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Sir Charles Reed MP

Sir Charles Reed MP FSA (1819 – March 25, 1881) was a British politician who served as Member of Parliament for Hackney and St Ives), Chairman of the London School Board, Director and Trustee of the original Abney Park Cemetery Joint Stock Company, Chairman of the Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee, associate of George Peabody, lay Congregationalist, and owner of a successful commercial typefounding business in London. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was knighted by the Queen at Windsor Castle in 1874. As a pastime he collected autographed letters and keys.



Charles Reed's father was the well-known Hackney philanthropist and Congregational Minister Dr. Andrew Reed, founder of the London Orphan Asylum at Clapton and other notable charitable institutions, who had studied theology under the Rev. George Collison. He is commemorated at Abney Park Cemetery with a tall obelisk of polished red granite.

Charles Reed married Margaret Baines (youngest daughter of Edward Baines M.P. from Leeds; and sister to Sir Edward Baines the nonconformist, politician, and newspaper editor). Their third son, Talbot Baines Reed (1852-1893), who was born in Hackney on April 3, 1852, was the well-known author of highly rated boys story books. Their second son, Andrew Holmes Reed (1848-1892), is commemorated with his brother Talbot at Abney Park Cemetery by a most eye-catching Celtic cross executed by O'shea in Kilkenny using sparkling grey Irish granite. Their first son, Charles Edward Baines Reed (1845-1884), who became a Reverend and Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, met with an accidental death in the Engardine, and was buried at Pontresina.


Charles Reed was educated at Madras House, Mare Street, Hackney, which is said to have been the most distinguished 19th-century school in the enlightened tradition of Ainsworth. The school's name was the idea of religious writer John Allen (d. 1839), who adopted the Madras system of schooling under which older pupils are appointed as 'monitors' and take partial responsibility for supervising the younger boys. Allen began the school in 1817, moving to larger premises at 208 Mare Street in 1821.

Business career

Reed's Business Premises at No 33 Aldersgate Street, London

Reed began the business side of his career in 1836 as an apprentice to a firm of woolen manufacturers at Leeds. In 1839, with his friend Thomas Edward Plint, he started and edited a magazine called The Leeds Repository, and on returning to London he co-founded the firm of Tyler & Reed, printers and typefounders in 1842. Reed changed business partners several times, becoming a partner in the famous Fann Street Foundry off Aldersgate Steeet in 1866 (which thereby became 'Reed & Fox'). The Fann Street business formed the basis for his own typefounding business Sir Charles Reed & Sons, whose office at 33 Aldersgate Street is illustrated.

The 'Reed' company name continued into the twentieth century long after Charles Reed's death, though under the proprietorship of Stephenson Blake & Co. who had bought bought Reed's business interests. At one time Reed's had been the larger of the two firms but it had difficulties in financing a modernisation programme as typography changed, and its once valuable equipment became out of date. Indeed Stephenson Blake's acquisition was thought at the time to be very generous as it looked to be buying little other than the Reed's name and reputation. Not long after, however, thorough cataloguing of Reed's typefaces proved to be a treasure trove. Designs such as the Clarendon typeface, which Charles Reed had originally acquired from Robert Besley & Sons of the Fann Street foundry, became very marketable once re-cast using new technology. Several of Reed's typefaces are now available for use in font collections on our computers, such as Clarendon, which is now owned by a German company (as a trademark of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG licensed through Linotype Library GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG).

Charles' son Talbot Baines Reed (1852-93), an author of books for boys, wrote the standard reference work on the history of typefounders in England, which went through may editions. It was said to be the most complete historical study in existence in any country before its editions were supplemented by new research in the 1950s.

Today, now that the City, in particular Fleet Street, is no longer the centre of book and newspaper printing, this era is over. The St Bride Printing Library in the City of London encourages wider public interest in the remarkable history of typefounding for the printed book and newspaper, which began with William Caxton's invention of the first printing press.

