Educating the labouring poor in nineteenth-century Suffolk

Crone, Rosalind (2018). Educating the labouring poor in nineteenth-century Suffolk. Social History, 43(2) pp. 161–185.



This article demonstrates the utility of a new source, prison registers, for the history of literacy and education in nineteenth-century England. It focuses on two sets of prison registers from the two county gaols in Suffolk, located at Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds, which contain personal information on 16,690 individuals over the period 1840 to 1878. First, the article examines the context in which personal information about prisoners was recorded and tests the data against benchmarks from other sources to prove its reliability. Second, the article employs two methods, statistical analysis and digital mapping, to study in depth the rich data on prisoners’ literacy and schooling. Finally, the article shows how the results of this analysis significantly revise our understanding of the prevalence of schooling among the labouring poor, the use of different types of schools, the role of the partially literate in the drive towards mass literacy, and the importance of life-long learning.

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