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date: 05 April 2020

Smith, Henry [nicknamed Dog Smith]free

  • Tim Wales

Smith, Henry [nicknamed Dog Smith] (1549–1628), benefactor, was born in Wandsworth, Surrey, in May 1549. His father, according to a later genealogy, was Walter Smith of Gloucestershire, first cousin of the courtier and landowner Sir Thomas Smith of Campden in the same county; his mother was the daughter of Thomas Wolphe, also of Gloucestershire. Henry became a citizen of London and a member of the Salters' Company. In 1597 he was living in the parish of St Dunstan-in-the-East; in 1611 he bought a house in Silver Street, in the parish of St Olave, Silver Street, where he lived until his death. The name of his wife, who died before him, is unknown. They had no children. In February 1609 Smith was elected and sworn alderman of Farringdon Without ward, but was discharged in May.

The sources of Smith's fortune remain difficult to discern until he was well into his forties, obscured by the sheer commonness of his name. By the late 1590s he was engaged in the morally controversial business of moneylending: after his death the attorney-general darkly commented 'that there was one Mr Smith in London a man well knowne what he was' (Calder, 79). In April 1597, for example, Thomas Waller borrowed £1125 from Smith on the security of two manors and marshland in Kent. In 1616 and 1620 Robert Devereux, third earl of Essex, bound himself to repay Smith debts of £103 6s. 8d. and £525. By the time of his death Smith had acquired property in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Middlesex, and Kent. The heart of his landholding, and of his main network of debt and credit in the 1620s, lay in Sussex. In 1595 he bought the manor of Eastbrook in Southwick from the earl of Nottingham. A few years later he bought an estate in Warbleton, in satisfaction of a debt. Most significant of all was Smith's involvement in the fortunes of the Sackville family, earls of Dorset. In 1606 he was a witness to the marriage agreement between Sir Edward Sackville (later fourth earl of Dorset) and Mary Curzon; he remembered the bride in his will, leaving her £200 to divide between her children. As the debts of Richard, the third earl, soared, Smith also became involved in his financial expedients, eventually buying the Dorset mansion at Knole, Kent, and leasing it back to the family for £100 per annum.

In October 1620 Smith established a series of trusts in his first attempt to ensure that, following his death, his wealth would be distributed for charitable purposes. However, Smith's plan was thrown into disarray at Easter 1624 by the premature death of the third earl of Dorset. This risked the stability of Smith's legal arrangements with the family and exposed him to debts of £9000 owed by trustees who had all been linked to the third earl or to the county of Sussex. Thereafter Smith's charitable intentions for his estate took shape by gifts, a new deed (26 Jan 1627), and by his will (24 April 1627). Smith gave £1000 apiece to five Surrey towns: Kingston (in June 1624), Croydon, Dorking, Farnham, and Guildford. In his will he added Reigate and Richmond, both to receive £1000 (the latter relying on a debt which was never fully repaid), with a further £500 to Wandsworth. For these bequests, Smith drew on a powerful example: 'the setting of the pore on worke and for binding them apprentices and for the teaching and educacon of poore children as is now used or begunn in the Towne of Dorchester' (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/153, fol. 9r). By doing so, he urged as a model the town's hospital set up as part of an ambitious bid for moral and social reformation. A similar godly impulse was displayed in his leaving £10,000 'for the purchasing and buying in of impropriacons [of tithes] for the releife and maintenance of godlie preachers and the better furtherance of knowledg and Religion'. This was the agenda of the puritan feoffees for impropriations. In 1633 the attorney-general used the fact that they had urged Smith's business associate and trustee William Rolfe to persuade him to leave them money as evidence of the feoffees' willingness 'to procure mony by any meanes though unfit … using a Scrivener to get mony from an Usurer' (Calder, 63). This bequest depended on the repayment of debts of £10,000: some was retrieved and £300 went to the maintenance of the Dorchester clergy. Smith's will also included two bequests of £1000 to be laid out for property to bring in at least £60 per annum: one for the relief of his poor kin, the other 'for the use of the poore Captives being slaves under the Turkish pirates' (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/153, fol. 9r). The 58 acres his trustees bought for these purposes in South Kensington and Chelsea, initially bringing in £130 per annum, would become by far the most valuable part of the bequest in the nineteenth century, when Smith's charity estate was the site of a series of planned housing developments.

