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Reed, Sir Charleslocked

  • G. C. Boase
  • , revised by M. C. Curthoys

Reed, Sir Charles (1819–1881), educationist, third son in the family of five sons and two daughters of Andrew Reed, the philanthropist, and his wife, Eliza Holmes, was born at a farmhouse near Sonning in Berkshire on 20 June 1819, and was educated, successively, at Madras House, Hackney, under John Allen (1771–1839); at the Hackney grammar school; and at Silcoates School, near Wakefield in Yorkshire. As a youth he was admitted a professed member of his father's Congregationalist church, and for a time had thoughts of becoming a minister of the gospel. After attending lectures at University College, London, he was apprenticed in December 1836 to a firm of woollen manufacturers at Leeds. In 1839, with his friend Thomas Edward Plint, he started and edited a magazine called the Leeds Repository. He was active in civic institutions, being secretary of the Leeds Sunday School Union and the Leeds Literary Institution. A Liberal and free-trader, he supported Lord Morpeth's candidature for the West Riding in 1841. He took a voluntaryist position in educational controversies, acting as secretary to a London committee opposing Sir James Graham's Factory Education Bill in 1843. On 22 May 1844 he married Margaret (d. 1891), youngest daughter of Edward Baines (1774–1848), MP for Leeds.

In 1842, in conjunction with W. Tyler, Reed founded at Bolt Court, Fleet Street, London, the firm of Tyler and Reed, printers. In 1849 he left Tyler to continue the same trade with Benjamin Pardon of Hatton Garden. The firm afterwards moved to Lovell's Court, Paternoster Row. In 1861, when Reed's friend Alderman Robert Besley retired from the typefounding business, he took advantage of the new opening and set up a typefounding factory in Fann Street, City of London. The enterprise proved highly successful and, as Sir Charles Reed & Sons Ltd, became a flourishing concern.

In London, Reed continued his early interest in popular education. In 1844 he joined the Sunday School Union in London, and subsequently inspected numerous schools connected with the association in large towns. In 1851 he won a first prize offered by the London union for an essay on The Infant Class in the Sunday School, and he published many new-year addresses on the education of the poor. Those called respectively Diamonds in the Dust (1866) and The Teacher's Keys (1872) had a wide circulation. He supported the foundation, by the Congregational board of education, of Homerton College for training teachers. In politics, he was on the committee of the Protestant Dissenting Deputies from 1847, and supported the movement for disestablishing the Anglican church. During the 1847 general election he organized the publication of a weekly paper, the Nonconformist Elector.

In 1855 Reed became a member of the common council for the ward of Farringdon Within, and actively aided in developing the Guildhall Library, under the Public Libraries Act, and the City of London School. He also interested himself in the preservation of Bunhill Fields burial-ground and in the administration of the Irish Society's estates in Ulster, which he visited officially. He was one of George Peabody's British executors in 1869, and helped to carry out his philanthropic designs.

On 17 November 1868 Reed was returned to parliament as the first of two representatives for Hackney, after a contest between five Liberal candidates. By then his earlier radicalism had mellowed. He made his maiden speech on introducing a bill for exempting Sunday and ragged schools from poor rates, a measure which was carried into law. In 1870 he took a prominent part in the debates on the Elementary Education Bill, his stand in support of the bill marking a break from his earlier position. He advocated Bible instruction without sectarian teaching. On 6 February 1874 he was re-elected for Hackney, but, through a technical informality on the part of the returning officer, he was unseated on petition (14 April 1874), and, declining to be nominated again, suggested the selection of Henry Fawcett as candidate in his stead.

Out of parliament, Reed concentrated on his work for the London school board. He was elected member for Hackney to the first board on 27 November 1870, and in December he became the vice-chairman, and chairman of the works committee. On 10 December 1873 he was chosen chairman of the board in succession to Lord Lawrence, and held the position until his death. He worked to uphold the religious compromise which the 1870 act embodied, and defended Bible teaching in schools. As chairman he delivered and published seven valuable annual statements. Latterly he resisted pressure to abolish fees.

