Ragged Schools began back into the eighteenth century. Robert Raikes established one in 1783 in the hope of teaching children to respect the Sabbath. In 1818 John Pounds, a crippled cobbler in Portsmouth, taught children in his workshop as he worked. Others tried to teach children craft skills so that they might earn some sort of living instead of having to beg. Some adults were concerned above all with religion, while others aimed to break the tradition in some families, of every member finishing up in prison. The aim was to save the 'forlorn and neglected children of the great metropolis from the debasement and misery in which a large number of them are growing up'. This quotation comes from a meeting when four men met to form the Ragged School Union. In April 1844 Lord Shaftsbury was invited to be its President. These schools were set up to educate those children whose parents could not or, because they were of a dissolute nature, would not pay the fees of a private school.
There was controversy over the years, with some demanding that the costs should be met by the government. An article said that children of parents who were in a 'low and degraded' condition themselves, were likely to be utterly careless about the education of their children and did not feel that any special boon was conferred on them by having it given to them. These were 'the very children whom it was most difficult to induce to attend school and whom it was most necessary to teach, for their own sakes and for the good of society.1
The struggle for money was unending. In 1859 Mary Carpenter published s pamphlets demanding that the Ragged Schools, or Free Day Schools for the children of the 'perishing and dangerous' classes of the community, should be regarded as an essential part of the Educational Movement of the country and be aided with grants.'
At one period the Ragged Schools applied for financial help, but became involved with legislation designed to educate the children convicted of some crime and the children of criminals. School inspectors then began to demand the criminal records of the pupils and withheld money from those who were innocent of everything except genuine poverty. This was ridiculous, as the Ragged Schools protested.
Politicians, journalists and writers all raised their voices. Charles Dickens wrote powerfully on the subject and, from Italy, Elizabeth Browning wrote 'A Song for the Ragged Schools of London.' It is long, heartfelt, but unquotable in this day and age - rhetorical and flaccid.
The Manning Street Ragged School was built off Lisson Grove and the site is now part of the playground of North Westminster Community School, in Bell Street, now Westminster Academy. The Ragged School had accommodation for 130 pupils and in the last years an average attendance of 160. The Assistant in Charge, who was unqualified, was helped by volunteers and everything was supported by charity. The school was popular and doing a good, but limited job.
Thus one had the Philological School for Boys in Lisson Grove and numerous good schools for girls in the neighbourhood catering for those who could pay, and the Ragged Schools coping with the rest.