Catalogue descriptionENQUIRY DEPARTMENT

This record is held by London Metropolitan Archives: City of London

Details of A/FWA/C/D
Reference: A/FWA/C/D
Held by: London Metropolitan Archives: City of London, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Custodial history:

The Enquiry Department files were given case numbers in chronological order from 1 to c40000. In about the 1930s a new series of numbering was introduced in which one element was the number of the year preceeded by a running number, e.g., 6/36. Some of the older files which still existed at this date were given a new case number according to this system.


The files on individuals were originally part of the main series of files on charities. Sometime in the 1930s they appear to have been separated from the main series to form a separate series arranged alphabetically, rather than by case number.


Between 1932 and 1934 document files and key files were compiled for certain charities. Significant papers were abstracted from the general files, put into chronological order and numbered to form the document file. A report was produced summarising and analysing this evidence to form the key file.


Most of the files were microfilmed in the 1970s. In preparation for filming, the papers were removed from their tags and placed in new file covers. Some duplicates and flimsies were weeded. In certain cases files were given new volume numbers. The microfilms have been deposited in the Greater London Record Office, but are not generally available because of the confidential nature of the material filmed.

Publication note:

The C.O.S. began publishing the Annual Charities Register and Digest in 1882 as a guide to charities. The Annual Charities Digest is still published by the Information Department of the Family Welfare Association. Copies are available in the Greater London History Library.

Administrative / biographical background:

The Enquiry Department of Central Office was entrusted with the task of inquiring into fraudulent charities and exposing and, on occasion, prosecuting promoters of bogus charities and writers of begging letters. The work was supervised by the Administrative Committee who delegated this function to the Supervision Sub-Committee 1874-1875, succeeded by the Enquiry Supervision Sub-Committee 1875-1876, renamed the Mendicity Sub-Committee in 1876 and again renamed the Enquiry Sub-Committee in 1878. In 1884 the Administrative Committee resumed direct supervision of enquiry work until a new Enquiry Sub-Committee was formed in 1903.


The Charity Commission established in 1853 was only concerned with the proper management of endowed charities. A great number of voluntary charities had been founded in the 19th Century which were subject to very little legal control or supervision. The C.O.S. was concerned that charitable donations were going to largely worthless charities whose real objects were the financial gain and public reputation of the founder, to the loss of reputable charities. It was also unhappy about the many small illorganised charities with very similar objectives. The purpose of the Enquiry Department was to direct charitable giving away from unscrupulous imposters and almost worthless charities to philanthropic organisations not only of unimpeachable financial rectitude but with what the C.O.S. considered the most effective methods and most worthwhile objectives. For instance, the C.O.S. disapproved of voting charities, missions which distributed indiscriminate relief, charities run by an individual or a family without the backing of a committee, charities which failed to publish annual reports and lists of subscribers and donations, homes for children, fallen women or old people which investigation showed to be badly run, and the proliferation of small special hospitals.


The C.O.S. published a cautionary card listing notorious writers of begging letters and suspect charities which it distributed to its subscribers. It also produced reports on individual charities which were sent to anyone requesting information. For examples of the cautionary card, see A/FWA/C/A/03/035, p.284 [1898], A/FWA/C/A/03/043/01, p.248 1907, A/FWA/C/A/03/049/01, p.78 1913, and A/FWA/C/D/02/001, 1936-1947.


The work of the Enquiry Department in the 1930s has been described by B. E. Astbury, later Secretary to the Family Welfare Association, in an article in Social Work for January 1956 (reference A/FWA/HF/A/09/019. Largely as a result of recommendations made by the C.O.S., the House to House Collection Act was passed in 1939 "requiring every charitable organisation making such collections to obtain a police permit, to satisfy the authorities that the objects were not only charitable but, so far as could be ascertained, a necessary activity. Accounts showing the amount collected and the amounts spent on the objects of the charity had to be submitted, with the result that, overnight, hundreds of questionable charities were put out of business".


The Enquiry Department maintained a series of files on charities. Those that survive, only a small proportion of those that existed originally, were deposited in the Great London Record Office on 7 November 1983 (Acc.1898). The files contain copies of annual reports and appeal literature produced by the charity, letters from individuals inquiring into the bona fides of the charity and copies of the C.O.S. report on the charity. Sometimes they contain reports of a visit by a C.O.S. agent to a hospital, orphanage or other institution. They may include newspaper cuttings and correspondence and accounts of interviews with people concerned about the way in which a particular charity functioned.

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