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John Pounds

Birthplace: Highbury Street, (Old) Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)
Death: January 01, 1839 (72)
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)
Place of Burial: Hampshire, England
Immediate Family:

Son of John Pounds and Martha Pounds
Brother of Henry Pounds; Thomas Pounds; Stephen Pounds; Sarah Pounds; Richard Pounds and 1 other

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About John Pounds

John Pounds (1766-1839)

John Pounds was a shoemaker and teacher born in Portsmouth. He is the man most responsible for the creation of the concept of Ragged schools.

After Pounds' died, Thomas Guthrie (often credited with the creation of Ragged Schools) wrote his Plea for Ragged Schools and proclaimed John Pounds as the originator of this idea.

John Pounds' father was a sawyer in the royal dockyard, Portsmouth and apprenticed his son when he was 12 years old to a shipwright. John Pounds was crippled in 1781 when he fell into a dry dock at Portsmouth Dockyard where he was apprenticed as a shipwright. As a result he put himself under the instruction of an old shoemaker in the High Street, and in 1803 started as a shoe mender on his own account in a weather-boarded tenement in St. Mary Street.

In 1818 he took charge of one of the children of his sailor brother, five years of age. Feeling that companionship for his nephew was desirable, he added first one child then another to his pupils. With a natural power of teaching and love of children, he thus became voluntary and gratuitous schoolmaster to the poorest children of Portsmouth. His numbers averaged about forty, including twelve little girls. His modes of teaching were chiefly interrogatory and realistic. He taught reading from handbills, and preferred old school-books to new. In arithmetic he taught up to the double rule of three. He instructed children how to cook their own food, mend their shoes, and make their playthings. He was doctor, nurse, master of sports, and companion on excursions into the country. His philanthropy also displayed itself in relieving his poor neighbours in winter notably in 1837-8, a winter of exceptional severity and his sympathy with and power over animals were remarkable.

In 1838 a characteristic portrait was painted of Pounds by H. S. Sheaf of Landport, a journeyman shoemaker. It is in the possession of the family of the late Edward Carter, esq., of Portsmouth. There was a lithograph, drawn by W. Mitchell and engraved by W. Charpentier. Pounds died on 1 Jan. 1839.

After his death came the recognition of his influence. Schools were established as memorials; publications in England, Scotland, and America extolled his virtues. In 1847 Dr. Guthrie wrote his 'Plea for Ragged Schools,' and proclaimed Pounds as originator of the idea.

In 1855 a memorial stone was erected to Pounds, and placed on his grave in High Street Chapel burial-ground.


A unitarian chapel named in his memory stands in Old Portsmouth. His life was celebrated in a sacred cantata Greatheart: The Story of John Pounds, by the Rev Carey Bonner.

The John Pounds centre was opened in Queen Street, Portsmouth in 2005 to encourage "a happier and healthier lifestyle, should that be through learning, physical or social activities".

The surgeon who worked on John Pounds according to "John Pounds - James Riordan" was Martel. It seems that possibly John's mother was his daughter - Martha. To be confirmed - CJB

England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

  • Name: John Pounds
  • Gender: Male
  • Christening Date: 11 Jan 1767
  • Father's Name: John Pounds
  • Indexing Project (Batch) Number: C06261-1
  • System Origin: England-ODM
  • GS Film number: 0919735, 0919736

Citing this Record

"England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975," index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 10 Sep 2013), John Pounds, 11 Jan 1767.

The story of John Pounds

Founder of ragged Schools by R Everett Jayne - First Edition 1925

Extracts and gleanings

... born on June 17, 1766, in St. Mary's Street, Old Portsmouth, hard by the Town Quay, the Harbour, and the Royal Dockyard that have made the town so famous.

His father was a carpenter employed in the Dockyard.

John ... at the age of 12, after having received but very little schooling, was apprenticed to a shipwright in the Yard

... he was over six feet in height;

... one day, when he had been there three years and was still only fifteen years of age, he missed his footing and crashed down from a great height into the depths of a dry dock. His life was saved as by a miracle, but it was the end of his career as a shipwright in the Royal Dockyard.

When John had sufficiently recovered from his accident, and it was clear that he could not return to his work as a shipwright in the Dockyard, his father sought to find another trade for him;

The problem was solved by putting him to learn shoemaking. He could sit down to do that work. So John Pounds became a cobbler.

... after the so-called disaster of the dry dock, and a term of apprenticeship to his new trade, he set up as a cobbler on his own account in a room which he rented in the house of a relative. In the year 1803 that house was pulled down, and john took a tiny wooden shop for himself further down St. Mary's Street, the street where he had been born and always lived, and there he spent the remainder of his days.

The shop as it was and a recreation built in the High Street

// //

John Pounds never married. John's nephew, son of his brother, was born a cripple with both feet turned inwards and overlapping one another. When the baby was a year old John offered to take entire charge of Johnnie - or "My Neffie" as John called him. John made special boots for the child to help remedy the deformity - gradually building up the leather to turn the child's feet outwards. Subsequently he helped many other "crippled" children.

John Pounds evolved similar ideas to Pestalozzi regarding training children. He became a teacher for the sake of his nephew Johnnie, and gathered his school together because it was not good for Johnnie to be alone. A family fried, Mr. Lemmon, allowed some of his children to go to John Pounds' shop every day as playmates for "My Neffie". As John Pounds worked he taught the children to read and write.

He never charged for any of his services. He taught only those children who could not pay. He filled his shop with "the most pitiable little vagabonds" he could find on the streets of the old town - advertising for "Little vagabonds preferred" - he called them his "wagabonds".

After his death the public of Portsmouth and further afield were "awakened" and became more generous towards the poor. It was resolved that his services to the poor should not be allowed to stop after his death..

In 1898 a Training Institution was opened called "The John Pounds' Home" where girls were trained for domestic service, provided with an outfit and then placed in good situations and given a start in life which, owing to their birth and circumstances, could never have been theirs without such help.

John Pounds is called "The Founder of Ragged Schools." That does not mean only those memorial schools for poor children that were opened in his native town soon after his death. It means literally that his influence brought into being the worlds-wide "Ragged School Movement."

References, Sources and Further Reading

This tree gives the father of John as John Pounds 1743-1781 and his mother as Martha Martell

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John Pounds's Timeline

June 17, 1766
Highbury Street, (Old) Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)
January 11, 1767
St. Mary's, Portsea, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)
January 1, 1839
Age 72
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)
January 5, 1839
Age 72
North-West part of the Protestant Dissenting burying ground, High Street, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (United Kingdom)