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Our history

For more than a century we've been at the forefront of efforts to help low-income Londoners to help themselves. Many of the schemes that we've funded were radical at the time but have now become an accepted part of London life.

See this photo gallery highlighting our past and current work from the Guardian. And this multimedia timeline celebrating our 125th year of existence.

Green spaces

When we started, the idea was taking hold that London needed new open green spaces as ‘lungs for the metropolis’. We provided funds to buy and maintain green areas. This ranged from camping sites for young people and families, to extending Hampstead Heath and Hackney Marshes and preserving sites such as Coram’s Fields. We still own open spaces and playing fields.


At about the same time as the birth of our organisation, the polytechnic movement grew from a strong public desire to help the disadvantaged through improved access to higher education. Northampton Institute (now City University), Northern Polytechnic (now part of London Metropolitan University), Regent Street Polytechnic (now University of Westminster), Borough Polytechnic Institute (now London South Bank University), Morley College and the Working Men’s College all received financial support from us, at critical moments.

Chelsea Physic Garden

In the 1890s the Apothecaries’ Company was unable to afford the upkeep of Britain’s second oldest botanical garden and recommended that it should be sold. In 1899 we took on the maintenance of the garden and remained the Garden’s trustee until 1983.

The Arts

The Old Vic was historically notorious for the bad behaviour of its audience. We helped it to develop into the well-respected theatre that it is today. We also funded the rebuilding of Sadler’s Wells and helped to ensure the Whitechapel Art Gallery would be built by agreeing to provide an annual grant to cover its maintenance costs.

Innovative and unfashionable causes

We’ve always been proud to embrace causes that were seen as unfashionable or groundbreaking. In the 1920s we funded the research of William Beveridge, whose work formed the basis of the welfare state. In the 1930s we supported inner-city settlements like Toynbee Hall, which developed one of the first Citizens’ Advice Bureaux. The following decade we built Isleden House, an experiment in housing and care for older people.

In the 1950s we funded black social workers to work with immigrants, with the scheme becoming a model for other regions. The following decade we contributed towards the construction of St Christopher’s Hospice, a pioneering venture into providing care for the terminally ill. In the 1980s, we were amongst the first funders of the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture. More recently, we established the Evelyn Oldfield Unit and the Employability Forum both of which support refugee communities.

Origin of our assets

Our assets derive from the philanthropy of the people of London over many years. Over the centuries the 112 parishes within the City of London received around 1,400 separate charitable gifts and bequests. Their income was to be used for the benefit of the church communities or, more often, the poor of those parishes.

By the late 19th century the City had become a financial centre and the number of potential beneficiaries in the area had fallen significantly. In 1878 a Royal Commission was appointed to review this situation, which led to the creation of two funds to administer the majority of these endowments for the benefit of the poor of London and the Church of England in London.

These two funds – the Central Fund and the City Church Fund – together made up the City Parochial Foundation and they are still managed by us.

The government provided an endowment of £10 million when it abolished the Greater London Council in 1986 and asked City Parochial Foundation to manage this new organisation, Trust for London.

In 2010, the Foundation and the Trust were amalgamated into one organisation to form the new Trust for London.