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History of Probation Exhibition
A new history of probation exhibition is touring the country

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Five Shillings and Faith

Probation is a service that is rarely in the public consciousness apart from when things go wrong. So it is heartening to see a new exhibition on the history of the service just launched. ‘Root & Branch – How five shillings, faith and belief inspired the beginning of the Probation Service’ is a collaboration between the Probation Service and Englesea Brook Museum and Chapel. It will run for a year until summer 2024.

The exhibition opened at the museum near Crewe on August 23, and will tour Faith venues around the country (see full list further down this blog post). The exhibition looks at the beliefs of the founders and the important work they did in police courts and setting up the forerunners of Approved Premises and Community Payback.

It also looks at how the modern service works with people on probation. There are panels of information and artefacts, including ledgers from the 1920s and 1940s, to be viewed.

Origins of the service

The text below is taken directly from the exhibition website

Frederic Rainer (1836-1911) was a printer and member of the Church of England Temperance Society who lived in Holborn, London in the 1850s and 1860s and witnessed the poverty surrounding the Police Courts. Rainer worried about the lack of help for people in these courts, especially those with alcohol issues. He sent 5 shillings to the Church of England Temperance Society to create the Police Court Missions. George Nelson was the first Police Court Missionary in 1878, with the second Missionary, William Bachelor, appointed shortly after. They worked at Southwark and Lambeth Police Courts “reclaiming drunkards”.

Both Nelson and Bachelor were former Coldstream Guards. Bachelor is said to have saved Nelson from suicide when they were both stationed at the Windsor barracks.

Police Court Missionaries were then placed in Police Courts across London and a National Police Court Mission developed. Missionaries gave advice and support to offenders based on the Christian values of care and compassion. They helped offenders to keep their jobs or found jobs for those out of work.

Missionaries belonged to different Christian churches and temperance societies. Thomas Holmes, a Primitive Methodist, was a Police Court Missionary in Westminster in the late 1800s. In June 1882, while visiting homes, Holmes died suddenly at one lady’s home. Although she was shocked by his sudden death, she considered it an honour that Holmes found her home to be “the entrance-gate to heaven”.

 The British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA)had female Missionaries to help women. In 1890, Lady Henry Somerset (born Isabella Caroline Somer-Cocks), a Methodist, was elected as BWTA’s president, and was integral to increasing the work of their female missionaries. Alongside her friend, Frances Willard, an American temperance reformer, Lady Somerset was a strong advocate for children’s welfare, women’s suffrage, and prison reform. In 1896 the BWTA established the Druxhurst Farm Colony for Inebriate Women, which, for nearly twenty years, helped to rehabilitate women struggling with alcohol issues.

From two Police Court Missionaries in 1878, the Probation Service now has over 21,300 employees.

The exhibition also has plenty of information about the evolution of the probation service and its modern day incarnation.


While the exhibition is starting at Englesea Brook Museum & Chapel, Cheshire it is going on to tour the country until August 2024, being hosted by a range of faith venues to celebrate the founding of the probation service by police court missionaries. Here is the full list of venues:

  • Englesea Brook Museum & Chapel, Crewe: 24 August – 30 September
  • Al-Hidayah Foundation 2-12 October & Madinah Masjid, Keighley 12-18 October (1.15pm to 5pm except Fridays)
  • NAPO Conference, Nottingham: 19 – 21 October
  • Karimia Institute and Bobbersmill Community Centre, Nottingham: November
  • Wrexham Catholic Cathedral: December (9am to 4pm everyday)
  • St John the Baptist, Cardiff: 1 – 14 January (10am to 3pm everyday)
  • Willesden Jewish Cemetery, London: 15 – 28 January (Sunday to Thursday 10am to 1pm)
  • Worcester Cathedral: February (10am to 5pm everyday)
  • Sikh Gurdwara Singh Sabha, llford: March (5am to 8pm everyday)
  • Ilford Hindu Centre, Ilford: April 15-29 (tbc)
  • John Wesley New Room, Bristol: May – June
  • Wesley Chapel, Islington, London: July – August


Both images in this post are taken directly from the exhibition.

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