London Catalyst was established in 1873 when the Lord Mayor of London invited religious and hospital leaders to a meeting at the Mansion House. Appalled by the effect of inadequate housing and sanitation on the health of the poor, they decided that on one day each year, in places of worship throughout Greater London, a collection should be made towards improving the health of Londoners.
Founding members included Florence Nightingale (nurse and medical pioneer), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (first British woman to qualify as a doctor), Baroness Burdett-Coutts (philanthropist and heiress to the Coutts bank) and William Henry Smith MP (philanthropist and founder of WH Smith).
Queen Victoria became Patron of the Fund in 1874 and the royal patronage has continued to this day. London Catalyst is privileged to have as our Patron Her Majesty the Queen. In 2016 we were proud to support ‘The Patron’s Lunch’, a celebration of Her Majesty’s patronage of more than 600 charities and organisations in the UK and across the Commonwealth on the occasion of her 90th birthday.
Our memorandum of association requires the charity to have two trustees from religious denominations and one representing the medical or social work profession. The charity maintains its historical link to London’s faith communities, social work and medical professions through its membership.
The charity has been in existence for over 140 years and its history is interwoven with the emergence of the modern welfare state.
For a fascinating insight into the social conditions of Victorian London you may wish to read: ‘A reflection on sickness and poverty in London in the late 19th century ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times’ – By Beverley Cook, Curator of Social History at the Museum of London. A look back at sickness and poverty in Victorian London.
'in London there are a number of what may be termed, owing to their wandering, unsettled habits, nomadic tribes…who neither follow a regular pursuit, nor have a permanent place of abode.” ‘Street Life in London’ - Thomson & Smith 1877
‘There can be no doubt that the poverty of the working classes of England is due, not to their circumstances (which are more favourable that those of any other working population in Europe); but to their improvident habits and thriftlessness. If they are ever to be more prosperous it must be through self-denial and forethought.’ - Charity Organisation Review, 1881
'To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal things - but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature.' - Charles Dickens
‘the average age of death of a homeless person is between 40 and 42 years, and a homeless drug user admitted to hospital is seven times more likely to die over the next five years than a housed drug user admitted with the same medical problem.’ - London Pathway 2012
A Victorian philanthropist
The Fund’s great benefactor was undoubtedly George Herring (1833–1906) who donated throughout his life and in his will a cumulative £1.3 million (c£25 million today). He was a self made man with exceptional powers of calculation who, legend has it, began as a carver in a boiled – beef shop. He found work as a turf commission agent before he left the racing world for high finance in the city where he made his fortune. An eminent philanthropist of his day he was a modest man who eschewed all public honours.
George Herring obituary as reported in ‘The Turf’, November 1906
Here you can find our most recent Annual Report & Accounts and a review of 140 years of grant making.
Director & Company Secretary: Victor Willmott
Grants Administrator: Alison Beck
Board of Directors (Trustees)
Ms Margaret Elliott, Chairman
Dr Ruth Kosmin
Mr Charles Davidson
The Reverend Adrian McKenna-Whyte
Mr Mark Palframan
Ms Zoe Camp
Dr Muhammad Bari
Mr Philippe Granger
Dr Sarah Divall
Sector contacts and networks
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