Vol. 4 No. 3 - 1982
The era of so-called 'Enlightenment' in the last decades of the 18th century had, at its centre, the belief that the human mind should be trained to think and argue rationally.
The idea that education was a universal human need was, therefore, widely propagated by the apostles of the new order. This revolutionary idea was, however, treated with much suspicion, particularly by churchmen, who saw 'free- thinking' as the principal challenge to the spiritual authority of the Church. The debates which ensued were only ended when social and economic changes created pressures which made it necessary to establish an educational system that would meet contemporary needs. In particular, the growth of industry, and its increasing mechanisation, created a whole new class of skilled workers and engineers for whom some form of education was absolutely essential. It is against this background that I want to look at 19th century Lurgan Schools.
As the new century dawned, Lurgan had little by way of formal education. Information is, predictably, scarce, but Bradshaw's Directory for 1819 does list three school teachers:- Thomas Alien, Samuel Taylor and Thomas Warren. Two of these we can identify from later references. Taylor ran a school in South Street (now Queen's Street), and Warren was master of the Erasmus Smith School in Back Lane (now North Street). Of Alien we know nothing.
Despite the paucity of hard information, we can fairly safely assume that much more schooling was available that might at first appear. In 1787, a boy was born in Lurgan of humble parents his name was Samuel Watts. In later years Watts prospered to such an extent that he was able to endow a Grammar School in his own home town. Speaking at the opening of that school, Watts friend, John Hancock, said, Mr. Watts, in early life, knew the hedge- schoolmasters, and the mode of education and darkness that then spread over the land." We can thus infer that in the 1790s Lurgan, in common with most other provincial towns in Ireland, had its share of hedge-schools. These were not always open air establishments as is sometimes assumed.
The hedge-schoolmaster held classes wherever there were children, be that in the open air, or in a barn, or even in a church hall. It is also sometimes assumed that the hedge-schools were the schools of the Roman Catholics, suffering at this time under the iniquitous Penal Laws, Again this cannot be strictly true, since Watts and his family were staunch members of the Established Church. (There is an enthralling account of a hedge school in Benedict Kelly's book on William Carleton). The one thing all hedge schools had in common was that all pupils had to pay a small sum, usually weekly, for their instruction. The Hedge-school masters were often men of intellect and ability, but there were also many half-illiterate charlatans who used their 'education' as an alternative to begging.
It would, of course, be foolish to read too much into the words of one man, speaking half a century after the hedge schools had disappeared. However, we can find some evidence of their existence in Lurgan in the report of the Inquiry into Irish Education of 1826. In the course of the proceedings, one of the inspectors was asked to define the term 'Pay School' used widely in the statistical return of the Report. In his reply, the inspector made it clear that the Commissioners of Education considered the term 'Pay School' to be synonymous with 'Hedge School'. Indeed the history books tend to use the term 'pay school' as a sort of early 19th century equivalent of the hedge-school. (See F. D. L. Lyons Ireland since the Famine'). Bearing this in mind, a look at the statistical return for Lurgan is enlightening. Ten Schools are listed, and nine of these are described as Pay Schools. It would, I think, be wrong to assume that all these schools were organised, as hedge schools are usually understood to have been organised. For example, the school run by the Taylor family, in South Street, can be traced from 1819 to 1846. It may well have been in existence before 1819, and it probably lasted after 1846 (although it had disappeared by 1865), so that it was clearly a fairly permanent institution. Its premises were described as 'good,' it had an enrolment of 128 in 1826, producing an annual income of £100-124. This has all the signs of a thriving establishment, but the same cannot be said for some of the other 'schools'. One school described in the 1826 report, for instance, was that run by Mary Bell, a Quakeress, who taught 9 children in her mistress's kitchen. This produced for her an income of £5/10/0 per an- num. This school, along with others, held in apartments, or in unspecified places, probably represents the true 'hedge school' tradition in Lurgan.
