‘Ragged’ schools were charitable organisations that aimed to provide free education to poor and destitute children in 19th-century Britain. They were generally situated in improvised accommodation in poor metropolitan areas, and included only the facilities that could be easily begged or borrowed.

Charles Dickens here describes his 1843 visit to the ragged school in Field Lane, Clerkenwell – also the site in which he had set Fagin’s den of child pickpockets in Oliver Twist (1838). Remarking that London is a host to a 'vast hopeless nursery of ignorance, misery and vice; a breeding place for the hulks and jails’, he laments the ‘frightful neglect by the State of those … whom it might, as easily and less expensively, instruct and save’. While calling the curriculum in ragged schools ‘very imperfect’, he notes that for even the worst behaved of the children ‘something had already been done’. He implores those with funds to support the ragged schools, as he himself would go on to do both financially and in his writings. Dickens’s visit to the ragged school directly influenced A Christmas Carol (1843), inspiring the book’s central themes of poverty, education, miserliness, ignorance and redemption.