiculous-yet it is the sort of mischievous statement that too many people believe. The RSPCA went into the allegations very thoroughly some years ago, and discovered that out of every shilling given to charity in Britain, only one halfpenny went to the benefit of animals, and this figure does not include money given to religious bodies, much of which obviously must be used for the welfare of men and women.
Another ridiculous statement frequently leveled at the RSPCA is that animal charities receive better financial support than children's charities. In point of fact, out of every sixpence given at the last analysis, fivepence was devoted to children, one penny to animals.
As the years rolled by, the activities of the RSPCA grew more and more widespread. Not only was the Society concerned with bringing cruelty cases to court; equally important was its painstaking effort to get new Bills on the Statute Book, its magnificent work in alleviating the cruelty in the slaughter of animals. In one period of ten years the RSPCA spent over £250,000 on advocating humane slaughter. It financed mechanical stunning devices, bought the patents of other humane inventions. Men from all walks of life-as different as the author John Goldsworthy and Sir Bernard Spilsbury-have gone into the attach' on behalf of the RSPCA's demand for slaughterhouse reforms. Galsworthy wrote a series of damning articles in the daily Mail which were of tremendous help.
Protection from man
In the early days one animal above all merited the attention of the Society-ironically the one animal which least of all should have needed protection from man: the horse.
Of course in the early days of the Society, Britain was entirely dependent on the horse for the land transport of humans and freight. Stephenson's famous locomotive "The Rocket' was not built until 1829-seven years after Martin's Bill became law-and the stagecoach was still the chief means of traveling.
This pleasant afternoon is not perhaps the appropriate moment to dwell too much on the misery of the horses of those days. Often they could not be watered in times that were hard (for both man and beast, it must be said). Cab horses were mercilessly beaten and half starved. There were no legal limits to the amounts which draught horses could be forced to pull.
Over the years, the Society issued thousands of copies of 'The Horse Book' dealing with the care of horses. It made attempts to improve harness-on one occasion, in 1874, with the help of our old friend Mr Bergh of the New York SPCA who had helped to save the ill-treated child, Mr Bergh arranged for a special kind of harness to be sent to England where it came into general use, affording enormous relief to horses drawing two-wheeled carts.
Quick release from harness
In a curious manner, the centuries were spanned when the Society advocated a quick-release device to disengage a fallen horse from his harness. It proved invaluable-indeed it was so practical that it is still used today by yachtsmen the world over, and was supplied to airborne troops in World War Two so that they could quickly disengage themselves from their parachute harness.
Horse busses and horse trams caused great concern to the Society. It is not difficult to imagine how the horses suffered with the constant stopping and starting, to say nothing of the frequent use of the whip. At first the busses had no brakes, but one of the great workers for the Society, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, came to the rescue. A suitable brake had been invented and she arranged for the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) to come and see it. He gave it his approval-and before long there was a brake on every bus.
Around the same time John Colam (who so actively helped to start the NSPCC) invented a device operated by a spring which assisted the starting of a tram, and thus eased the load for the horses.
(Baroness Burdett-Coutts, by the way, was born in 1814, and was a great friend of Queen Victoria's. A remarkable figure, with her shawl drawn across her shoulders, in the Victoria era. She had enormous energy. Nothing dismayed her, and her horizons knew no bounds. She founded the Costermonger's Club, she endowed churches and schools, she ran a fund for sufferers in the Russo-Turkish Wat, she helped Irish fishermen, she helped Dyaks in Borneo. A vice-patron of the RSPCA since 1839, she worked 60 years for the Society and founded the Ladies Education Committee. She lived through five reigns, and when she died in 1906 she was buried in Westminister Abbey, with two inspectors of the RSPCA attending the lying-in-state.)