By 1826, the days of the 'Pay schools' were numbered in Lurgan. A number of organisations had been established in Ireland to provide schools on a much wider scale. Such organisations as the Kildare Place Society (its full title was The Society for promoting the education of the Poor in Ireland) on the Protestant side, and the Christian Brothers on the Roman Catholic side were busy building and staffing schools throughout, the country. In addition the rapid spread of the ideas of Lancaster and others meant that the old excuses for the shortage of schools were no longer valid. It is to these developments that we must now turn.
For the first half of the 19th Century, the main educational establishment in Lurgan was the Erasmus Smith School, situated in Back Lane (now North Street). The School was opened in 1812, and it seems likely that the Thomas Warren referred to above was the first master of the School, since it was noted that he was teaching in Lurgan in 1819, and at that time he was Parish Clerk as well.
The Erasmus Smith Charity was probably the leading in- dependent educational agency in Ireland for nearly 200 years. Smith was a Cromwellian adventurer, that is, one of those who helped finance Cromwell's Irish campaigns. As a reward, he received a grant of land in Tipperary in 1652.
Over the years that followed, the ambitious Smith added to his land holdings at such a rate that he eventually became the largest single landowner in the country with estates totalling 46,449 acres in 9 counties. It is possible that some of this land was in Connaught, in contravention of the Cromwellian Plantation scheme, which reserved land in that Province for the Native Irish. Beresford Ellis, in his book "Hell or Connaught," states that Smith set his Con- naught land aside for educational endowment in order to avoid embarrassing legal complications. To be fair, none of the other accounts of the period that I have read would confirm this, although the new History of Ireland volume on the 17th century does suggest that something of the kind might have happened. Whatever the exact details, the education scheme was finally launched in 1657. 12 years later, Charles II confirmed the original charter, so that we can assume that Smith had made his peace with the Royalist authorities. By the 19th century, the Governors of the Erasmus Smith Charity controlled an estate of 12,400 acres, yielding £9,100 per annum. Out of this, the Charity financ- ed, amongst other things, 5 Secondary Schools (3 Grammar Schools, in Galway, Drogheda and Tipperary, and a High School and Commercial School in Dublin), and 42 Elementary Schools.
(Author's correction: Actually there were 156 of these Elementary Schools when the trust was at its peak in the 1850s. The last Erasmus Smith Schools disappeared in the 1930s - in 1930 there were 10 surviving schools. (See M. V. Ronan 'The Erasmus Smith Foundation,' Talbot Press, Dublin 1937)).
Lurgan had one (or possibly two) of these schools. The doubt arises from the fact that the 1826 Report notes that the School catered for boys and girls, while the records of the Erasmus Smith Charity note that schools were provided separately for boys and girls (38 boys schools, 4 girls schools). The existence of two schools is reinforced by the Ordnance Survey memoirs for 1830, which clearly refer to separate Boys' and Girls' schools. All other references, however, refer to one school, so we may assume that the one building was used by both sexes, in much the same way as the Model School was later organised.
The School building cost £850 to build, and could accommodate 234 children. It was situated on land provided by William Brownlow, and it was officially considered to be 'the 'Parish School', with the incumbent of Shankill Parish Church paying £S per annum towards its upkeep. The school's links with the established Church were strengthened even further by the fact that the books published by the Kildare Place Society were used in teaching. The teachers' salaries were paid by the Erasmus Smith Charity Trustees, and this would have helped to guarantee the school's in- dependence. In 1826, the school's enrolment was 282 (158 male and 124 female), This is an interesting Figure, bearing in mind that the school was built to accommodate 234 children.
