Horsley was born on 14 June 1845 in Dunkirk, near Canterbury, Kent, the eldest son of a churchman. He was educated at King’s School, Canterbury, and at Pembroke College, Oxford. After teaching for a few years, he was made assistant curate in Witney, and then, in 1875, moved to be curate of St Michael’s, Shoreditch. A growing interest in social issues led him first to an appointment as chaplain at Clerkenwell prison, where he served from 1876 to its closure in 1886. In 1877, he married Mary Sophia Codd, the eldest daughter of Captain Codd, governor of the prison. They had two sons and five daughters, though Mary died young, in 1890.
Subsequently, Horsley worked for the Waifs and Strays Society (later, The Children’s Society). After becoming vicar of Holy Trinity, Woolwich, he began campaigning for improved housing and sanitation in the area. By 1894, he had become rector of St Peter’s, Walworth. Here, he is well remembered for clearing the church’s great crypt so as to transform it into a playground for poor children in the neighbourhood. He believed that working for the welfare of children, defending their rights and recognising their importance, was a key to reducing crime. To set an example, he became a total abstainer, and campaigned actively for the Church of England Temperance Society, as he did for the Anti-Gambling League.
Horsley went on to serve as chairman for Southwark’s public health committee and for its largest workhouse. In 1905, when the new diocese of Southwark was created he became honorary canon of the cathedral; and, in 1909, he was mayor of Southwark. Two years later, he retired to the vicarage of Detling, near Maidstone, only resigning in mid-1921, just months before his death. He had been an enthusiastic alpinist and naturalist during his life, and had regularly taken groups of his parishioners for walking tours in Switzerland. There is very limited further information about Horsley readily available online - much of this bio has come from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which requires log-in). Jack McInroy also has some information on his Walworth Saint Peter Blog. That said, Horsley’s autobiography (up to 1910 or so) can be read freely at Internet Archive.
In 1887, shortly after his role at Clerkenwell prison had come to an end, Horsley put together a collection of his thoughts and writings on the prison system. It was published by T Fisher Unwin and called Jottings from Jail - notes and papers on prison matters (freely available at Internet Archive).
Also in the preface Horsley thanks Miss Manville Fenn for the design of the cover: ‘It represents a selection from my private collection of burglarious implements; some jemmies or sticks (Anglice, crowbars), one of which was presented me by him whose autobiography opens this book because he thought “it would be safer with me than with him;” some twirls or skels (skeleton keys and picklocks); a wedge for securing doors from the inside, a steel one for safe work; some neddies or life-preservers; and the firearms that it has become fashionable to carry, more out of bravado and because the mock-hero Peace (a canting old liar when under my care) used one than from any determination or desire to use them.’
Inside the book there is one chapter called A Month’s Prison Notes which is, in fact, a diary kept by Horsley for a month. He explains: ‘When the approaching abolition of the prison made it probable that I should speedily be regretting my discharge almost as much as the prisoners hope for theirs, one of the many things in my mind was the wish that I had had time to keep a private as well as an official diary, and to have noted down from day to day such incidents or observations as might have been useful in many ways hereafter. [. . .] True, I had kept for nine years notes of all cases of attempted suicide, which were between three and four hundred a year, and of all other cases specially commended to my notice by the magistrates; true, also, that I have a large notebook full of statistics and all sorts of curious subjects coming to my notice in prison; true, also, that my memory is retentive; but yet a daily record of things of interest would have been useful. During my last August I therefore endeavoured to make such a daily record as might show the varied nature of the work, and teach those who are not connected officially with prison work in what direction their intercessions and kindly thoughts and actions might tend.’
The diary is notable not only for the facts and figures Horsley brings to light about the prison and its prisoners, but for his lively use of sarcasm to stress social/political points.
3 August 1885
‘Of nine fresh cases on the female side I find one is 18, one 19, two 20, one 21, and the average age of all nine is only 25.
A lad, aged 19, spends four shillings in fourpenny ale, and then after midnight runs out with his baby, aged 13 months, and tries to drown himself and it. His wife was a rope-ground girl, and aged 15 at her marriage. A stalwart, intellectual, and good living race is likely to arise from such parentage!
The next case to which I come is that of a lad of 17 who has attempted suicide. How? I got into a pond. Why? Because I wanted to go to sea. This sounds humorous, but it turns out that he was trying to frighten his parents into acquiescence with his wishes. [. . .]
A rescue-worker complains to me of how Bank Holiday upsets girls who have hitherto been quiet and contented in Homes. It is commonly observed. The memories of drinks and “larks” attached to that day will come crowding in.’
5 August 1885
‘A woman, aged 36, has been eight years free, but has suffered five and seven years’ penal servitude. She must have begun young! She was turned out of doors “for cheek” by her stepfather when she was 15, then fell in with thieves and got five years when 15 for robbing a man of £63 in the street. She is not old, but she has outlived the possibility of a schoolgirl being sent to penal servitude for her first theft. There is such a thing as State-created crime.
A woman, aged 27, remanded for drunkenness and trying to rescue her husband, who was apprehended for being drunk and assaulting the police when they both had been “chucked out” of a public curse. They had regular work and are in comfortable circumstances; but then one must enjoy Bank Holiday. They have had seven children; one is living: of course this has nothing to do with their intemperance.
