Ragged Schools and Ragged Scholars: Sunday Schools – Thomas Cranfield – John Pounds – the City Mission – Ragged Schools

I have some true stories to tell of children who went to a ragged school: but I wish to tell these stories in my own way; and I must first write about other persons and things. It was a good day when Sunday schools were first thought of Since then, large numbers of children, who else would have grown up ignorant of God, have been taught to read his holy word; and many have believed and obeyed the gospel, and been saved from the wrath to come.


Yet it should be known that though there are, in our country, so many Sunday schools, there are also tens of thousands of poor children who are in danger of growing up to b e as ignorant, as wretched, and as picked as heathens. How can this be? Ah, young reader, if you were to pass through some parts of London, and other large towns, you would soon understand this. You would see multitudes of men, and women, and children, living in narrow lanes and close courts, amidst filth which it is painful, to witness, and in the practice of sin which it is shocking to think of the houses in which they dwell are mostly very old; and in them the people are crowded together, without any of the comforts of life. In a single room are often two or three families; and in many of the houses may sometimes be seen fifty or sixty persons who have no home besides these miserable places.


When they rest at night, they lie huddled together on rags. and straw; and they pass most of their days in drunkenness, gambling, quarrelling, and almost every kind of wickedness. Do you ask how such people obtain a living? Indeed it would be hard, to say. It is to be feared that most of them are thieves, and bring up their children to be thieves also. Many, are beggars, ballad singers, and ballad singers as they call themselves. Some are comers of base money, which they sell to others as sinful as themselves, to pass for good money. Very few indeed of them are really honest and industrious; for we maybe sure that honest and industrious persons, though poor, would not willingly live where there is so much dirt, discomfort, and roguery.


Now you may suppose that the children who are brought up amidst such scenes are sadly neglected, and greatly to be pitied. They are early taught to curse and swear, and lie and steal; but they are kept in ignorance of all that is good. They know nothing of the Bible; they pay no regard to the Sabbath; they feel no shame in being known as dishonest : if found out, and sent to prison for stealing, as hundreds of them are every year, they only become more hardened, and boast of. their crimes. Poor children! it is not uncommon for them to be driven from their wretched homes by their cruel parents, to obtain their daily bread by dishonesty; and they are punished when they return, if they have not stolen enough.


It is sad even to see these children as they roam the streets, they are generally so ragged and filthy; and it is distressing to hear them speak, their language is so indecent and profane:—they are: altogether like little savages, such as we might expect to find in heathen lands; but who are a disgrace to a country which is called Christian. It is plain that such children as these are not often to be found in Sunday schools.


And yet, ignorant and vicious as they are, they have souls, you know, as well, as others—souls that must either be saved or lost! They have minds capable of receiving instruction, and of being turned from, the love and practice of sin to usefulness and holiness. I am happy to say that, at different times, and in different ways, the gospel has been made known to some of these poor children and their parents, and that not a few have been brought out of the darkness of vice and misery.


There once lived a. good man, whose name was Thomas Cranfield, who delighted in this holy employment..’ He lived in London, and was grieved to see around him so many going in’ the broad road to destruction.’ He was not a rich and great man; but he had to work hard for the support of his family  yet this did not prevent him from trying to be useful to others.  Among many other plans which the dear Saviour whom he loved put into, his heart to undertake, was that of Sunday schools for the very worst and the most neglected children he could find.


There was one of part of London with which Cranfield became acquainted, which was inhabited by just such people as I have spoken of Thieves, beggars, gypsies,’ and poor, degraded, sinful women, were to be met with in almost every house. In the same room were often found’ living together, men, women, children, pigs, dogs, and even asses; while in every part of the wretched place were to he heard the most awful blasphemies. The poor children were in a sad condition. Many of them had scarcely enough rags to cover them; and their matted hair and dirty faces and hands proved that they were very seldom either combed or washed.