Incidentally, the enrolment figures in the 1826 report must be treated with caution. For each school two sets of figures are given one described as a "Protestant Return" and the other as a "Roman Catholic Return". There are noticeable discrepancies between the two returns in a number of cases, including the Erasmus Smith School, where the Roman Catholic Return gives a total enrolment of 258. This is perhaps, only to be expected. The school was genuinely mixed in religious denomination, with approx. 30% of its pupils being Roman Catholics. Since it was, at the same time, dominated by the Church of Ireland, the local Roman Catholic clergy may well have wished to play down the involvement of their flock. Conversely, the Church of Ireland ministers could well have been tempted to exaggerate the number of children for prestige, or even for financial reasons. It is significant, however, that the greatest discrepancy between the two returns occurs in the figures for Roman Catholic Children attending the school. The Roman Catholic return gives the figure as 70, the Protestant return claims 85. Thus, the figures actually presented must be treated with some caution. The only real conclusion that we can draw is that the school was working to capacity in 1826. A decade later, when Lewis' Topographical Dictionary was being compiled, the enrolment was given as 266 so the school was still thriving then.
To handle this enrolment, the school was supplied with two teachers, who each had a house and garden provided as part of the job. The 1826 report gives the salaries as £30 per annum for both teachers, although Lewis gives the figures as £20 for the master and £14 for the mistress. I can find no reason for this discrepancy although it is possible that new, and less experienced teachers had been appointed in the interim. The first record that I can find of the staff of the school is the 1826 report, which shows the two teachers as Thomas Warren and Ellen Gribben. Warren, we have already noted, was teaching in Lurgan in 1819, and may well have been the first master of the Erasmus Smith School when it opened in 1812. By 1830, these two had been replaced by Patrick Carroll and Ann Anderson. Mrs. Anderson must have been quite an institution around Lurgan, for she was still teaching in the Erasmus Smith School in 1877 (not a bad stint for any teacher!) Over the same years, the mastership changed at least twice. The Directory for 1865 shows Henry Clarke as Master, while that for 1877 has Mr. R. Howell in that position.
The Erasmus Smith School was a genuinely Free School, with a strong charitable connection. Poor children were clothed from the proceeds of the collection at an annual Charity Sermon, preached in the Shankill Parish Church. Heating, and other services to the school were provided by subscription from resident gentry.
For the first half of the 19th century, therefore, the Erasmus Smith School provided the bulk of the children in Lurgan with all the education they would ever receive. By the second half of the century, however, new developments, particularly in the field of National Education began to erode the dominant position of the Erasmus Smith School. It seems that the school buildings passed into the hands of the National Board, probably at some time in the 1890s, and it became the North Street National School. This school lasted into the 1930s, but had closed before the war started, since troops were, apparently, billetted in the buildings in 1939. It is significant that the School ended its life as a National School, because it was the development of the National Schools in Lurgan that saw the Erasmus Smith school decline in importance.
The National Board, or to give it its full title, the Board of Commissioners of National Education in Ireland, was set up in 1831, as the result of the Inquiry of 1825-26, to which reference has already been made. The aim of the Board was to provide combined moral and literary, and separate religious, education, thus enabling Roman Catholic and Protestant children to he educated together. Surprisingly, the new system was at first greeted with some favour by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, and with varying degrees of antagonism by the Protestant denominations.
The situation pre 1830 had been rather confused. There were three Protestant Education Societies : The Incorporated Society in Dublin for promoting English Protestant Schools in Ireland; The Association for Discountenancing Vice, and Promoting the Knowledge and Practice of the Christian Religion; and The Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Ireland (better known as The Kildare Place Society). The first two of these were unashamedly proselytising agencies, but the Kildare Place Society appeared to give the hope of a genuine non-denominational system, albeit dominated by Protestants. At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church was seeking to provide for the education of its own children, through Parish Schools, supported by voluntary contributions, Girls' Schools associated with convents, and Boys' Schools run by the Christian Brothers. It was against this background that the proposal for a 'National' education system was made. The prospect of a non-denominational school system, supported by Government funds, must have been tempting to the Catholic hierarchy, representing as they did many of the poorest people in Ireland.