Justice Manisty sentences a man to two years for outraging a child aged 10, and regrets the law does not allow him to give more. The same copy of the paper records an exactly similar case in America - only there the man got twenty years. Oh our beautiful and righteous laws! “Who steals my purse, steals trash” - but can get penal servitude for so doing. Who steals the virtue of a child - cannot be punished half so severely. Oh these laws! “Proputty, proputty, proputty, that’s what I hear ‘un say.” [A quote from Tennyson.] Protect our spoons of course as long as they exist, but a national tumult is necessary to get protection for our girls.’
6 August 1885
‘Girl, aged 17, remanded for a petty theft from her place, and that I may find a Home for her if she promises well. Her mother says she is beyond her control, runs away from her places and gets into bad company, and that she has never been right since she was 10, when a “man” got six months for violating her. Two other girls, aged 13 and 9, were similarly treated by him, being waylaid on their way home from school. He was an accountant.
Another girl of the same age and charged with a similar offence I send to another Home. Her mother is dead, her father in the workhouse, and she has been brought up in a workhouse school, which quite accounts for her dulness and obliquity of moral vision. The huge barrack schools are utter ruin for pauper girls in comparison with any other system. Why is the British rate- payer so slow to note that children in Sutton District School cost £30 a head, while in Cottage Homes, such as those at Marston Green, the cost is but £20 10s., and children boarded out (e.g., by the King’s Norton Union) cost but £10 9s. 10d. a head per annum? I suppose they like to go on paying highest for the worst system and results, rather than lowest for the best.
A third girl this morning will go hopefully into a Home. She is only 18, but has led an immoral life for six months, yet is modest and quiet in manner; an orphan likewise.
An ex-prisoner is sent to me by a lady that I may help him. I find in conversation that a man for whom he worked twenty months is kindly disposed towards him and is now manager to a large firm. Yet it had never occurred to him to call on him! Verily, some men’s idea of seeking employment is to lie on their back with their mouth open, expecting it to be filled.
“Do you remember me, sir?” Yes, I did. This prisoner, a young clerk who had embezzelled in consequence of his drinking habits, and in spite of a wife and two young children, was a boy under me in a good school, of good birth, and his uncle an Archdeacon.
Sent to a refuge M.C., who was discharged this morning from Millbank and came to see me. For nine years have I striven to keep her straight, and to sixteen Homes have I sent her. A perfectly hopeless case of dipsomania I fear, but one must work against hope if one cannot work with it.’
7 August 1885
‘A young man, crippled and with only one hand, a friendless clerk, is helped and taken in by Mr. Wheatley, of the St Giles’s Christian Mission. Trusted on an errand with a cheque he absconds. Eventually he gets work at Westminster, and plays his employer the same trick. When no spark of honesty or of gratitude is discoverable, what can be done?’
8 August 1885
‘A country girl, aged 19, immoral and shameless, though only a month in London. Admits that sheer laziness and dislike to work have brought her on the streets.’
9 August 1885
‘Five males and one female brought in yesterday for attempting suicide. But “trade was bad” with us yesterday, for only forty men and six women were admitted.’
11 August 1885
‘A young lady with eight aliases, and all addresses given found to be false, is resigned and martyroid because every word of hers is not believed against those of others.’
12 August 1885
‘I wonder if this flower-girl, aged 18, used to sing the popular song, “We are a happy family.” She is in for assaulting her mother with a poker, and has twice previously been in for drunkenness: the mother is living apart from her husband, and has spent ten months out of twelve in Millbank doing short terms for drunkenness: a younger brother and sister have been sent to Industrial Schools. Yet the wonder is that any members of some families do right, and not that many do wrong. On what a pinnacle of virtue, inaccessible to a countess, is the daughter of a convict father and gindrinking mother who keeps straight!
Twice this week have I written to the Reformatory and Refuge Union to set their special officer on children that I find to be living in houses of ill-fame, of which the denizens or keepers come here. In one case, at any rate, there seemed a dereliction of duty on the part of the police, who, when they apprehended the mother, should have rescued the children.
Fate is the convenient scapegoat of those whose “can’t” is a shuffling substitute for “won’t” or “don’t like.” This man is in for theft from a public-curse; he is badly consumptive through drinking long and heavily; his father died of alcoholic phthisis; he has often tried to abstain, but never for more than six weeks; he has been warned by a physician at a hospital of how he is committing suicide; but he “supposes it is Fate.” ’
14 August 1885
‘One does not lose the sound of Bank Holiday (nor of Derby Day) rapidly in prison. A woman in yesterday for being drunk and violent had been a teetotaller for nine months up to Bank Holiday. A man who cut his throat after Bank Holiday spent in a public-curse was only yesterday well enough to be brought up and remanded.
Went last night to get the police in a certain district to take up a scandalous case of a girl, about 13, living with and being taken out nightly by her mistress, a notorious prostitute. Suggested that the case might have been dealt with any time this last four years under the Industrial Schools Act Amendment Act (which will go down to posterity as Miss Ellice Hopkins’ Act, as the Criminal Law Amendment Act will be called Mr. Stead’s). But the inspector had never heard of the Act. Quite courteous and willing to take up the case, of which he knew a great deal, but was ignorant of the Act under which scores of children in London alone have been rescued from immoral surroundings. The fact is, if the police know that those at head-quarters desire that an Act should be enforced, they can and will enforce it; if they do not know, or know the contrary, they don’t.’