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They 'Come for a Lark': London Ragged School Union Teaching Advice in Practice, 1844-1870

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-346
JournalStudies in Church History
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


Ragged schools provided a free education to impoverished children in the mid-nineteenth century. Inspired by religious fervour and presided over by Lord Shaftesbury, that figurehead of evangelical Anglicans, the schools taught the most destitute to read and write, as well as about the God who loved them. By 1870 the London schools alone recorded an average attendance of 32,231 children. The missionary aspect of the classroom shaped the recommended character of the teacher. Teachers were to be benevolent, while corporal punishment was discouraged. Teaching advice demonstrates that the classroom could prove difficult terrain and suggests that the respect of scholars was hard-won and highly valued. With children attending freely, it was necessary that they desired to return. The children were consumers whom teachers sought to please; their responses determined the success or failure of lessons. This article responds to recent scholarship that interprets the teachers as imposed and powerful agents. By focusing on advice given to teachers, it highlights both how the children were perceived and the impact evangelical theology had upon ideas regarding the teacher's character. Largely overlooked by church historians, the ragged school movement embodies the profound impact of evangelical Christians on popular education in the nineteenth century.

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