The late 19th century was a time of social deprivation and great hardship for many children. The Reverend George Staite summed up the inhumanity of the era in a letter to the Liverpool Mercury in 1881: “…whilst we have a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, can we not do something to prevent cruelty to children?”
However, social attitudes made a very clear distinction between the public and private lives of Victorians. Even the famous reformer Lord Shaftesbury said to Staite: “The evils you state are enormous and indisputable, but they are of so private, internal and domestic a nature as to be beyond the reach of legislation.” Liverpool banker, Thomas Agnew, on a trip to New York in 1881, visited the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was so impressed by the charity, that on his return he set up a similar venture in Liverpool in 1883, the 'Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children'.