It was in this place that Thomas Cranfield determined to have a Sunday school He hired a room, and made it known that he was willing to teach any children who would come to him. Many children went to this school; and though at first they were very rude, and the. kind teacher was greatly persecuted by the wicked people of the place,. much good was done. The children, after awhile, became more teachable, more cleanly, arid more modest, and, what is still better, some of them learned the way. of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and lived and died in the faith of the : gospel. Other persons too, besides children,, were converted’ and made holy, by the blessing of God upon the teaching of Thomas Cranfield; so that he had great reason to be thankful that it had been put into his mind to visit and teach such ragged, dirty, and vicious children.


Thomas Cranfield and his friends afterwards opened Sunday schools in other parts of London, which were crowded with poor, ignorant, and very degraded scholars; and the success which attended their labours showed that there is a lovely power in the gospel, accompanied by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to soften the hardest heart, and to bring the most daring rebel to obey the Saviour.


“This remedy did wisdom find
‘ To heal diseases of the mind;
This sovereign balm, whose virtues can
Restore the ruin’d creature, man.

“Where Satan reigned in shades of night
The gospel strikes a heavenly light;
Our lusts its wondrous power controls,
And calms the rage of angry souls.

“Lions and beasts of savage name
Put on the nature of the Lamb;
Whilst the wide world esteem it strange,
Gaze, and admire, and hate the change.”


While Thomas Cranfield, and others like him, whose hearts God had touched to pity and try to save poor little heathens at home, were thus employed in London, the same kind of work was being done and carried on elsewhere. And before we come to our ragged school children, I must tell you a little about a poor man who lived at Portsmouth. The name of this poor man was John Pounds. By trade he was a cobbler; or a mender of shoes; and he lived in a small wooden house in one of the mean streets of that large town. John Pounds was a cripple, and had nothing to depend upon but his own hard labor; yet he was very cheerful and very kind. He was fond of animals, which he reared in his little shop, where he might often be seen hard at work, with a canary bird on one shoulder and a cat on the other, for he had quite “a happy family ” around him.


But John Pounds did not bestow all his affection upon beasts and birds. He was very partial to children. He had a little nephew; who, like himself; was a cripple, whom he took great care of and in every way treated with much kindness. When this little boy was b old enough to begin learning to read, his kind uncle undertook to teach him; and thinking that he might as well have two scholars as one, and that perhaps a companion would be helpful and pleasant to his nephew, John Pounds invited the child of a very poor woman, who lived near, to come to his shop, and learn his letters. Then he got another arid another to come, until, after a time, he had around him every day a school of thirty or forty poor, dirty, ragged children, who, but for kind John Pounds, would never have gone to any school, but must have grown up ignorant, and, most likely, very wicked.


John Pounds was not paid for teaching these ragged, neglected children, except by the pleasure he took in the work. Indeed, it cost him something sometimes to get a scholar; for he more than once followed a little, unwilling, hungry fellow down the street, and tempted him to return with him to his school, by the promise of food. And so this poor, but useful man went on, working hard at his trade and teaching his scholars, both boys and girls, in the small shed which served him for a shop. And he was happier than many rich men who know not what to do with their time or their money.


He had found out the secret of true pleasure; he was doing good. His pupils, were happy too; for John Pounds had such kind and merry ways of teaching them, that they quite enjoyed being at his school; He might have had many more scholars; but his workshop was always well filled. When he had room for more, he made it a practice to choose .the worst and the poorest children he could find, in hopes of doing the most good; and it was really, extraordinary how he gained their affections, and got them to mind what he said.


John Pounds took pains to teach other things than mere spelling and reading. He brought the ragged, and ignorant, and vicious scholars to understand the value of honesty and industry. He taught them to do much for themselves which would be helpful to them as they grew older. Besides this, when they were sick, he kindly nursed them; and when they were not at their books, he played with them. This kind treatment, which the poor children were not used to receive at their miserable homes, softened their hearts; and many whom he thus, through several years, generously cared for and taught, grew up to be sober, honest, and industrious, when, but for his help, and the blessing of God upon it, they would have been all their lives ignorant and wicked, and very likely have come to a sad and shameful end.


