1849 February: Ragged School Union Magazine; Correspondence

Correspondence To the Editor of the Ragged School Union Magazine….Sir,—In the Prospectus of your excellent Magazine, I observe you set apart a portion of your pages for Correspondence; may I therefore be allowed to make a few remarks on the origin of the term “Ragged,” as applied to Schools.


The question has been repeatedly asked—”Who was the founder of Ragged Schools ?” and it must still remain unanswered, unless we refer the inquirer hack to the days of Raikes, who sought and collected from the streets of Gloucester the pupils of his first Sunday School.


The question, however—” How came the name of ‘Ragged’ to be attached to Schools?’’ is much easier explained, and it may not be uninteresting to your readers if a small space in your columns be taken up by the subject.


In the year 1842, the writer, then resident in London, was led to visit the Field Lane Sabbath School, then lately commenced, where he witnessed a scene so foreign to anything he had ever before experienced or heard of, that it made an impression on his mind never to be effaced.


On opening the door of the school, then held up a miserable court in Saffron Hill, a motley group of half-clad youths rushed up the rickety staircase into a small apartment, some ten feet square, and commenced leaping upon and overturning the forms which stood in their way—others showed their daring agility by descending from the first-floor window into the yard beneath, whilst the remainder evinced their love of fun and mischief by blowing out the lights, and giving ever and anon a specimen of their vocal talents, by a shouting chorus of some low and popular song; when, however, some order was obtained, and the two teachers present endeavoured to impart instruction with candle in hand, they were obliged to keep on their hats for protection from the rotten vegetables and animal refuse which the rebels without were continually throwing through the broken windows.


Such scenes as the one above described lasted more or less for several months, until the following circumstance brought matters to a crisis. The school at this time was open on Tuesday evenings for females, mid Thursday for males. One Tuesday evening, being at the school prior to the arrival of the superintendent, the writer was engaged admitting the young women and girls, when he was surprised by a woman coming hastily into the passage of the house, and beckoning him to close the door. As soon as she recovered her breath, she informed him that she had overheard a number of young men state that they intended coming to the school that evening to have a lark, and if the teacher interfered, they would ” rip him up.”


One having attempted on a previous occasion to stab the superintendent, the threat was deemed no vain one. Ere, however, she had finished her tale, the door was surrounded by a number of them; and, on opening it, and speaking kindly, they civilly asked to be admitted, but the unfairness to the females, if this was allowed, was pointed out, as it would deprive them of their usual night of instruction -. but arguments were of no avail; therefore, the door was closed and bolted, and the teacher ascended to the school-room on the first floor, which was already well filled with women and children.


He had, however, scarcely entered, when a loud crash, and a general rush up the dilapidated stairs, gave note of their triumph, and the room was crammed with the denizens of the neighbouring lane. Standing in the centre, be spoke kindly to them, and requested the men peaceably to ret re. A few complied, but the majority resolutely refused. An appeal was then made to the females to give up the evening, and allow the men to stop, but with no better success.


Fearing the consequences, he determined to send the children away ; and whilst so engaged, at a given signal the lights were extinguished, the windows smashed, the forms and tables broken to pieces, and a general rush took place to the stairs, with the movable articles of the room. Here the screaming, sweariug, and uproar, as they fell pell-mell over one another, was tremendous. At this time the landlord lay in an adjoining room in a dying state, and his wife and two young children, the only other inmates, supplied fresh lights, but which were blown out immediately afterwards.


After considerable difficulty’ the house was cleared, but not before the woman was nearly stripped to the back by the rough usage she received. Three policemen now arrived, having heard of the ” row,” the scampering in the court giving signal of their approach. One stated, on inquiry, that “ they dared not come singly, so bad was the locality.”


The school was soon after removed into a more open thoroughfare, and the writer being appointed treasurer, with scarcely sufficient funds to pay the rent, an appeal to the Christian public was determined upon; and he then, recalling the scene above described, and feeling that an interest must be excited on its behalf, gave the name of ” Ragged ” to the school, as it forcibly and tritely expressed the low character and condition of the pupils, so thoroughly depraved in mind and ragged in apparel.


An advertisement appeared in the Times newspaper, headed ” Ragged Schools,” which was the first public intimation of their existence; and letters were addressed to various of the Nobility and Gentry, soliciting their aid to carry on so good and great a work, when the first answer received was from the noble Chairman of your Union, encouraging us to proceed in our truly “interesting endeavours,” and contributing liberally towards our funds, to ” mark his concurrence ” in the same.


S. R. S. Nottingham, February, 1849.


[The school above referred to has undergone various vicissitudes within the last few years; but our readers will be glad to know that it never was in a more prosperous and efficient state than at the present time. We have received a communication from the zealous superintendent, giving an interesting account of the annual treat to the children, which took place on the 24th of January, of which the want of room compels us to give only a brief outline. Four hundred and thirty-five children partook of a very substantial tea, which was followed by a short address from Mr. Gent. The Rev. John Weir then examined them at some length, on the elementary truths of the Word of God.


About 200 children received one or more articles of clothing, a portion of which was provided by the Ladies’ Clothing Society, and the rest was sent, by benevolent friends. The proceedings closed with an exhibition of dissolving views by Mr. Cox, of Barbican, with which the children were highly delighted. About 200 lbs. of plum cake were distributed among them when retiring, the kind gift of Henry Stuart, Esq., and a large number of buns sent by an unknown friend in the afternoon. From a statement made in the first number of the Magazine, our leaders would see that many of the children attending this school are not only ignorant and depraved, but a large number are common pickpockets; others obtain a precarious living by begging, hawking, vending matches, oranges, etc.; and others are generally employed on market-days by the drovers in Smithfield.


