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Child Emigration from Britain to Canada (Ragged School, London)

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This is a sub-project of the Child Emigration - Britain to Canada.

This one is for the young men and women from the Ragged School in London. They were all classed as labourers.

On the whole the profiles linked to this project do not have any information about the parents, what they did in Canada or exact dates of birth. What they do have is a source document showing their immigration to Canada. Because of the numbers involved the names are not listed in the body of the project - please refer to the profiles added listed (right) for links.

Some profiles may be linked to their families as someone from the family has contacted us with information.


Ragged Schools were charitable schools dedicated to the free education of destitute children in 19th century Britain. The schools were given this name because the children who attended had only very ragged clothes to wear and they rarely had shoes. They did not own clothing suitable in which to attend any other kind of school.

The Ragged Schools were charitable schools dedicated to the free education of destitute children. The movement started in Scotland in 1841, when Sheriff Watson established the Aberdeen Ragged School, initially for boys only: a similar School for girls opened in 1843, and a mixed School in 1845. From there the movement spread to Dundee and other parts of Scotland, mostly due to the work of the Rev Thomas Guthrie. Also associated with Ragged schools was Thomas Cranfield

The idea of ragged schools was developed by John Pounds, a Portsmouth shoemaker. In 1818 Pounds began teaching poor children without charging fees. Thomas Guthrie helped to promote Pounds' idea of free schooling for working class children. Guthrie started a ragged school in Edinburgh and Sheriff Watson established another in Aberdeen.

In 1844, the movement spread to England, with the establishment of the London Ragged School Union under the chairmanship of Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. Cooper was president for 39 years, in which time an estimated 300,000 destitute children received education. At the height of the movement, there were 192 Schools, with an average attendance of 20,000 pupils. As well as giving very elementary education, the Ragged Schools engaged in a wide variety of social welfare activities such as running Penny Banks, Clothing Clubs, Bands of Hope, and Soup Kitchens. However, despite their alternate name of Industrial Feeder Schools, only 3 Ragged Schools gave trade instruction, the only form of education for which Government grants were available. With the advent of the board schools as a consequence of An Act to provide for Elementary Education in England and Wales [9 August 1870], the curricula of which did qualify for such grants, the number of pupils at Ragged Schools gradually declined.

The Ragged School Museum in the East End of London shows how a Ragged School would have looked - it is housed in buildings previously occupied by Dr Thomas Barnardo.

Sheriff Watson

"The claims of Sheriff Watson as a ‘father’ of ragged schooling while sometimes cited, are somewhat questionable. He certainly set up a society in Aberdeen to educate poor children. Initially, tickets were issued so that these children could attend ordinary day schools but there were objections from teachers ‘who did not like having in their classes children so dirty, ragged and poor, and from the visitors, who found the children so hungry, that offering a ticket seemed like offering a stone instead of bread’ (Young and Ashton 1956: 242).
He revised his plans and instead, in 1840, set up an industrial school to educate, train and feed all the vagrant children of the town. However, unlike the efforts of Pounds and subsequent ragged schoolers, Watson used compulsion. Vagrant children were arrested and put in the school. A 'ragged school for girls opened in 1843, and a mixed school in 1845".

Thomas Cranfield

Cranfield was more in the John Pounds mould. He was a tailor and former soldier. He had opened a Sunday school on Kingsland Road, London and in 1798 established a day school on Kent Street (close to London Bridge). He was a great organiser and by the time of his death in 1838 had ‘built up an organisation of nineteen Sunday, night and infants’ schools situated in the foulest parts of London’ (Eagar 1953: 121). It was with the establishment of the London City Mission in 1835 (and its employment of paid missionaries and lay agents) that the ragged schooling got its name. The fifth annual report of the London City Mission (1840) reports the establishment in the previous year of five schools ‘formed exclusively for children raggedly clothed’ which a total of 570 children were attending. (Montague 1904: 34)"

Further Reading and references