Robert Dingley, founder of The Magdalen Hospital

Having already written about The Magdalen Hospital we thought it would make an interesting article to provide a little more information about one of its founders – Robert Dingley. Robert was later referred to by Mary Ann Radcliffe in ‘The Female Advocate‘ as ‘the first humane proposer of the charity‘.

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London and a descendant of Sir John Dingley of Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight.

Robert was an extremely busy man, with fingers in many pies it appears. He took a keen interest in the arts and was an active member of  The Society of Antiquaries from 1734 and ‘dabbled in architecture‘ ; became a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1748; was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, along with Sir Francis Dashwood about whom we have previous written in connection with The Dunston Pillar; held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and according to The Whitehall Evening Post of March 30th, 1749 he was appointed Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

On December 30th 1744 Robert married into another affluent family, his first wife being Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Stamford Mercury 03 January 1745

The couple had three children Susanna (born November 22nd, 1745) and Robert Henry Dingley in 1746. A later child Elizabeth who was born 19th June 1748 did not survive infancy.

In 1759 his first wife Elizabeth died leaving Robert to raise two teenage children.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

With this in mind Robert wasted no time and married his second wife, Esther Spencer, sister and heir of Thomas Spencer, the following year, on 21st March 1760.

For someone who led such a public life the newspaper report of his death was succinct to say the least –

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 9, 1781 – August 11, 1781

Died yesterday at Lamb-Abbey. Near Eltham, aged 72, Robert Dingley Esq.

However, there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church. Esther died 1784.

An interesting piece appeared some years after his death in Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Saturday, September 9, 1786, just after the death of Jonas Hanway.

So what became of Robert’s children, well his daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds
Reynolds, Joshua; Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child; The Wallace Collection

Susanna and Richard had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

His son, Robert Henry took holy orders and became the rector of Beaumont cum Mose and south Shobury, Essex until his death in March 1793.

Robert Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a governor of Magdalen Hospital, as did Robert’s second wife, Esther.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

Portrait, three-quarter length seated wearing velvet suit and long white wig, directed to right holding a book open on right knee to show the title-page of ‘An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Charity’ faced by a picture of a woman, his left arm on arm of his chair beside a table on which are papers bound with ribbons; after Hoare.

 

Sources Used

ODNB

The Ipswich Journal 19 November 1748

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 2 By Edward Hasted

An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Hospital By William Dodd

 

Rehab for 18th century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

So you’ve sinned and need rehabilitation in eighteenth-century London; where would you go? Well, that was easy, you applied to The Magdalen hospital in London. The hospital was established by laymen rather than the clergy, in particular a Robert Dingley (*see end of article for more information) who, with a committee including Rev. William Dodd, referred to it as a hospital but who insisted that it be more akin to a home.

by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762) by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762)
by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762)

It was to be a safe place for girls and women in eighteenth-century London (similar hospitals were sent up around the world too) where they could be rehabilitated and resume a good and honest life.

Saint Mary Magdalene reading in a landscape, Correggio, Bonhams
Saint Mary Magdalene reading in a landscape, Correggio. Courtesy of Bonhams

The first general meeting to discuss setting up such a place took place on the 1st of June 1758 and it was agreed that:

There was to be a ‘superiority of ward, the lower wards to take ‘inferior person’ or those ‘degraded for misbehaviour’.  The women might be promoted to higher wards.

The matron was to inspect the inmates’ correspondence.

Inmates were to be known by their Christian names alone. If further differentiation were needed, the name of the ward, or a number, should be added.

Various kinds of employment were suggested

We then have the most poignant sentence at the end:

… always observing in this and every other circumstance the utmost care and delicacy, humanity and tenderness; so that this establishment, instead of being apprehended to be a house of correction, may be gladly embraced as a safe, desirable and happy retreat from their wretched and distressful circumstances.

It took very little time to raise the funds required and secure appropriate premises.  Staff were duly appointed.

Staff appointed

The first admission was Ann Blore, a native of Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Two other women were promised admission as soon as they were cured of disease. One was admitted as servant to the matron and Mary Truman was rejected as she wasn’t a prostitute.  Admissions day was the first Thursday of the month at 5pm and women were not permitted to be either pregnant or suffering from any disease.

Petition for AdmissionThe house was divided into parts in order to make total and distinct divisions of the objects, and the rooms were distinguished by being numbered.  The women were classed in each ward. A proper number of women were appointed to perform all the domestic business of their respective wards and the household and to keep the chapel clean. Each woman lay in a separate bed and had a box for her clothes and linen, under lock and key which was kept by herself. Strict regard was had by the matron and her assistants to ensure that the wards were kept completely ventilated and the air pure – they visited the chambers and working rooms frequently each day to ensure this. Friends or relations of the women could apply to visit and visits were held under the supervision of the matron.

Upon admission their clothes are taken from them and returned to them when they leave. They are issued with grey shalloon gowns, all women worn the same ‘uniform’. Their diet/meals were agreed by the overseeing committee with a copy of the meals being hung on a board in each ward.

A Magdalen in 1760

All women are actively employed in tasks suiting their ability predominantly sewing, any occupation that will aid employment when they leave.

From Lady-day to Michaelmas they rise at six and go to bed at ten; and from Michaelmas to Lady-day rise at seven and in bed at nine; and after that time no fire of candle are allowed, except in the sick ward.

Breakfast was taken at 9 o’clock and they were allowed half an hour, they dined at one o’clock and were allowed one hour; and left off work at six in the winter and seven in the summer.

Magdalen by Thomas Rowlandson
Magdalen by Thomas Rowlandson

The hospital had opened on 10th August 1758 and by its 10th anniversary some 1,036 women had been admitted.

509 had been reconciled to and received by their friends or placed in services in reputable families and to trades

38 proved lunatics, and afflicted with incurable fits

28 died

150 were uneasy under restraint and dismissed at their own desire

37 never returned from hospitals, to which they were sent to be cured

201 were discharged for faults and irregularities

73 were still present

Total 1,036

Did this method of reform work? Well seemingly so, if you believe the statistics, it did. To correct and to train rather than to punish seemed to be the order of the day. The hospital adapted to change over the years and finally closed its doors in 1966.

For anyone wishing to find out more about the Magdalene laundries in Ireland which were set up a few years after the one in London you may find wish to follow the link here.

Image of the hospital

 

*  More about Robert Dingley

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London. Robert took a keen interest in the arts and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and trustee at the Foundling home.

On December 30th 1744 Robert married Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Elizabeth was to die in 1759 and Robert married his second wife, Esther Spencer the following year, on 21st March 1760. Esther died 1784.

Robert died 1781 and there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth (Thompson) Dingley at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent
There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

They had a daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, who married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares' marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds; The Wallace Collection
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds; The Wallace Collection

The couple had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

Robert and his first wife also had a son Robert Henry Dingley.

There is no trace of Robert having left a will, but his second wife Esther left a will in which she made provision both of Robert’s children.

Sources Used:

The Magdalen Hospital: The Story of a Great Charity, 1917

An account of the rise, progress, and present state of the Magdalen Hospital, for the reception of penitent prostitutes. Together with Dr. Dodd’s sermons…, 1770

The Environs of London: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent

Featured Image:

Courtesy of British Museum