Reed visited America in 1873, and on his return was created a doctor of laws by Yale University. On 21 February 1874 he was knighted on Gladstone's recommendation by the queen at Windsor Castle. Throughout life he had antiquarian interests. In 1849 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and he assiduously collected keys and autograph letters. In 1861 he exposed as forgeries a collection of ‘pilgrims' signs’ said to have been found by workmen when excavating Shadwell Dock. In 1861 he assisted H. T. Riley in translating the Liber albus, the White Book of the City of London, published in the Rolls Series. For many years he contributed to Notes and Queries. He was author, with his brother Andrew, of Memoirs of the life of their father (1863), and he also took an active part in the direction of the Religious Tract, the British and Foreign Bible, and the London Missionary societies.

Reed entered parliament again when he was elected Liberal MP for St Ives (5 April 1880). He voted against his party in the Bradlaugh debates, deploring Bradlaugh's atheism. Worn down by contention on the London school board and the strain of all-night sittings during the Irish party's campaign of obstruction, he died at his home Earlsmead, Page Green, Tottenham, Middlesex, on 25 March 1881, and was buried in Abney Park cemetery.

Reed had four sons and four daughters, including Talbot Baines Reed and Eliot Pye Smith Reed who became chairman of Sir Charles Reed & Sons Ltd in 1890. The eldest son, Charles Edward Baines Reed (1845–1884), secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, was born in New Broad Street, City of London, on 24 July 1845. He entered the City of London School in 1857, and proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1864, where he gained a foundation scholarship, and graduated BA in 1868 in the first class of the classical tripos, and MA in 1871. After further theological study at New College, London, he became minister of Common Close Congregational Chapel at Warminster, Wiltshire, in 1871. In 1874 he was appointed one of the secretaries of the British and Foreign Bible Society and proved to be admirably fitted for that post. He wrote The Companions of Our Lord (1872) and a memoir of his father in 1883. He was accidentally killed while visiting Switzerland by a fall over a precipice near the Morteratsch glacier at Pontresina on 29 July 1884. He left a widow, Alice Elizabeth Reed, and at least one son.


  • C. E. B. Reed, Memoir of Sir Charles Reed (1883)
  • [G. J. Stevenson], Sir Charles Reed, chairman of the London school board: a life sketch (1884)
  • Daily News (26 March 1881), 5
  • ILN (20 Dec 1873), 609–10
  • ILN (2 April 1881), 329
  • The Graphic (14 Feb 1874), 146, 148
  • Biograph and Review, 4 (1880), 288–92
  • J. P. Parry, Democracy and religion (1986)
  • Boase, Mod. Eng. biog. [Charles Edward Baines Reed]
  • Venn, Alum. Cant. [Charles Edward Baines Reed]
  • Congregational Year Book (1885), 219–21 [Charles Edward Baines Reed]
  • CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1884) [Charles Edward Baines Reed]


  • portrait, 1876; at Hackney Town Hall in 1883
  • O. Ford, marble bust, 1881
  • Lock & Whitfield, woodburytype photograph, NPG; repro. in T. Cooper, Men of mark: a gallery of contemporary portraits (1880)
  • London Stereoscopic Co., carte-de-visite, NPG
  • G. J. Stodart, stipple, NPG; repro. in Reed, Memoir, frontispiece
  • chromolithograph, NPG
  • photograph, repro. in Stevenson, Sir Charles Reed: a life sketch (1880)
  • wood-engraving, NPG; repro. in ILN (2 April 1881), 329
  • wood-engraving, NPG; repro. in ILN (20 Dec 1873)

Wealth at Death

under £70,000: resworn probate, Aug 1881, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£13,592 11s. 3d.—Charles Edward Baines Reed: probate, 19 Aug 1884, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

F. Boase, , 6 vols. (privately printed, Truro, 1892–1921); repr. (1965)
Illustrated London News
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)