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Ragged Schools in the Victorian Era

Info: 1610 words (6 pages) Essay
Published: 23rd Apr 2018 in History

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Victorian times started out in 1800s and lasted until 1901. During this period of time, children were living in poverty, thus one of the great movements of Victorian philanthropy was establishing of ragged schools to provide education opportunity, like its name, Ragged Schools provide education for children who are too ragged, filthy, wretch & forlorn to enter any other places (Besant, 1984).

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The origin of ragged schooling was first founded by John Pounds (1766 – 1839), he was a cobbler in Portsmouth and initiated by using his shop in 1818 for educational activity. John pound actively recruit children by spending time on streets and quays of Portsmouth by making contacts with children as well as bribing them with baked potatoes (Guthrie, 1847).

After recruiting these children, he would then teach the girls to cook simple food where the ragged school cookery class is form. As for the boys, he would impart his skills set as a cobbler to them which would eventually representing industrialism. Reading, writing and arithmetic were also taught thoroughly thus making education as a base for schooling (Montague, 1904 p.40-41).

Another Ragged School would be St. John’s School which is situated at Forton, a small village in Staffordshire in England. During year 1830 to 1831 it was being used as a Sunday School before being converted to a ragged school in 1861. During 1861, boys and girls schools were built within the existing premises, thus, different sexes would be posted to their designated buildings respectively. There were also blackboards and slate pencils available as well as cane which is being used as implementation of punishment system for children being late or playing truancy (Turner, 1986).

As children during Victoria’s England, it was a time where child dominate the society, thus, during this time families tends to be large which eventually leading to overcrowding which then leading to poor families. Poor children are often put to work at early age such work places could be textile mills and also coal mines where working conditions are often deadly thus, education are something of a luxury for the children (Boone, 2005). Thus, the ragged school provides a safe environment and protection for children which has proper mentor in guiding skills set for them. Such protection would be to protect them from their parents who did not know how to guide a child into the right path (Silver, 1983 p. 20).

Charles Dickens was another person whom brought the whole of Britain attention to children (Smith, 2001). He wrote the first letter on ragged schooling after he visited Field Lane Ragged School which was established in 1841, which later appeared in The Daily News on February 4th 1846. He mentioned “they are never taught; that first distinctions between right and wrong are, from their cradles, perfectly confounded and perverted in their minds; that they come of untaught parent” (Charles, 1846). Children were not taught on morality and were unable to differentiate neither what is right nor what is wrong, thus resulting in higher crime rate such as pickpocketing, thus, ragged school rescues children who are facing such difficulties in their lives (Boone, 2005).

Dickens (1841) also described the boys that were age from mere infants to young men who were rescued to Field Lane Ragged School when he made his way down to the chamber room where these boys are going to live in. When he first saw the boys, he could not see any ingenuous, frank or even pleasant in their faces but their expressions and behaviours looked vicious, wicked, cunning, feeling being abandoned from all help (Boone, 2005).

Some people might think that Dickens is being extremely harsh with the above comments but, he points out severe problems with the education system in Victorian England. As the teachers are mostly volunteers, basic education such as writing, reading and arithmetic were all being provided for these children as well as a sheltered place for these children (Macgregor, 1853). However, majority of the children were not as civilised and their behaviours constantly poses problems to the teachers. They could be listening attentively at sometimes while totally changes to another personality in a short time frame causing nuisance hence, punishment system was implemented.

One of such punishment would be to forfeit the day’s pleasure if one is found with being disobedient to teachers. Whenever the day arrives and the children whom misbehaves realises that they were not going anywhere, they would start crying. This would serve as a reminder to them which would gain beneficial and positive result in shaping their behaviours and improving their manners (Walvin, 1982).

There was another man whom made a great contribution to the Ragged School movement, Dr Thomas John Barnardo (July 1845 – September 1905) who started his own experimental Ragged School in late 1866 (Fletcher, 2005 p.41). He met the first destitute child, Jim, in 1866 and described Jim as “genuine Arab boy, friendless, homeless” (Marchant, 2007, p. 342). Barnardo also mentioned that when he saw the upturned faces more of those boys, he realises the fact that all absolutely destitute and homeless, he knows himself that he must look for ways to save these boys whom were also labelled as “street-arabs” (Wagner, 1979).

First, he started a marketing strategy for his ragged school, “photographic marketing” (Ash, 2008 p.180) to increase the public’s awareness surrounding those pauper children during Victorian times as well as to raise funds for his ragged school. He would create postcards of poverty-stricken, dirty children before coming to orphanage and compare and contrast with the after photograph where the children are well-dressed and good-manner (Swain and Hillel, 2010). In this, much awareness was gained about how parents have failed in giving their child proper education and understanding of own morality, thus, bringing up issues of children during that time (Ash, 2008 p. 180)

Lastly, there were two logbook entries by their headmaster from Kidmore End Ragged School which started recording in 1873. “8 October 1868 1st class not well attended. Boys wanted for work for tending cattle and working in the field” and “3 April 1871, Harry Castell and George Prior punished for playing truant since yesterday afternoon. There was no drill in the afternoon, the weather being damp and showery” (Hendrick, 1997). From the above entries, we could deduce that children who were attending Ragged School were still constantly wanted for work however, they would be punished for truancy, thus enabling them to change their behaviours as well as for them to realise the importance of education during Victorian times.

With all these evidence to support the contributions of the Ragged School has made during Victorian times, although their facilities are not as good as those normal schools, however, the intentions of the founders were the same. They wanted to build a better future for British’s children during that time. They foresee that only when children receive more education, the country would then be able to progress (Hendrick, 1997).


Ash. S 2008, ‘Heroin Baby: Barnardo’s, Benevolence, and Shame’, in Journal ofCommunication Inquiry, 32(2), 179-200.

Ashley, M 1850. Ragged Schools and Emigration Special Appeal. The Times, 10 July.

Besant, W 1894. The Jubilee of the Ragged Schools Union, London: RSU.

Boone, T Youth of Darkest England: Working-Class Children at the Heart of VictorianEmpire. New York: Routeledge, 2005.

Fletcher, W 2005, Kepping the Vision Alive: The Story of Barnardo’s 1905 -2005. Barnardo’s Organiszation, Essex.

Guthrie, T 1847 Plea for Ragged Schools, or Prevention is Better Than Cure, Edinburgh

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Macgregor, J 1853, Ragged Schools: their Rise, Progress and Results. London.

Marchant, J 2007, Memoirs of the Late Dr. Barnardo, Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Montague, C. J. 1904 Sixty Years in Waifdom. Or, the Ragged School Movement in English history, London.

Silver, H 1983 Education as History, London: Methuen.

Smith, M 2001 “Ragged schools and the development of youth work and informaleducation”. The encyclopaedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/youthwork/ragged_schools.htm].

Swain, S and M Hillel 2010, Child, Nation, Race and Empire: Child Rescue Discourse, England, Canado and Australia, 1850-1915, Manchester University Press, Machester.

Turner, O 1986. Forton St. John’s School. 1st ed. Staffordshire: London.

Wagner, G 1979, Barnardo, Weidenfield and Nicolson, London.

Walvin, J 1982 A Child’s World. A social history of English childhood 1800 – 1914, London: Pelican.


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