Educating the destitute

The Old Ragged School poster.
The Old Ragged School poster.
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Following last week’s publication of the auction poster for the Old Ragged School in Alnwick, a volunteer from the Bailiffgate Museum provided some information on the school, researched in Tate’s History of Alnwick, Volume II 1868-9.

A decision to establish a school in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837 was taken at a public meeting in the town. The site was given by John Lambert and the building opened in 1838, staffed by ‘mistresses educated at Normal Training colleges. The scheme struggled with difficulties arising out of sectarian feeling as Church of England formularies were not being used with a consequent shortage of funding. The trustees agreed in February 1854 to allow the building to be used as a Ragged School’.

The Ragged School Union originated in 1844 ‘with the view of providing destitute children with the elements of a secular and religious education, and of assisting them to enter on a course of honest industry’.

Tate describes it as follows: ‘In 1867, the day school had an average attendance of 80, the number on the books being 92; the evening school had an average attendance of 90 out of a roll of 150 boys and adults. An average of 50 out of a roll of 90 attended Sunday school. Connected with the school are a library and a penny savings bank.

‘This school provides for the wants of a class not provided for by other educational societies; “out of 253 scholars attending it 47 are fatherless, 13 are motherless, 4 are orphans, 22 are illegitimate, 40 have one or both parents drunken and dissipated, and the remaining 127 have parents so poor that they are unable to pay the smallest school fee”.

‘The average attendance is about four years. “Comparatively few”, it is reported, “have turned out badly; many are doing well; some young men as mechanics and labourers and some young women as wives or domestic servants. A few have attained higher positions in society, but the great majority are met with in the ranks of industry”.’

The date of the closure of the school is unknown at this stage, but the building was bought by the parish priest of St Mary’s Church. He wrote in his diary that in April 1928 ‘work was completed on the conversion of the old Ragged School in Lisburn Street into Infants’ Classrooms’.