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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.

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

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 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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Visible in Stone - Education

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • The separate entrance for Girls and Infants at the 1846 Grotto Passage Ragged and Industrial School, London. © Cheryl Law (2010). Source Historic England. NMR.
  • Housewifery Centre, Morden Terrace, Greenwich, London learning about ventilation and hygiene c.1890-1905. © & source The Women’s Library.
  • Housewifery Centre, Morden Terrace, Greenwich, London laundry class between c.1890-1905.© & source The Women’s Library.
  • Clapham Cookery Centre, Tennyson Street, London a class on boiling fish, c.1890-1905. © & source The Women's Library.
  • One of the internal murals by Louisa Waterford showing David the Shepherd with sheep, Waterford Hall
  • A group of young girls in 1913 training to be domestic servants at the school of Mrs G. Morrell, a member of the famous Oxford brewing family. The school, based at Headington Hill Hall, the family home, produced girls to serve in the best houses in the city. © Reproduced by permission of Images and Voices, Oxfordshire County Council. Source Historic England. NMR.
  • The Tudor style Lady Waterford Hall, Northumberland, was built in 1860 for the Marchioness of Waterford.  The hall is decroated with the murals on biblical themes that she painted from 1861-83.  Listed Grade II*. 
© Don Brownlow (2002) Source Historic England. NMR.
  • Orton Raisbeck Dame School, Cumbria, where Mrs Alice Whitehead taught church catechism, reading, knitting and sewing in 1858. This modest late C18 building of coursed, squared rubble with quoins and a slate roof is listed at Grade II.
© Ian Campbell (2003). Source Historic England. NMR.
  • One of the internal murals by Louisa Waterford showing Samuel and his parents, Waterford Hall
  • An upholstery class at Ancona Road, Woolwich, London Half Time Class for girls who worked part time and attended school part time, c.1890-1905. © & source The Women’s Library.

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