ARP for animals
As the clouds of a new world war darkened the face of the earth in the late thirties, the RSPCA went on to a war footing. Though horses were not to be used on battlefields as much as previously, everyone knew this would be a war on civilians, and in the Greater London area just before 1939, the animal population consisted of 40,000 horses, 9,000 cattle, 6,000 sheep, 18,000 pigs, 400,000 dogs and an estimated million-and-a half cats. The Society published a pamphlet, "Air Raid Precautions for Animals,' setting out what should be done if or when the blitz started. It proved to be a best-seller, went into six editions, and sold more than 100,000 copies.
During World War Two, the RSPCA rescued 256,000 animals during bombing or shelling raids. Those inspectors who had not been called for military service ran animal clinics in many parts of Britain, helped by veterinary surgeons and volunteers. Shelters for horses sprang up in garages no longer needed because of petrol rationing. Even the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace became an animal shelter-affording refuge to horses from a nearby bombed brewery during a raid. Eleven of the Society's clinics were damaged in raids. The one at Southwark, London, was obliterated by a direct hit and its manager killed.
Not all animal rescue operations were easy, not all could be done according 'to the book'. On one particular Sunday morning after an all-night blitz, RSPCA officials went to the East End of London, which had been badly hit. Walking across the acres of broken glass- will anyone who lived through those days ever forget that Sunday?-they were searching for animals in need of help.
The found three horses. Miraculously they were unhurt, but they had been trapped in their stables by wrecked buildings surrounding them. There was only one way to freedom. They would have to be brought one by one through the hall of a half-demolished house.
Pull down the hall!
It seemed an excellent plan-until the first horse got stuck in the hall. Its girth was too wide. Now there was only one thing left to do-pull down the hall! The house had been smashed by a bomb anyway, so men from the demolition squad took down the hallway a few bricks at a time until the horse-which seemed to accept the situation quite calmly-was free to proceed.
While the civilian animals had to be taken care of, a great deal of assistance was needed for the horses and mules in the war fronts-particularly those used by our allies. Over £55,000 was raised on a special appeal, so that 150 veterinary chests and thousands of horse blankets could be sent to Greece. Other supplies went to Syria and Lebanon, and when hostilities ended there, the remaining materials were sent on to Greece. Today the RSPCA treasures a letter from the Hellenic Minister, which reads:
'I have been requested by cable by Her Royal Highness Princess Katherine to convey to the RSPCA her most heartfelt thanks for the 150 cases full of veterinary supplies for horses and mules of our army which have just arrived. HRH adds that she is most deeply touched and grateful allow me once more to add my personal gratitude for the assistance granted to us by your Society.'
Greece was over-run. But now Russia was in desperate straits-and employing many thousands of horses. In 1942 alone supplies worth £27,000 were sent by the Society-only eight per cent being lost by enemy action.
At the end of the war, Field-Marshall Viscount Montgomery sent a letter of appreciation to the RSPCA:
'I wish to express, through you and your Committee, my sense of gratitude to all those who, by their financial contributions, have made it possible for your Society to provide means to alleviate the suffering of animals needed during the 1939-45 War. This help had been of great use to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and I would like to express my appreciation of the fact that the lot of animals who have helped us to win the War has not be forgotten.'
BOOKS AND ARTICLES ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE RSPCA
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals, The Times 17 June 1824 (a report of the inaugural meeting of the SPCA)
Harrison, Brian, animals and the State in Nineteenth-Century England, English Historical Review October 1973, p 786-820
Fairholme, E G & Pain, W, A Century of Work For Animals: the History of the RSPCA 1824-1924
Lynam, Shevawn, Humanity Dick, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975
Moss, Arthur W, Valiant Crusade: the History of the RSPCA, London: Cassell, 1961
Pain, Wellesley, Richard Martin, London: Leonard Parson, 1925
Brown, Antony, Who Cares for animals?: 150 years of the RSPCA, London: William Heinemann Ltd 1974/SBN 434 90189x
Budd, Wallace, Hear the Other Side: The RSPCA in South Australia 1875-1988, Australia, Investigator Press Pty. Ltd. ISBN 0 85864 112 7
Ryder, Richard, Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research - Chapter 14 The History of Compassion, London, Davis-Poynter Ltd., ISBN 0 7067 0151 8