© 2014 - The British Charitable Fund, Paris • Website design and illustration by Yukié Matsushita

Our history

19th and 20th centuries

Founded in 1823, the BCF holds a unique place in the history of charitable giving in the 19th century. Our archives paint a vivid picture of the hazardous conditions faced by British migrants, from all trades and professions, who flocked to Paris for work, and each tumultuous political event and natural disaster in France is mirrored in their stories. The aim of the charity was to help them all, the elderly and the sick, orphaned and abandoned children, those who would be able to find work again and the destitute, whose only hope was to return home.

For many years the charity relied heavily on large-scale fundraising events held at the Embassy, including three highly successful public readings from ‘Little Dombey’ and ‘The Trial from Pickwick’ given in 1863 by Charles Dickens, and a magnificent ball attended by Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie in 1865.

Our principal benefactor in the 1870’s was Sir Richard Wallace, who was also Chairman for 20 years. During the Siege of 1870, he and a handful of trustees stayed in Paris to help thousands of British people stranded in the city, many on the verge of starvation.  He donated vast sums of money to provide food, coal, clothing and shelter for them and by the end of the Commune the following year, 4,500 lives had been saved and 500 repatriations successfully organised.

Severe winters and a cholera epidemic followed, and contributions poured in from donors in both France and the UK, including Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales.

In 1896, Lt. Colonel Hylton Brisco left half of his personal fortune to the charity, and the income from his endowment funded almost all aid distributed in the 20th century. Only three major upheavals necessitated appeals to the public for funds: after the disastrous floods of 1910; during the First World War, when huge numbers of British citizens fleeing across Europe sought refuge in Paris; and during the economic crisis of the 1930’s when British workers and their families were hit especially hard.

In 1940, the trustees were obliged to leave Paris but throughout the war were able to get money through to 171 elderly pensioners left in the city, via the ‘Protecting Powers’. After the Liberation in 1944, three trustees returned to Paris and were attached to the Embassy Relief Department until September 1945. The British Red Cross was housed in the charity’s offices in the Avenue Hoche until 1947, when the trustees were able to resume their normal work in the community.

21st century and a new approach

By the end of the 20th century requests for aid in the Paris area had declined markedly. This once great Charity was almost forgotten.

It was time for change, with a new generation of trustees and a proactive approach to finding people in need of help. The profile of the BCF within the British community had to be raised and its welfare net expanded to cover the whole of France to reflect changing needs. The trustees instituted a long-term (10 years) plan for aid distribution and this is reviewed annually. Numbers of applications increased steadily over time, with a sharp increase from 2014. We have now reached a good level of aid distribution for a charity of our size.

We want to maintain and even increase this well into the future and so fundraising has once again become an essential part of our work.