The new National System was almost strangled at birth by the antagonism of the two main Protestant denominations. The Church of Ireland, objecting to the Board's refusal to allow Bible teaching, except from a book of agreed extracts, and to the implicit threat to the supremacy of the Established Church posed by the new system, established an organisation of its own, the Church Education Society. To its credit, the Government steadfastly refused to give its financial support to the C.E.S., which was, therefore, forced to survive on voluntary subscriptions. By 1860, the Church Hierarchy had come to the decision that the C.E.S. would have to come to terms with the National Board. This was gradually achieved in the years from 1860-1890.
The Presbyterians took an equally strong line with the National Board. When it was established in 1831, the Presbyterian schools opted out of the new system completely. It is difficult to understand just why there was such bitter opposition. The Presbyterians were, of course, especially strong in Ulster, and since the days of the Regium Donum had enjoyed a certain amount of Government sup- port. However, this does little to explain the strong reaction to the National Board. It is possible that the internal disputes within the Presbyterian Church may have had something to do with it. Certainly the wounds of the Unitarian - Trinitarian split were still deep at the time, and the freshness of doctrinal disagreement may have made Presbyterians, loth to accept 'non-denominational' religious instruction. At the same time, Presbyterians had been leading the way in parts of Northern Ireland with the establishment of schools, and they may well have resented the loss of these to a state system. By 1838, however, the Presbyterians had succeeded in reaching a compromise with the National Board which, in effect, gave them continued control of their own schools.
By the mid 1830s the Roman Catholic Church had also begun to have serious misgivings about the National system. The root of this seems to have been the traditional misgiving about the motives behind the British administration policies. Archbishop McHale of Tuam roundly condemned the new education system, describing it as yet another attempt to proselytise the Irish. At about the same time the Christian Brothers removed their schools from the Board's control. The whole matter so divided the hierarchy that an appeal for guidance was sent to the Vatican. The reply, although a little evasive, did place on the Bishops the onus of ensuring that the faith of Catholic children educated under the new system was not endangered.
It is probably symptomatic of the grave social upheaval associated with the famine years that the National Board survived the major challenges from such influential groups. In most parts of the country, the prospect of schools surviving on voluntary subscription alone was slim, so the availability of Government funds was a great help. However, the National Board that survived into the 1850s was very different from that envisaged by its creators in the 1830s. The churches had succeeded in weakening the non-denominational nature of the system, and they were gradually to increase their control over the National Schools as the century progressed. Between 1850 and 1900 the number of schools under the Board's control doubled (4,500 to 9,000). Many, but by no means all, of these were new built schools.
Lurgan, being a rapidly growing industrial town, was an obvious candidate for school development. The Erasmus Smith School, under Church of Ireland control, had served the town well, but there must have been considerable unease amongst the other two main religious groups in the town, the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians, that they had no say in the provision of education. In these circumstances, the National system offered the opportunity not only of avoiding domination by the Established Church, but of establishing control over schools themselves. The first proper record available is the 1866 Provincial directory, which lists three National Schools in the town; The High Street National School, the Dougher National School and the Hill Street National School. Two of these were shown as being under ecclesiastical patronage. The High Street School was under the patronage of Rev. L. E. Berkeley, minister of the High Street Presbyterian Church, while the Dougher School had Very Rev. W. O'Brien, Parish Priest of Lurgan, as its patron. Thus, even as early as the 1860s Lurgan was proving to be a microcosm of Ireland as a whole.
The Hill Street School was at first shown as being free of church control, but by 1877 it too had come under ecclesiastical patronage, Street) Presbyterian Church being patron. It is, therefore, clear that the National System, which set out to provide a non-denominational system of education, had in fact simply served to allow the denominations to strengthen their control over schooling. It is significant that the Erasmus Smith School did not have its denominational links publicly acknowledged until the 1877 Directory, when Rev. Dr. Campbell, of Shankill Parish, was shown as Patron. This had, of course, been the position since the schools inception, but there seems to be a recognition of the need to acknowledge the situation in public. It is possible the Church of Ireland was resentful of the way in which the other denominations in the town had virtually made the National System their own. In addition, the Disestablishment of the Irish Church meant that the Church of Ireland was now on the same legal footing as the other denominations, whether it liked it or not.
