Ragged Schools were charitable schools set up to educate destitute children. The first one was opened in 1818 by John Pound, a Portsmouth shoemaker. By the middle of the century, with Lord Shaftesbury’s strong support, there were 200 of them. They one of the most hopeful signs that society wanted to change lives of poor children. The Illustrated London News championed the cause.
Mr Charles Dickens, in an eloquent Letter addressed to the Editors of the Daily News, describes the places which bear the above name, as an effort ‘to introduce among the most miserable and neglected outcasts in London some knowledge of the commonest principles of morality and religion; to commence their recognition as immortal human creatures, before the Gaol Chaplain1 becomes their only schoolmaster . .. This attempt is being made in certain of the most obscure and squalid parts of the Metropolis;2 where rooms are opened at night, for the gratuitous instruction of all comers, children or adults, under the title of “RAGGED SCHOOLS”. The name implies the purpose. They who are too ragged, wretched, filthy, and forlorn, to enter any other place: who could gain admission into no charity school, and who would be driven from any churchdoor: are invited to come in here and find some people not depraved, willing to teach them something, and show them some sympathy . . . ’
We have selected the School in Jurston street, Oakley street, Lambeth. The School is opened on Sunday evenings at six o’clock; and the year’s average attendance has been 250 children and 25 teachers. We gather from a lecture recently delivered by the Rev. Mr Ainslie, that at Windsor a school on ‘the Ragged” principle has been established by a poor chimney-sweep ‘who had himself been a bad and abandoned man, but who was reclaimed, and who now sat there, with his dirty face, teaching and doing more good than thousands of others of ten times his capacity.”
1 Gaol Chaplain clergyman working in a prison
2 Metropolis a main city (in this case, London)