Poor John Pounds died in the beginning of the year 1839. He was then an old man; but he had kept on his school almost to the last day of his life, for he died suddenly. The poor children wept and grieved when their kind instructor was gone. And well they might, for though there were thousands of .people in that large, town who were much richer in money than the old cobbler, there was not one to whom these children could look with such confidence and dove as to their humble but generous benefactor.


Well, John Pounds was dead, and Thomas Cranfield died about a year before him; but before this time; many other persons had taken an interest in the instruction and welfare of the neglected children of such ignorant and. wicked parents as you have here been reading about —yes, and of those parents too. In the year 1835, some good, zealous Christians met together to think of what could be done for the benefit of great numbers of the people who were living like heathens and savages, though in Christian Britain.


They plainly saw that churches and chapels were useless to those who would not enter them; and that none of the means then made use of for spreading abroad the knowledge of God and his word, were just those that were needed for the conversion of such heathens at home. They remembered that it is asked in the Bible, “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent?” Rom. X, 14,15; And they believed that the blessing of God would rest upon their prayers and labors if. they were to send preachers, or missionaries, or Scripture readers, to these dark and dreary parts of large cities, to talk to the people in their own houses, and to read to them the word of God.


They therefore formed a society, which is called “The City Mission,” for this very purpose; and you will be pleased to be told that nearly two hundred pious missionaries are employed in London and its neighbourhood alone, in visiting from house to house, and making known the gospel to nearly half a million of people, most of whom, it is to be feared, were what the Bible, calls “ignorant” and “out of the way,” Heb. v, 2.


There are also many Scripture readers, district visitors; and tract distributors engaged in the same, good work. There is not room here to tell you how much these good men have had to. endure of persecution and suffering in their holy employment; nor how much pleasure they have had in seeing poor, guilty, hardened sinners become penitent, and in hearing them ask, “What must we do to be saved?” Many delightful histories might be told .of such persons, and the good done through the mighty power and grace of Christ We must pass on, however, to other matters.


While something has been done to save the souls of parents and grown up people in these miserably wicked and filthy parts of .London, the. children have not been forgotten. Sunday schools and evening schools have been opened, to which the dirtiest and most neglected and depraved children are invited. They go to these schools notwithstanding their rags and filth, and with all the open, boastful sinfulness which from day. to day they learn from those about them. Little cunning beggar boys and girls—young thieves—children who could not be suffered to mix for an hour with the children of honest, industrious, sober, decent parents—these are the kind of scholars who, for the most part, attend the schools called ragged schools. I am sure it is not needful to say why they are called by this name.


It is pleasant to think that, in this way, many hundreds of children are taught in these ragged schools what perhaps they would never have learned: anywhere else,—the value of a good character, the duty of honesty, sobriety, and industry, the advantage of knowledge, and, above all, the way of pardon, peace, and eternal safety, through the Lord Jesus Christ.


The above text was published in the book ‘Stories of Ragged Schools and Ragged Scholars’. The text above was taken from the edition revised by Daniel P. Kidder which was printed in 1850 in New York, the United States of America. Published by Lane & Scott, for the Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church, found at 200 Mulberry Street and printed by Joseph Longking.


The following is the preface to the book:


This book was written and first printed in London; In Great Britain only are ragged schools known, as such. There are many ragged children in the United States of America but it is a cause of thankfulness that their number is not great in proportion to that of the children who have good clothing together with food and other blessings in abundance.

We hope that the favored and happy children of our country will remember who hath caused them to differ from the poor ragged children of England, about whom they will read in this book. Readers should also be reminded; of the excellence of the Sabbath-school institution in being capable of doing good in the midst of so much evil. We desire that the characters of the good and self-denying men who have established and sustained ragged schools should be admired and imitated.

In order that our readers may have a better knowledge of the enterprise of ragged school instruction, we have considerably enlarged the original dimensions of this volume, by adding matter from other reliable sources.

New York, 1850.