London of the 1860s was, to borrow Charles Spurgeon’s expressive humor, “the city of Gog, Magog, and Fog!” Early optimism about the Industrial Revolution was now fading. An urban underclass was growing rapidly. Within this context evangelical Christians struggled with varying degrees of success—to work out the social responsibilities of their faith. Spurgeon declared that he and his congregation were determined “to show our love of truth by truthful love.”

By any standards, the involvement of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle congregation in social ministries was outstanding. In 1867, £23,360 was voluntarily given to the various causes of the church—the Pastors’ College, Almshouses, and the Sunday and Ragged Schools among them. But £7,000 went to one of the most interesting, significant, and least understood of these causes—the Stockwell Orphanage.

A New Enterprise

The summer of 1866 found Spurgeon looking for a new work in which to engage. Concerned about the advances of Tractarianism [a High-Church movement within the Church of England], he wanted to establish a Christian school. An unexpected gift of £20,000 from Anne Hillyard, the widow of an Anglican clergyman, led him in a different direction. By the end of 1867, four boys’ houses had been opened at Stockwell, followed during the 1880s by five houses for girls. Located on the Clapham Road, south of the River Thames, the row of boys’ houses faced a similar row of girls’ houses across an area of lawns and open play areas. Both the boys’ and girls’ institutions aimed to provide for the “free and gratuitous residence, maintenance, clothing, instruction, and education ...

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