The largest of the National Schools was the High Street School, usually called Lurgan National School. In 1865-6 it had a staff of five: Messrs. Wallace, Dalton and Manson on the boys side, and Misses Lowry and Stewart on the girls. There was also a visiting Music teacher, Mr. Sam McGowan. Slaters 1870 Directory shows Wm. English as Master and Ruth Nettleton as Mistress. This docs not, I think, mean a decrease in staff, but simply reflects the practice in some directories of giving only the heads of the two main departments in the schools (boys and girls). The 1877 Ulster Town Directory shows the teachers as W. Gibson and Miss Steele. This school probably provided the basis of Presbyterian education in the town, although, as a National School, it was of necessity open to all children. On the Roman Catholic side, the Dougher School (which was to become St. Peters) is shown with a staff of three in 1865-6: Mr. Cullen, Mrs. McKeown and Miss Ward. By 1877, when the name is shown for the first time as St. Peter's, the teacher was F. McCarthy. Once again, I assume that this is not evidence of a decrease in staff, but that Mr. McCarthy was the 'Master.' Being situated in a predominantly Roman Catholic area, it is possible that this school drew most of its pupils from the Catholic community. The third National School was that in George Street though called the Hill Street School. The teacher there was Miss Ginn, and it seems likely that the school was much smaller than the other two. It did, however, serve a developing part of the town, and could be expected to grow.
Towards the end of the century there were some additions to the National School system in Lurgan. We will be looking in some detail at the Model School, opened in 1863. In addition, we have also noted that the Erasmus Smith School came under the National Board's control before the end of the century. A new school was opened in John Street (now Sloan Street), and this was replaced in the 1930s by the present Carrick School.
The National Schools were an excellent idea, and undoubtedly provided a good grounding for hundreds of thousands of Irish children. Unfortunately, the new system fell foul of Ireland's abiding problem - its deep religious divisions. While the idea was a good one, what eventually emerged was a emasculated system which had little in it to please anyone. Patrick Pearse, writing in 1912, condemned the National System as lacking freedom and inspiration. "Without these two things, you cannot have education. And because these two things are pre-eminently lacking in what passes for education in Ireland, we have in Ireland strictly no education system at all."
At the apex of the National School system, as proposed in 1831, were the Model Schools. The idea was that each county would have a Model School, which would serve not only as an example to other National Schools in the area, but also as Teacher Training establishments. Much of the credit for the siting of the school in Lurgan must go to the Brownlow family. They had for years taken a keen interest in the provision of schools in the town. The Erasmus Smith School had been helped and encouraged by William Brownlow, while Lady Lurgan had been responsible for the establishment of an Infant School, and there is evidence that Lord Lurgan played a part in bringing the Model School to the town. Speaking at the school's prize giving in 1879, Mr. J. Hancock said, "The splendid building in which we are assembled owes its existence to the efforts of his Lordship, who has, for 16 years, been a steady friend of the school." This would appear to be public recognition of the part played by the Brownlows in the establishment of the school.
The Model School, in common with the other National Schools, was intended to be available to children of all denominations. It was hoped that this would encourage people to come together in feelings of charity and good will. (Where have we heard that before?). The teacher training function, referred to above, was to be another important feature of the school. Trainee teachers would commence their training in the local Model School, and then transfer to the Central Model School, in Dublin, to complete their training.
(Author's correction: My comments on the teacher training aspects of Lurgan Model is irrelevant, since the Lurgan School was a 'Minor' Model. This meant that it was not the County Model School, and thus did not have facilities for teacher training that were present in the District Model Schools.
