People are only too aware of the recent case of Baby P in which such adjectives as “unimaginable”, “scavenged” and “revulsion” appear in reports. One of the guilty also committed the rape of a two-year-old. Before that was the case of Victoria Climbie, who suffered 128 injuries, hypothermia and malnutrition in 2004.

These days such cases create outrage. How far we have come in little over a century – since the days of the man from Settle who was responsible for the creation of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Society still has a glaring need for the NSPCC and for that we should be eternally sad, but we should be grateful to Benjamin Waugh. Before him, Britain was a crueller place.

These are extracts from his book, Some Conditions of Child Life in England, published in 1889, the year the NSPCC was founded.

“It will be impossible to even mention the hosts of those special defilements and injuries done to girl children. They are vast in number and incredible in kind, and include large numbers of own fathers as the fearful criminals…

“There was the poor little boy of seven, the hated encumbrance of a father and stepmother, bound and sometimes gagged and thrust in an orange box … unfed all day long in a locked-up room….sending two starved, almost naked, little girls for half a hundredweight of coals in rain and sleet twice; immersing of a dying boy in a cold tub for an hour ‘to get his dying done’...

“Strapping a deaf and dumb boy because it was so extremely difficult to make him understand…”

Benjamin Waugh was born in Settle on February 20 1839. His mother, Mary, was known around the town as “the Good Samaritan”.

This selfless woman was committed to giving her children a charitable and Christian upbringing, but she died when Benjamin was only eight years old.

He referred to her teachings throughout his life and recalled, on returning to Settle in 1864: “Her name and memory are as fresh amongst the people here as, when 16 years ago, she fell asleep.”

As a child, Benjamin walked with his father James to the summit of Castleberg Rock “… to a favourite place of the dear life that had gone, and speak of her as ours still.” He must have learned compassion from his mother. One of his first selfless acts happened in Settle when the constable put two boys before the bench for stealing a turnip with which to make a lantern. Benjamin went before the bench to appeal that he had committed the same offence, but had not been found out.

Of fragile health, he was sent to Southport at the age of 14 but he was already showing an ability to organise and make speeches. He was elected as honorary secretary to the Southport branch of the United Kingdom Alliance, a temperance movement founded in Manchester in 1852.

His health gave concern that he would not be strong enough for a church career, but in 1862 he managed to study for the ministry and, during his training, he travelled the country and spoke at the Independent Chapel in Settle in April 1864.

His first pastoral role was in 1865 in Newbury, Berkshire, and it was here that he again noted the harsh prosecution of a child for stealing turnips. A speech to the court in the boy’s defence was perhaps the first step in a campaign which culminated in his convincing plea for the abolition of juvenile imprisonment.

He married Sarah Boothroyd in 1865 and later moved to the Independent Chapel at East Greenwich, London.

Working in the slums exposed him to the conditions and cruelties suffered by the poor. He created a flourishing church, founded a “Society for Temporary Relief in Poverty and Sickness” and set up a day home where working mothers left their children.

As a Congregationalist minister in the slums of London, Waugh was appalled at the deprivations and cruelties suffered, particularly by workhouse children.

He had been elected to the London School Board where he heard parents making excuses for not sending their children to school. That became the basis for his focus on establishing a society benefiting children and their needs. At the time the rights of parents were sacrosanct and they were the sole arbiters in respect of the health of their child.

In 1873, Waugh wrote The Gaol Cradle: Who Rocks It? in which he outlined the trials of many children aged from six to 14 for the most trivial of offences: taking bread, sweets or fruit or letting off fireworks meant a jail sentence. In 1875 there were 7,173 children in prison in England and Wales. And 927 of them were under 12.

Waugh subsequently urged the creation of juvenile courts and children’s prisons as a means of diverting children from a life of crime. He worked to raise awareness, lobbying government and publishing detailed reports of abuse and neglect.

Phillip Noyes, the NSPCC’s director of public policy, has said of Waugh: “He argued that, in England, children were not as well protected by the state as animals.”

Prosecutions for cruelty to animals had been taking place for 60 years.

“To make the point, he paraded children in animal blankets – what would now be considered a photo call – to show the public that children were really suffering.”

The London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was set up in 1884 after a visit by Thomas Frederick Agnew, founder of The Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (LSPCC).

Waugh knew that the reformers should speak for the whole country, not for individual towns, before the government would act and it took another five years before the society became the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). Queen Victoria was its first patron and Waugh its director.

The NSPCC lobbied to create the Children's Charter, which made harming a child an offence.

In 1885 The Criminal Law Amendment Act was passed, giving rights to children, and Waugh secured the insertion of a clause giving magistrates power to take the evidence of children too young to understand the nature of an oath.

Working for the London School Board, Waugh had a role in selecting and training school inspectors. For this he had a basic tenet: “Think only of the child!”

He confronted officialdom in matters of injustice to children and, when he did so, his supporters would say he was on the “Waugh-path”.

Many of the great and good joined his campaign but, according to Lord Channing, “Mr Benjamin Waugh was far and away the most striking figure.”

By 1889, the NSPCC had 30 inspectors looking out for children suffering neglect and abuse. In the society’s first five years it helped nearly 4,000 children and the estimate is that, by now, it has touched the lives of more than 10 million.

The crimes quoted at the start of this article were just some of the 1,400 cases brought to the NSPCC in its first five years, resulting in the convictions of 200 men and women.

Waugh died in 1908.

Contributor Brian Goodall is a semi-retired former Global Logistics provider who says he is now happier than he has been for many years working at Craven Museum. He is 62 and lives in Embsay.

* Would you like to write a history feature like this for the Herald? Send an email giving details, to or call her on 01756 794117