The Society dates back to 1880, when the Cambridge Charity Organisation was formed to replace the existing Cambridge Mendicity Society to relieve poverty. The moving spirits were Henry Sidgwick, famous philosopher and economist, and his wife Eleanor. There was strong membership from the Cambridge Colleges, from local churches and the town (especially the Poor Law Guardians). The first Chairman was the Master of Pembroke College. A Sub-Committee met weekly for the practical work and a salaried agent was employed for home visits (this was before Social Services, the NHS, and other agencies existed). Help included grants of money, pensions (this was before State pensions and benefits were created) and repayable loans. The Rules of the Society stated that needy wayfarers could be given bread to eat on the premises.
In 1917, three charities were established at St Andrew’s Street, the Cambridge Central Aid & Charity Organisation Society for the purposes set out above, plus the Cambridge & County Surgical Association and the Invalid Children’s Aid Association (the latter two eventually became redundant with the development of the NHS and Social Services after the Second World War). There were extensive subscribers (about 250) from both Town and Gown, including famous names like Darwin, Rouse Ball and Keynes.
In 1920 the present title ‘Cambridge Central Aid Society’ was adopted.
The Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB) was established on a national basis in 1939, and shared accommodation with the Society, and this has continued right up to now (though the CAB is now much bigger and the Trustees just use one of the CAB’s meeting rooms and its office facilities for its fortnightly meetings).
In 1952 and 1960, there were grants from the City Council, but we have received a one-off grant from them of £13,000 for 2015-16. By 1973, there was no longer representation on the Committee from the Colleges or churches; there were some Councillors but no men! There was no longer a salaried secretary, and all officers were and are honorary. Currently, several of the Trustees are existing or former voluntary advisers with the CAB, and others have experience in the health and charitable sectors.
This is a highly summarised version of a valuable history of the Society prepared by Janet Stein in 2003. There is much historical information on the Society in the County Records Office at Shire Hall.