The site chosen for the new school was Brownlow Terrace, overlooking the railway line. Construction was completed in 1863, at a cost of £8,000. The premises provided accommodation for 600 pupils, organised in three departments - Boys, Girls and Infants. Each department had three qualified teachers, not counting trainees and monitors. In addition there were visiting teachers for specialist subjects, such as Music. The first staff list that I can find is that for 1865-6. At that time the Headmaster was Mr. A. Greer (he was the first headmaster), assisted in the boys' department by Messrs. Mooney and Porter. In the Girls' department the staff consisted of Eliza Campbell, assisted by Sophia Small and Anna Coyle, while the Infant Department had Martha Kennedy, Mrs. Mooney and Martha Jane Brown. Visiting teachers were George Washington (Music), Roland Smeethe (Drawing) and Dr. Clarke (Physical Science). Two of these men must have been real itinerants, since Messrs. Washington and Clarke were both visiting teachers at the Newtownards Model School at the same time.
We can learn a little about the work of the School in its early days from a report of the School Prize giving and Annual Public Examination of 1879, which appeared in the local press. The public examination involved the classes being put through their paces in the presence of parents and interested friends who spent the day at the school. The pupils were examined in Reading, Geography, Arithmetic, Book-Keeping and Music. In addition, there was a detailed examination of the Physical Science Class, in the course of which several Chemistry experiments were successfully completed. The Parents and friends having been delighted, no doubt, by the examination, there followed a Prizegiving ceremony. What is surprising about this is the number of prizes that were presented. The top awards were the medals, of which eleven were presented. Six of these were given by Lord Lurgan, and the rest by the local manufacturers. The Brownlow Medals were awarded for "Superior Proficiency in the School Course," along with one for "Superiority in Reading," while the Manufacturers' Medals were awarded for "Superior Preparation of Home Lessons," and "Exemplary Regularity in Attendance," along with one for "Superiority in Needlework." This latter award, along with other awards for needlework and fancy work in the Girls' department shows clearly the influence of local industry in the school. It is clear, from the above, that the Model School was much more than a Primary School. It was providing an education that would fit its pupils for the employment that they would most likely take up in Lurgan.
Another aspect of the Model School's work was its provision of Night classes. Here again we can see the importance of education to a rapidly developing industrial town. The Evening Department, as it was known, provided classes in "Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, Book-keeping and Mathematical Sciences, and such branches of the Physical Sciences as are applicable to the pursuits of the pupils, and the trade and manufacture of the town." The Evening Classes were intended "exclusively for young men and lads, who are employed at some trade or business," and no-one could attend the Evening School who would have been able to attend the day classes. Night classes were held on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, during term, from 7.15 p.m. to 9.15 p.m., and payment was on a scale of 2/6d - 5/0d. per quarter, depending on the individual circumstances of each pupil. It is probable that these classes were popular in the town, because, when the Endowed Schools' Commission investigated Lurgan College in 1885 one of their suggestions was that Evening Classes, similar to those in the Model, should be commenced.
It is clear that the Model School held an important place in the town in the last years of the 19th Century. It had significant support from local industry, and Lord Lurgan was virtually a weekly visitor. It provided an education that was in keeping with the needs of an industrial town, which meant that its pupils were prepared for their future employment. As late as 1899, the Lord Lieutenant's Inspector for Lurgan College was reporting that many Lurgan Parents shunned the opportunities presented by the College, in favour of the more practical courses provided by the Model School. However, even while the school was being built, the very foundations of the system that it represented were being challenged. There were two main problems.
The explicitly non-denominational nature of the Model Schools pleased very few people. As we have already noted, the churches had already largely succeeded in bringing the National Schools under their control. In such developments, the Model Schools stood out as a major challenge, since, given their position in the 'system' they could not be brought under ecclesiastical patronage. As a result, the Model Schools were coming under increasing pressure from Church interests, which was serving to lessen their importance. More seriously, though, there were also serious educational criticisms. The Powis Committee, set up to investigate the National System, and particularly, the Model Schools, reported in 1870. This report was severely critical of the Model School system. The Teacher Training function was thought to be particularly unsuitable, and it was recommended that this be discontinued. In addition, the centralised control of the schools was thought to be bureaucratic and inefficient. As a result, the Model Schools came increasingly under local control, and lost most of their prestige value. Nevertheless, the Lurgan Model main- tained its dominant position in local education. By the end of the century, it retained its position as the main educational establishment in the town. It had served the town well in its first four decades, and it was to continue that vital contribution throughout its first century and beyond.
