Who was Angela Burdett-Coutts?
Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906) was the granddaughter of Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), the founder of the private banking company 'Coutts & Co.' After Coutts and his wife died, his granddaughter Angela inherited his fortune, making her the wealthiest woman in Britain. Rather than spend the money on herself, Angela used it to help others in less fortunate circumstances. Whilst Angela may have been “the richest heiress in England”, she was also one of the most generous Victorian philanthropists.
Upon receipt of her inheritance, 23-year-old Burdett-Coutts became a subject of public curiosity. Many speculated about what she would do with the money, and many men made marriage proposals. Burdett-Coutts began to donate money to various causes, prompting author Charles Dickens (1812-70) to write to her in 1846. He expressed his desire to open an asylum for “fallen women” where they could be rehabilitated, find jobs and gain property. The following year, Dickens purchased Urania Cottage in Shepherds Bush, London, which Burdett-Coutts helped him organise ready for opening that November.
During the 1870s, Burdett-Coutts founded the Ladies Committee at the RSPCA, which aimed to improve the welfare of animals by encouraging children to join a group called ‘Band of Mercy’. In 1884, she co-founded the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which later became the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 1889.