The Broadstairs lifeboat

There is a Fund associated with the Broadstairs Lifeboat and Sir Charles Reed. Founded in 1867, the Fund was originally established to help support seamen who risked their own lives to save others off the coast near Broadstairs. The following words are by Sir Charles Reed himself:—

Eight boatmen of Broadstairs [and their lugger—the Dreadnought] had for years done good service on the Goodwins. One night they went off in a tremendous sea to save a French barque; but though they secured the crew, a steam-tug claimed the prize and towed her into Ramsgate Harbour. The Broadstairs men instituted proceedings to secure the salvage, but they were beaten in a London law court, where they were overpowered by the advocacy of a powerful company. In the meantime they lost their lugger off the coast of Normandy, and in this emergency the lawyers they had employed demanded their costs. The poor men had no means, and not being able to pay they were taken from their homes and lodged in Maidstone Gaol. (I, Sir Charles) was then staying in Broadstairs, and an appeal being made (to me, I) wrote to the ‘Times’, and in one week received nearly twice the amount required. The bill was paid, the men were liberated and brought home to their families, and the balance of the amount, a considerable sum, was invested, the interest to be applied to the rewarding of boatmen who, by personal bravery, had distinguished themselves by saving life on the coast.

Election to the London School Board

One of the early London School Board schools: Stoke Newington High Street 1877

In 1870 Charles Reed was elected to the newly founded London School Board that was created following William Forster's Elementary Education Act of the same year which led to end of Ragged schools and other ad hoc charitable provision for the poor.

The London School Board was the first directly elected body covering the whole of London, and a pioneer for its time in other respects too - women were entitled to vote for its board members and also to stand for election as politicians.

Reed subsequently became vice-chairman and Chairman. He died in office in 1881.

Election as Hackney's first MP

Two parliamentary seats were allotted to Hackney by the Representation of the People Act, 1867 and Charles Reed became, in 1868, the first MP to be elected to represent Hackney, along with his deputy or running mate, Mr John Holms.

As a member of Britain's first Liberal government, he faced a vigorous opponent at the next election in April 1874 when Gladstone was defeated. Lieutenant William Gill stood against him for the Conservatives with support from the Independent newspaper who dubbed the constituency notorious hitherto as a hotbed of Radicalism.

With such vocal media support, the Conservatives aimed to improve on their previously marginal 10% share of the vote. The high profile campaign increased this to 31% but Gill still came bottom of the poll. However, the ballot was called into question on procedural grounds, with the result that a new election had to be called three months later. Charles Reed's place was taken by Professor Fawcett for the Liberals. He chose Holms again as his running mate in the two-seat constituency and this time Gill lost by only a small margin. However, Liberals were always returned until the constituencies of North, Central, and South Hackney were created in 1885.

After the Second World War the boundaries were redrawn, as also several times threreafter. Today the local seats are Hackney North & Stoke Newington represented by Diane Abbott MP, and Hackney South and Shoreditch represented by Meg Hillier MP.

Director of Abney Park Cemetery

Abney Park Cemetery Company Annual Report for the year ending April 5, 1875

Charles Reed had an interest in London's open spaces and their educational benefits, becoming a subscriber to the Abney Park Cemetery joint stock company in whose trust lay the hallowed parkland once owned by Lady Mary Abney and in whose leafy acres Dr Isaac Watts wrote his hymns.

Such Joint Stock Companies were associations of persons incorporated to promote a common purpose by joint financial contributions to a common stock. Their memorandum of association would set out what was being subscribed to, which could either be a strictly commercial enterprise or, if not (or not solely) for "the acquisition of gain", could be (or also be) to promote education, secure the preservation of a place with historical and religious associations, or for value as an arboretum or park, or some other useful or philanthropic object.

At Abney Park, the associated members were entrusted with several such objects, and sought to carefully maintain the site for its religious associations and open space value. It was the only surviving example of a landscape designed by the famous nurseryman George Loddiges and boasted a complete arboretum of 2,500 trees and shrubs of great significance. As the only New World cemetery design in Europe it had commissioned a unique entranceway in the Egyptian revival style to reflect its uniquely far-reaching ecumenical or non-denominational character. The originality of the entire design, and the motive force for acquisition and preservation of the land in Isaac Watts memory, had been the first Secretary of the Abney Park Cemetery Joint Stock Company, George Collison, whose father had be tutor to Charles Reed's father.