The scenes to which they are there accustomed eminently qualify them for such engagements as those to which our Correspondent refers, and render their education a work of extreme difficulty; but their attention during the address, the answers given to the questions, and their general conduct throughout the proceedings of the evening, gave cheering evidence that the self-denying labours of their devoted teachers are not bestowed in vain.—Ed.]


The above is a reproduction of the article ‘Correspondence To the Editor of the Ragged School Union Magazine’ found in the 1849 February publication of the Ragged School Union Magazine.


Some history around the period includes:

The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade

“Vice Consul Charles Dickson, reporting from Ghadames in 1851, recounted how, at the height of that summer, two Tuareg led a small caravan of 20 slaves from Ghat to Ghadames. These traders, he wrote, ‘… were so neglectful as not even to provide sufficient water … when half way on the journey . . . eleven of those unhappy creatures perished from thirst in one day. The rest reached here in a pitiful state.’55

Such fatalistic negligence was apparently quite typical. It led to much bigger disasters, such as the destruction of a whole caravan of 1,600 slaves (driven by Tripolitanian Arabs and Tebu) on the road from Bornu in the summer of 1849, and the loss of a further 195 slaves on the same road later that year. The acting British Consul in Tripoli, John Reade, was not exaggerating when he described the deaths of the 1,600 as ‘one of the most appalling disasters that ever took place in this quarter of the Globe connected with the Slave Traffic’…

While Gagliuffi suggested that his losses for 1849 might put him off any further business with the interior, local merchants no doubt took theirs rather more fatalistically, regarding them as acceptable risks in an otherwise generally profitable trade. Perhaps the most far-reaching impact of the disasters of 1849, and particularly the case of the 1,600 slaves, was on the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, who was by then a convinced abolitionist.

Gagliuffi’s horrific despatches reached London as Palmerston was already dealing with disturbing cases of slave-running between Tripoli and Constantinople aboard the Turkish steam frigate Esseri Jadid. The case was of direct concern to London because British engineers serving on the ship were technically guilty of involvement in the slave trade. ”

Page 85 – 86, Wright, J. (2010). The trans-Saharan slave trade. London: Routledge.


“Why did the Russians decide to enter the war? …The answer lies in two places. First, as suggested by the quote at the beginning of the chapter, Nicholas worried that the Hungarian revolution would spawn renewed attempts at revolution in Poland. An independent Hungary could serve as a potential base for Polish revolutionaries looking to liberate their homeland from Russia and a greatly weakened Austria would have had a harder time maintaining order in Galicia, the Austrian portion of Poland. Hungarian nobles had long maintained cordial relations with the Polish elite and in fact many Polish émigrés served in the Hungarian army in 1848 and 1849.

Thus, the Hungarian revolutionaries, though they were not actively encouraging an uprising in Poland at the time, could not credibly commit to not help the Poles at some future date after Hungarian independence had been secured. Second, the dramatic Hungarian successes in early 1849 made a Hungarian victory a distinct possibility, though not necessarily the most likely outcome of the war. As long as an Austrian victory seemed very likely, the threat posed to Russia by the PolishHungarian commitment problem was low since the Austrians were apt to destroy it. Once a quick and crushing Austrian victory seemed less likely, the threat posed to Russia by the Polish-Hungarian commitment problem became very real indeed and ultimately triggered Russian involvement.

“No outside power seriously considered entering the conflict on the Hungarian side. Of the great powers, Britain and France were the most plausible candidates to join the Hungarian side. The British were sympathetic to the Hungarian’s cause, though the eventual dethronement of Franz Joseph reduced this sympathy somewhat. Even given this sympathy, however, the British were far more concerned that a successful revolution by the Hungarians would unduly weaken the Habsburgs and upset the entire balance of power in central Europe. As early as March 1848, Lord Ponsonby, the British ambassador to Austria, had intimated that a Russian invasion would be the best way to resolve the Hungarian issue.6 When the Russians finally did decide to join the war in 1849, Lord Palmerston, the British foreign minister, indicated his approval to the Russian ambassador stating, “Maybe [the Hungarians] are right, but get done with them quickly.”

Page 48 Shirkey, Z. C. (2016). Joining the fray: Outside military intervention in civil wars. London: Routledge.


British Antislavery Diplomacy and Conditions of Liberated Africans

“The effective end of the Atlantic slave trade in 1867 marked the culmination of a sixty-year international suppression campaign, coordinated and driven to a significant extent by British political, diplomatic, economic, and naval pressure; by the threat and use of violence explicitly framed in terms of morality, “right thinking,” and the “redemption” of humanity.

Defending the at times extralegal tactics used to achieve the ultimate objective, Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston told the House of Commons in July 1864 that the Brazilian component of the slave trade “has ceased.” Since he had ordered gunboats into Brazilian territorial waters in 1849, the Brazilian government had finally “been compelled by force to do what the [1826] treaty bound them to do. . . . I take great credit to myself for having been instrumental in bringing about that result.”

Palmerston’s satisfaction reflected the mood of elation, self-congratulation, and imperial pride with which British abolitionists and the general public greeted the extinction of the Atlantic trade and set the tone for the first wave of histories that would be written on the subject. In many ways, the ultimate success of the British intervention, and the narratives of providential victory that accompanied it, obscured much of the process detail that had so concerned many contemporaries along the way. Not least, it distracted from the significant human cost of the trade as it continued, even flourished, from 1807 to 1867 and the many ways in which the liberated African “disposal” system not only failed on its own terms but created conditions often far worse than slavery. ”

Page 215 Ryan, M., British Antislavery Diplomacy and Liberated African Rights as an International Issue In Anderson, R. P., & In Lovejoy, H. B. (2020). Liberated Africans and the abolition of the slave trade, 1807-1896. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.