The 1840s were harsh economic times. It was a time of destitution in the manufacturing districts. There was famine in Ireland and the Anti Corn Law League was formed.
In the autumn of 1845 a small group of architects met in the Freemasons’ Tavern on the south side of Great Queen Street, between Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Drury Lane, to consider setting up a fund for the relief of the more unfortunate members of their profession.
Many leading architects of the day promised their support and on 27 November 1850 the first formal General Meeting was held in the Freemason’s Tavern. There, the Architects Benevolent Society was born.
The objects of the Society were to provide relief to, “persons engaged or formerly engaged in the practice of architecture and the wives, widows, children and other dependants of such persons being in necessitous circumstances.” These objects remain the same today.
The achievements of the Architects Benevolent Society in the early years were relatively modest. By 1853 the assets totalled only £439 but the first four cases were recorded:
1st A widow with four children. ‘The strictest stringency was made into the circumstances of this case, and it was clearly ascertained to be one of a nature eminently deserving of our sympathy.’
2nd A professional gentleman ‘found to be reduced by a combination of untoward circumstances to a state of very painful destitution.’
3rd A widow with five children whose husband ‘unhappily had been too negligent of the future, and at his death his widow found herself with a large, young family in pecuniary difficulties against which she has ever since struggled most meritoriously.’
4th An architect ‘now in the evening of his life without any known relatives, overtaken by sickness and want; a paralytic attack having entirely disabled him from the exercise of his pencil.’
Surprisingly, these early cases are typical of the difficulties which still affect many people in the architectural profession today. While some architects achieve great distinction in their profession and can achieve considerable financial success, there are a significant number who suffer hardships of many kinds.
It is a disturbing fact that (on average) one in twenty members of the wider architectural profession will need to seek help from us at some stage in their lives.