From the sums not otherwise disposed of, Smith's trustees were to fund parish charities from the rents of land he left or they bought. Smith prescribed the poor who should receive relief in ways that sharply etched conventional understandings of need and worth. Recipients were to be the aged and infirm poor, 'married persons having more children born in lawful wedlock than their labours can maintain', orphans, and 'such poor people as keep themselves and families to labour and put forth their children apprentices at the ages of fifteen' (Decree, 8). Those excluded from the charity were any given to 'excessive drinking, whoremongers, common swearers, pilferers, or otherwise notoriously scandalous'. The disobedient and the unsettled were also excluded, including vagrants and those who had not lived in the parish for five years. Smith wished for a stock to provide work for those able to labour. The aged and impotent poor were to receive either clothing—'apparel of one colour, with some badge or other mark, that the same may be known to be the gift of the said Henry Smith'—or 'bread and flesh and fish, upon each Sabbath day publickly in the parish churches of each of the said parishes' (ibid., 26). Henry Smith died on 3 January 1628 at his house in Silver Street, and was buried in the chancel of All Saints' Church, Wandsworth, on 7 February. A monument on the wall shows him kneeling in his aldermanic robes; beneath it an inscription records his bequests.

The nature of Smith's subsequent charity owed much to his executors and trustees. By deeds enrolled in chancery in December 1641, when the purchase of property and apportionment of rents was settled, £1619 was allotted annually to 205 parishes. Of these estates, about one-half had been owned by Smith at the time of his death, with the rest later purchased with funds from his estate. Virtually every parish in Surrey, Smith's home county, received a bequest, as did a further seventy-five parishes in twenty-one counties (ranging from only one parish in each of seven counties, to thirteen in Sussex). About a half of the parishes received £1 to £5 per annum. Fewer than a tenth of the parishes received over £10 per annum (Pershore in Worcestershire received the most, £50 per annum). Trustees' local connections explain why some parishes were included; for example, the landed interests of Richard Lumley, Viscount Lumley of Waterford, benefited at least four parishes in Sussex and six in co. Durham (including Hartlepool, where Lumley was lord of the manor). By no means all the trustees were puritans: Lumley had been a Roman Catholic and held his castle for the king in the civil war while Richard Gurney was the royalist lord mayor in 1642. But some, including the earl of Essex and William Rolfe, certainly were, and such a voice among them (possibly Smith's nephew Henry Jackson) may explain why the godly parishes of Terling and Braintree in Essex were also beneficiaries.

Smith's prescriptions were then adapted by generations of parish officers and the poor themselves. The distribution of his bequest no doubt became part of the rituals of charity and authority in parish life, and a significant adjunct to the livelihoods of many poor. The terms of the bequest were often adapted to local circumstances: gifts in clothing, weekly allocations of bread, or as an annual dole. Smith's ambition to establish working schools in Surrey's towns seems to have come to little. In the 1720s Kingston used its bequest as a clothing charity, while in Guildford money originally intended to establish a manufactory for the young poor was instead given to 'such persons as the mayor and his brethren think proper' (Ward, 33). Some parishes overtly echoed Smith's concern with worthiness, distributing 'amongst those poor which endeavour to subsist without help from the parish book' or 'honest, laborious people' (ibid., 50, 21). By 1869 the charity commissioners saw Smith's beneficence in a different light, lamenting the indiscriminate nature of its distribution to a clamorous poor who expected it as a right.

