Education for Life

"My little girl…works regularly every day from six in the morning til 10 at night. She never goes to school. We can't spare her." Henry Mayhew's 'London' 1851.

Before 1870, working class girls, who were often forced to contribute to the family wage or help with household chores and childcare, could rarely take advantage of the unregulated education on offer. Education for the poor was a patchwork of:

  • factory, workhouse, religious or Sunday schools
  • Ragged Schools, established in 1818 by John Pounds, a cobbler, to give free education to working class children. The Ragged Schools' Union, 1844, promoted the spread of such schools supported by benefactors like Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906)
  • Dame schools, run by women usually in their own homes to make a living.  Here, for a small fee, girls could gain basic skills in reading and household tasks, depending on how well educated the 'teacher' was.

The 1870 Elementary Education Act provided the first inclusive schooling structure for children from 5 to 13 years olds.

Schools were also financed by philanthropic estate owners like Lady Louisa Waterford (1818-1891) (see Housing) who commissioned and built a village school on her estate at Ford, Northumberland in 1860. As a noted Pre-Raphaelite painter, she decorated the school's interior with Biblical murals representing the faces of schoolchildren and villagers in the work. It is now known as Lady Waterford Hall.

Towards the end of the century, because of a shortage of servants and improved literacy, vocational education was introduced to train girls for domestic service.

A former Church of England National Girls' School, Ashover, Derbyshire, 1845.
A former Church of England National Girls' School, Ashover, Derbyshire, built of ashlar gritstone in 1845 and listed Grade II. © Miss J. Johnson (2000). Source Historic English Archive
A Ragged and Industrial School, Grotto Passage, London, W1, built 1846
A Ragged and Industrial School, Grotto Passage, London, built 1846. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic English Archive
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