‘The only friend I have in this world’ Ragged School relationships in England and Scotland, 1844-1870
Mair, Laura Marilyn
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This thesis analyses the experiences of ragged school pupils in England and Scotland between 1844 and 1870, focusing on the interaction between scholars and teachers and exploring the nature of the social relationships formed. Ragged schools provided free education to impoverished children in the mid-nineteenth century; by 1870 the London schools alone recorded an average attendance of 32,231 children. This thesis demonstrates the variety of interactions that took place both inside and outside the classroom, challenging simplistic interpretations of ragged school teachers as unwelcome intruders in poor children’s lives. In analysing the movement in terms of the social relationships established, this thesis counters the dominant focus on the adult as actor and child as passive subject. Wherever possible the focal point of the analysis builds on the testimony of ragged school scholars, shifting emphasis away from the actions and words of adults in positions of authority towards those of the poor and marginalised children who were the subjects of intervention. By concentrating on the voices of those who received ragged schooling, this thesis highlights the diverse experiences of ragged school scholars and underscores their agency in either rejecting or engaging with teachers. As such, it demonstrates the integral contribution of children’s testimonies when seeking to understand the impact of child-saving movements more generally. This thesis contributes to understanding on a variety of broader topics. It highlights changing attitudes towards children, education, and the poor. Through focusing on juvenile testimonies it investigates how children responded to poverty, disability, philanthropic work, and the evangelical religious message that ragged schools conveyed. The impact of Victorian philanthropy and the nature of the cross-class relationships it fostered are explored, and the significant contribution that women and working-class individuals made to such work is underscored. Finally, it sheds light on the experiences of working-class British emigrants, both their fortunes and their attachment to their homeland. A rich array of sources is used, including ragged school magazines and pamphlets, committee minutes, and annual reports. In using promotional literature in combination with local school documents, the public portrayal of children and teachers is contrasted with that found in practice. Most significant, however, are the day to day exchanges between scholars and their teacher explored through a microhistory of Compton Place ragged school in North London. Using the journals the school’s superintendent maintained between 1850 and 1867 alongside the 227 letters 57 former scholars sent him, this thesis pieces together a picture of the evolving and complex relationships forged. The journals and letters together enable an analysis that draws on the words of both ragged scholars and their teacher. Moreover, they provide rare access to how relationship developed over time and, in some cases, despite considerable geographical distance.