Before leaving the area of 'Primary' education, it would be appropriate to mention two other schools, usually designated Infants Schools in the directories. We have already noted the interest taken by the Brownlow family in education in Lurgan. Further evidence of this interest is the Infants School established in the Demesne by Lady Lurgan. This is first mentioned in the 1865-6 Provincial Directory, when the teacher was Mrs. Ginn. The school was housed in purpose built premises at the back of the estate at Bells' Row, and although it was primarily intended for estate families, it was probably of benefit to a much wider constituency in the town. I assume that an Infants' school dealt with the same age-group as the Infants' department in the Model School, which would probably be the equivalent to PI-P3 today.
The second school is of considerable interest. At the very outset, it must be made clear that it is uncertain that the term Infant' can properly be applied to the Lurgan Ragged School, in Queen's Street. The school was established in 1862, but there is a possibility that it was the continuation of an earlier school for young children. The 1846 directory lists an Infant School in South Belfast (Queen's Street), with Fanny Morrow as mistress. There is the possibility that there was no connection between the two establishments but there does seem to be something of a coincidence here.
The Ragged School was run by a Ragged School Association, whose object was to give "neglected and destitute children in the town and neighbourhood education in religion and morality." The Association itself was a charitable organisation, consisting of those who contributed financially to the operation of the school. Officially, the Ragged School opened on June 20th, 1862. It was non-sectarian in character, with no compulsion on anyone to join in its religious exercises. In its First eighteen months, it had dealt with 263 children, 84 Church of Ireland, 84 Presbyterians, 62 Roman Catholics and 3 Methodists. This does seem to show that the school was non-denominational. The average daily attendance was 70.
Pupils were admitted to the school on the recommendation of a subscriber. The school provided not only an education for the children, but also two meals each day. A breakfast, described in a newspaper report of 1864 as "frugal," started the day for the children, and they were sent home after a warm dinner of soup. The newspaper report is positively ecstatic about the school. The pupils are described as going home "cheerful and thankful, and it is to be hoped, improved both morally and physically."
Without seeming to belittle the efforts of the Ragged School, it is, I think, an exaggeration to ascribe such enthusiasm to the children. No doubt they were thankful to be fed, but other descriptions of Victorian 'charity' must make us wary of such enthusiastic praise. It is, perhaps, relevant to note that it was estimated that it cost £l/18/ld to keep a child at the school for one year. Part of the cost of the 'education' side was borne by the National Board, which provided £26 per annum towards the salary of the Mistress. The total contribution by the Commissioners of National Education was £65 per annum, and in addition, books were supplied to the school at a reduced price.
In 1863, the Teaching staff consisted of a mistress, two assistants, and two monitresses. Miss Logan, the mistress, was described as an excellent teacher, and she had just received a prize from the Commissioners for National Education for the neatness and cleanliness of her school. She was paid £38 per annum (£26 from the National Board, and £12 from the Ragged School Association). Her assistants received £20 per annum.
The Ragged School represented a serious attempt to deal with the problems of poverty amongst the young. It was a typically Victorian institution, and of its kind was probably very good. There can be little doubt, though, that the 'charitable' nature of the institution made attendance a stigma for those who were forced to rely on its services. It is probable, too, that there was more than a little resistance on religious grounds, particularly from Roman Catholics, who must have feared that the school would become an agency for proselytising. It is a fact that the Roman Catholic Church did take steps to help poorer children, even to the extent of providing some form of nourishment in some schools. Nevertheless, in the days before the Welfare State, the Ragged School fulfilled a very important function in the town.