‘Ragged schools’, funded by charitable donations, provided free basic education to children of poor families in the 1800s. The teachers were often local volunteers, using makeshift locations – railway arches, stables or lofts. Children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and Bible studies.
The movement’s roots are credited to John Pounds (1766–1839), a Portsmouth cobbler who taught poor children for free in 1818. Edinburgh and Aberdeen set up ragged schools in the early 1840s, and in 1844 the Ragged School Union was formed in London, chaired by social reformer Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1801–1885).
Over the next eight years, over 200 such schools for poor children were established in Britain, supported by wealthy donors, with an average 100 pupils each. Food, clothes and lodging were often provided for deserving cases.
This news item from 1849 covers the Christmas party at the Lamb and Flag Ragged Schools. They were established in 1844 on Clerkenwell Green, then the home of radicals and activists. The article reports that the school’s ‘tattered and shoeless’ pupils enjoyed roast beef and plum pudding. It also celebrates the fundraising efforts that have enabled the founding of a new infant school.
Ragged schools gradually disappeared after the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which made free education widespread.
- Article by:
- Imogen Lee
- Childhood and children's literature
Ragged Schools provided free education for children too poor to receive it elsewhere. Imogen Lee explains the origins and aims of the movement that established such schools, focusing on the London’s Field Lane Ragged School, which Charles Dickens visited.