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Our history

The RSPCA has been a voice for animals since 1824. For two centuries we've been changing minds, laws, industries and lives to create a better world for animals and people alike.


You’ve helped us drive 200 years of change

Together with our supporters, we’ve rescued millions of animals from harm and shown them the compassion they deserve. We've campaigned on their behalf and become the world-leading, science-backed voice for animals.

But there’s still so much more to do.

Like most good ideas, this one began over a cup of coffee…

In 1824, a small group of people met in a London coffee shop, determined to change animals’ lives. They created the society that became the RSPCA, sparking a movement that spread around the world.

Before that time, cruelty to animals was widely accepted. Few people kept pets, and animals were used for working, food, or entertainment. Setting dogs on chained bulls or bears was considered a sport. Things had to change.

The first-ever law protecting animals was the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act of 1822. It’s often called Martin’s Act, after Richard Martin who helped get the law passed. He was one of 22 people who went on to meet at Old Slaughter’s Coffee House, St Martin’s Lane (right), on 16 June 1824. With him was the Reverend Arthur Broome, credited as our founder, and anti-slave trade campaigner William Wilberforce. By forming what became the RSPCA, they prompted a vital social shift in how people thought about animals.

Today, we’re the oldest and largest animal welfare society in the world – but our vision and mission honour these beginnings.

Our history timeline

  • The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was founded, supporting new laws for animal welfare.
  • Bear and bull baiting are abolished. New laws ban cruelty to dogs and domestic animals. Better legal standards are brought in at slaughterhouses.
  • In 1838 James Piper, an SPCA inspector, died of injuries he received from trying to stop a cock-fight at Hanworth, Middlesex.
  • Queen Victoria gave permission for the SPCA to add ‘Royal’ to our name. We became known as the RSPCA.
  • The last bullfight in England took place in Islington, London. RSPCA Secretary John Colam and Police Superintendent Green stopped the event.
  • The Protection of Animals Act – inspired by RSPCA was passed. This important law tackled almost every type of cruelty to animals.
  • The RSPCA Fund for Sick/Wounded Horses was set up during the First World War providing 13 animal hospitals, 180 horse-drawn ambulances and 26 motor ambulances.
  • During the Second World War, 37 silver medals were awarded to our inspectors who risked their lives rescuing animals in dangerous bomb littered areas.
  • Ninette Gold and Pat Jones were trained as RSPCA ‘Women Patrol Officers’. By 1959, there were 24 Women Patrol Officers, including two chief inspectors.
  • Testing cosmetics like soap and make-up on animals was finally banned in the UK in 1998.
  • The Hunting Act, which protects wild animals like foxes, deer and hares from being hunted by dogs, came into force.
  • The Animal Welfare Act was passed – the most significant change to animal welfare law in nearly 100 years.
  • It became compulsory for owners to microchip their dogs. Cat microchipping legislation was later passed in England in 2023.
  • Wild animals in circuses were banned in England – and in Wales in 2020 – after 50 years of campaigning.
  • The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act came into force, increasing prison sentences for animal cruelty from a max of six months to five years.
  • 200th Anniversary! We’ve been a voice for animals for 200 years – and we won’t stop working to improve the lives of animals any time soon.

Together, we make a difference