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History of the NSPCC

We may look very different today, but we have always strived to protect children.

The early days of child protection

Reverend Benjamin WaughThe late 19th century was a time of social deprivation and great hardship for many children. The Reverend George Staite summed up the inhumanity of the era in a letter to the Liverpool Mercury in 1881: “…whilst we have a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, can we not do something to prevent cruelty to children?”

Social attitudes made a very clear distinction between the public and private lives of Victorians, and even social reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury warned Staite against trying to protect children through legal means. He said:  “The evils you state are enormous and indisputable, but they are of so private, internal and domestic a nature as to be
beyond the reach of legislation.”

However, times were changing.On 8 July 1884, The London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established. Lord Shaftesbury was appointed as president and the Reverend Benjamin Waugh and Reverend Edward Rudolf as joint honorary secretaries.

A children's champion

After witnessing the levels of deprivation and child cruelty in Greenwich, London where he lived, Waugh's urgent priority was to draw public and government attention to the plight of children.

By 1889 the London Society had 32 branches throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Each branch raised funds to support an inspector, who investigated reports of child abuse and neglect.

At the 1889 annual general meeting the Society changed its name to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Queen Victoria became Patron and Waugh was appointed as director.

Changing the law to protect children

The first Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act was passed in 1889. This was largely the result of five years' vigorous lobbying by Waugh and his supporters. The NSPCC continues to uphold and develop the campaigning tradition established by its founder, acting as an independent voice for children and young people. Find out more about the laws that have been passed to protect children since 1889.


Since its establishment in London in the 1880s, the NSPCC has helped more than 10 million children in the UK. This is one achievement of which we are very proud, find out more about some of our achievements over the past 125 years.

In more recent years

Although our society is now radically different, the emergence of new and different social pressures means that the work of the NSPCC is as important today as it was in Victorian England. 

For more information, download a copy of our  History of the NSPCC  booklet.

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