Charles Reed, with a firm understanding of the historical importance of the landscape and its educational value, won election as a Director to the company for sixteen years between 1866 and 1881 and was a principal influence on the company during its last decades as a joint stock company. The original company was constituted with broad 'charitable' objects to preserve Abney Park for public education and enjoyment as well as setting it out for burial, explaining why Charles Reed was also referred to as a Trustee, but the details of the constitution have not been successfully researched. Reed is buried at the cemetery near to its Church Street entrance, commemorated by an obelisk monument of polished grey granite.

Reed's passing marked the end of an era, for the founding investors or trustees of the old joint stock cemetery company had by now died or moved away and though they had encouraged a number of small investors to hold some stock for the original principles, it was decided to sell the company on the open market by incorporation as a thoroughly commercial venture under the new Companies Act. A new company was registered at the Stock Exchange on 19 March 1881 and after about a year was able to buy out the old company and its assets. The directors who survived Reed finally sold the park and its assets, with its expertise in the cemetery business, on 11 April 1882. One of the first commercial actions of the new company, although it had chosen to call itself the Abney Park Cemetery Company rather than a general cemetery company for north London, was to lay out a new cemetery at Chingford Mount in 1883-4. This was followed by others at Hendon Park and Greenford.

Chairman of Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee

List of members of the Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee

The Bunhill Fields burial ground is an ancient open space. Until its closure in the mid nineteenth century, many historically important people (particularly those whose religious beliefs dissented from the Established Church), chose this as their place of quiet interment on the edge of the City.

The nineteenth century poet and writer Robert Southey gave Bunhill Fields the memorable appellation: the Campo Santo of the Dissenters; a phrase that also came to be commonly applied to its 'daughter' cemetery at Abney Park. This was a reference to its historical importance as a burial place for religious figures such as John Bunyan and Dr Isaac Watts.

Victorian monument to John Bunyan paid for by public subscription on the preservation of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground as a public park

In a move to prevent the land from being built upon on expiry of a longstanding lease, the Corporation of the City of London formed a Special Bunhill Fields Burial Ground Committee in 1865; which became formally known as the Bunhill Fields Preservation Committee. The committee, appointed by the Corporation, consisted on twelve advisors under the chairmanship of Charles Reed.

Following the work of the committee, the City of London Corporation obtained an Act of Parliament in 1867 for the Preservation of Bunhill Fields Burial Ground as an open space laid out as a public open space with seating, gardens, and the restoration of some of its most worthy monuments. The new park was opened by the Lord Mayor on October 14, 1869.

Charles Reed's close involvement in the campaign to save Bunhill Fields, and his continuing involvement thereafter, unveiling the new monuments such as that to Daniel Defoe funded by 'The Christian World', reflected his longstanding interest in social and educational improvement in The City of London, where he was a member of the court of common council.


Sir Charles Reed MP FSA died at 'Earlsmead', Tottenham High Road, on March 25, 1881 and is buried at Abney Park Cemetery.

Besides the aspects of his life mentioned above, Charles Reed was widely involved in other philanthropic circles. He was an associate of George Peabody for whom Reed moved the motion of 10 July 1862 granting Freedom of the City of London; and active in The London Missionary Society, The Bible Society, The Sunday School Union, and The Religious Tract Society; besides developing the Guildhall Library of the City of London School whilst a City councillor, and becoming MP for St Ives in Cornwall in 1880 shortly before his death.

Further reading

  • Stephenson Blake, R. Millington, Oak Knoll Press/British Library: 2002
  • Memoir of Sir Charles Reed, C.B.E.Reed, Macmillan:1883


Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Hackney
1868 – 1874
With: John Holms
Succeeded by
John Holms
Henry Fawcett
Preceded by
Charles Tyringham Praed
Member of Parliament for St Ives
1880 – 1881
Succeeded by
Charles Campbell Ross
Government offices
Preceded by
Lord Lawrence
Chairman of the London School Board
1873 – 1881
Succeeded by
Edward North Buxton


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