Manchester’s Ragged Schools 1847 to c.1890

Lamb, John Terence (2021). Manchester’s Ragged Schools 1847 to c.1890. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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The establishment of ragged schools in the mid to late nineteenth century, was a response to rapid population growth in urban industrialised areas. The schools, mainly founded by Christian evangelists using meagre resources, were aimed at a class of children considered to be destitute both physically and morally. In Manchester, by the time of the 1870 Elementary Education Act, there were 30 ragged schools, attracting nearly 8,000 children to Sunday school, and about 1,700 to secular evening classes. With the passing of the Act, Lord Shaftesbury, a long standing parliamentary supporter of, and campaigner for, ragged schools, considered that this was the end of them. The secondary sources, on the whole, tend to share this pessimistic view. In contrast to the hostile position adopted by the London Ragged School Union, the evidence from Manchester suggests that ragged schools were supportive of the Education Act, as it removed from them the duty of providing secular education, enabling the schools to focus on a wider range of evangelical and social activity in accordance with their founding mission and principles. This study also suggests, that Manchester ragged school leaders were influenced by the various, city based, campaign movements in support of state funded secular elementary education. The Victorian state and modern historians have tended to measure the success of ragged schools, solely on their ability to teach the three ‘R’s or secular education. On that measure, with the passing of the Act, there was a retreat on the part of ragged schools, but what gets overlooked, is the success they enjoyed well into the twentieth century as they concentrated on ‘whole family’ evangelism and social work. This study suggests that it is important to take into account local circumstances when considering how ragged schools, in different parts of the country, responded to, and were impacted by events such as the 1870 Education Act.

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