Victorian Era Ragged Schools for Poor Homeless Children

During the initial few years of the Victorian era, very few children went to school to get an education. However, conditions regarding education for children improved after the death of Queen Victoria as it was mandatory for children to attend schools. The education was free of cost.

Ragged school definition

Thomas Guthrie is often regarded as the Founder of the Ragged schools. These schools were basically charitable schools which offered free education to sick and destitute children in the 19th century. In the Victorian period, most of the children did not have the choice of attending schools every day since there was no free education and also because not many could afford to go to school.

Free education was offered to the poor children living in London for the first time around the late 18th century by Thomas Cranfield, a tailor by profession. He established schools which were night schools or normal day schools and even schools which were open on Sundays.

These schools were opened primarily in those places or towns which were steadily growing into industrial towns or where some people really wanted to educate the poor children. Ragged schools were started by the local Churches and the staff generally volunteered to teach the children.

In 1818, Pounds or the crippled cobbler started teaching the poor children free of cost. In 1841, Sheriff Watson opened a school in Aberdeen, Scotland. He started a boys school where they were given meals thrice and were taught the art of shoemaking and printing.

Thomas Guthrie was another man who contributed in helping to make the lives of the poor children better by imparting knowledge. He started the first Scottish school for the poor without any fees. Another supporter of these schools was Charles Dickens who himself had worked as a child in factories.

He used this experience to write his books and make people aware of the real conditions. He often visited the schools and even made donations.

In the 19th century, many schools were started for the poor and neglected children. The Ragged School Union was formed in 1844 and Lord Shaftesbury was its Chairman. By 1861 as many as 176 schools were associated with the Union. The schools apart from giving education provided a place to stay for the neglected children where they got meals and clothes to wear.

Industrial schools were established with the purpose of getting the children used to working and to develop the latent potential of the poor children. These schools were established to help the poor children who had not committed any grave offense. The Ragged Schools followed a disciplined schedule. Apart from education, the children were taught some trades, housework, family worship, etc.

Boys were trained in gardening, tailoring, and shoemaking while the girls were taught knitting, sewing, washing and other housework. There were certain specific criterions like the age of children should be below an apparent age, or that the parents find the child beyond their control or the child was found begging or wandering, etc.

The requirement for the apparent age was because sometimes the children lied about their age or they were not aware of their own age. The cost of the children living in these schools was to be taken care of by their respective parents.

However, many times, this was not possible since many of the children were homeless. The money was then collected from government sources. As years passed, the Ragged Schools became successful as more number of children had joined these schools. A large number of children led to establishing more schools to accommodate them. It was very evident that the poor demanded education which these schools provided.

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