Smith was commemorated on the benefaction boards in many parish churches and—where local officers chose to follow this part of his instructions—in his initials badged on the clothing given to the poor (as they did in St Thomas, Southwark, in 1632). He was also remembered in a nickname and the story which developed around it: that he had been a beggar 'and was commonly called Dog Smith, because he had a dog which always followed him' (Gwilt, Notices, 34). The antiquarian Nathanael Salmon noted in 1736 how he was identified, 'in serious descriptions of Surrey', as Dog Smith (ibid., 35), and recounted stories of him begging bones for his beloved dog. The parish where he had been whipped as a vagrant paid the price by being the only one in Surrey omitted from Smith's bequests—this being, in Salmon's account, Mitcham. In the story's most elaborate form, Smith rewarded Leatherhead with a whip for having flogged him, while the women of Ashstead who had cursed him and refused him alms earned their parish a scold's bridle. The story itself has to be nonsense (all the parishes in the various versions received money from the charity). Yet this local legend tied Smith to a different understanding of charity from the formal regulations of his endowment. In Salmon it was a story of nostalgia for a time of bounteous hospitality. Against claims for the demoralization of the poor by such charity, a Victorian account cited:

An old woman of seventy in my parish [who] receives ten shillings annually, and expends it regularly on a Christmas joint, a plum-pudding, and a bottle of gin. Perhaps none but a teetotaller would see any harm in this old lady's festivities at Mr. Smith's expense.

All the Year Round, 1873, 464–5

In 2010 the Henry Smith Charity, its remit long widened and remodelled, distributed £25.9 million in grants to a wide range of projects responding to problems of social exclusion and deprivation, and medical care and research.


  • C. P. Gwilt, Notices relating to Thomas Smith of Campden, and to Henry Smith, sometime alderman of London (1836)
  • J. Gwilt, Appendix: evidences relating to the estates of Henry Smith Esquire, sometime alderman of the City of London (1828)
  • W. Bray, Collections relating to Henry Smith, Esq., some time alderman of London: the estates by him given to charitable uses, and the trustees appointed by him (1800)
  • The decree, deed of uses, and will, of Henry Smith, Esq: by which divers estates are settled to charitable uses (1781)
  • ‘Descent of Henry Smith, Esq., alderman of London’, GM, 107/1 (1837), 149–51
  • D. Stroud, The South Kensington estate of Henry Smith's charity: its history and development (1975)
  • E. Turner, ‘Memoir of Henry Smith, Esq., commonly known as “Dog Smith”; with a brief account of his Sussex charities’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 22 (1870), 30–49
  • will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/153, fols. 8v–11r
  • I. M. Calder, Activities of the puritan faction of the Church of England, 1625–33 (1957), 30n., 63–4, 79, 88, 112
  • HoP, Commons, 1604–29, 3.35–7, 237–8; 4.313–15; 5.168–71, 325–6, 489–91; 6.78–9, 814–15
  • CPR, 1596–7, 70–71; 1597–8, 120; 1599–1600, 191
  • Longleat House, Wiltshire, Devereux papers, DE Box IX/143, 151
  • marriage settlement of Sir Edward Sackville and Mary Curzon, CKS, Sackville papers, U269 C356/1
  • A. B. Beaven, ed., The aldermen of the City of London, temp. Henry III–[1912], 2 vols. (1908–13), 59
  • C. H. Mayo, ed., Municipal records of the borough of Dorchester, Dorset (1908), 623
  • R. Sackville-West, Inheritance: the story of Knole and the Sackvilles (2010)
  • D. Underdown, Fire from heaven: the life of an English town in the seventeenth century (1992)
  • ‘In search of “Beggar” Smith’, All the Year Round (29 March 1873), 461–5
  • W. R. Ward, ed., Parson and parish in eighteenth-century Surrey: replies to bishops' visitations, Surrey RS, 34 (1994)
  • W. K. Jordan, The charities of London, 1480–1660: the aspirations and achievements of the urban society (1960), 117–22
  • K. Wrightson and D. Levine, Poverty and piety in an English village: Terling, 1525–1700, 2nd edn (1995)
  • F. H. W. Sheppard, ed., Southern Kensington: Brompton, Survey of London, 41 (1983), 83–129
  • Charity Commission: sixteenth report of the charity commissioners for England and Wales, Parl. papers, Cmd 4117 (1868–9), 33–42


J. P. Ferris & A. Thrush, eds., , 6 vols. (2010)
Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone, Kent
Gentleman's Magazine
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London