Ragged Schools

Andrew Walker and the Westminster Ragged School

This was sent to me by my good friend Rev Dr John Nicholls, Chief Executive of the London City Mission.  It records the obitury of one of the London City Missioneries involved in the establishing of a Ragged School.

Walker was called to be a Missionary after walking through central London and seeing the horrendous sights all around him.  This is a section on the website Cholera and the Thames which describes Walkers call to work with the City Mission;

'Before Walker became a missionary he was a gardener to a gentleman in one of the nicer districts in London. One night he found himself lost in the Old Pye Street district in Westminster when coming home from a day's work. Distraught with the sights that befell him whilst lost in the slums; he decided to make it his life work to help the lost souls by signing up with London City Missionaries and asked to be specifically placed within the area of Old Pye Street. Walker signed up with London City Missionaries in October 1838 and retired in April 1853, during this time he was able to gradually improve the area, creating a solid foundation in both schools and reformatories and doing whatever he could to help improve the health of what he saw was his 'flock'.'

From the Archives of the London City Mission

Index of City Missionaries

 WALKER Andrew, 1838

Accepted:                                                       29 October 1838
Appointed Training Superintendent:          12 January 1852
Resigned:                                                       April 1853
Served for 14 years

Districts served: Old Pye Street (Westminster) West Division

Photocopies available:

Extract from LCM magazine, March, 1842: ‘Monthly report, by Mr Walker
Extract from LCM magazine, July 1842: ‘Westminster – The Annual Report of Old Pie-Street District, by Mr Walker, missionary
Extract from LCM magazine, Nov 1843: ‘Extracts from the Monthly report of Old Pie-Street District’
Extract from LCM magazine, April 1852: ‘St Margaret’s Westminster – Old Pie-Street District
Chapter from ‘These Fifty Years’ by J W Weyland, Published 1885, mention made of Mr Walker

The following are extracts from the Society’s Committee Minute books:
Oct 15, 1838, p.230:  Mr Walker from Mr Archer’s congregation then appeared before the Committee when he was furnished with a report and requested to reply to the queries of the Committee (?).  The minute secretary in the meantime to see Mr Archer.

Oct 22, 1838, p.232:  Mr Walker, testimonials and documents were then read and being satisfactory he was accepted at a salary of £65 per annum.

Oct 29, 1838, p.233:  Read the testimonials to Mr Walker, Mr Morison and Mr Murch, when it was agreed that Mr Walker be appointed to Old Pie Street District, Westminster.

Dec 20, 1841, p. 219:  Agree that Mr Walker’s salary be raised £5 from 1st of June.

Jan 22, 1844, p.476:  Mr Marks reported that Mr Walker had preached in gown and bands at a place in Westminster. To be inquired into.

Jan 29, 1844, p.478:  Minute Secretary reported that Mr Walker had denied having preached in gown and bands.  Mr Marks stated he had been informed since last Monday that it was Mr Bartholomew.  To be inquired into.

Feb 12, 1844, p.486:  Mr Bartholomew and Mr Walker were seen by the Committee and after a full explanation from Mr Walker, it was conveyed to them singly and apart through the chairman that the Committee had heard with much regret that Mr Bartholomew had put on gown and bands:  and that Mr Walker had engaged in the same place but not with an official dress.  They were singly reproved for what they had done and both apologised for the violation of the principles of the Mission.

Jan 15, 1849, p.361:  Mr Kinnaird reported some special circumstances with reference to the pecuniary position of Walker, when it was agreed that he receive a present gratuity of £20, in consideration of the special services which he had rendered to the Mission.

Jan 12, 1852, p.391:  It was agreed that Andrew Walker be appointed as a training superintendent, at an addition of £10 to his salary.

Apr 18, 1853, p.92:  James Cuncliffe Esq and George Moore Esq were introduced as a deputation from the Committee of the Reformatory about to be established at Brixton, to state to the Committee that A Walker had consented to take the management of the proposed institution, and that they had accepted his services.  They were informed that Walker had been engaged by Lord Shaftesbury for special work connected with the Ragged School class for 1 year to the commencement of June, and that the Committee must therefore refer the deputation to Lord Shaftesbury, if Walker was wanted previously.

Apr 25, 1853, p.95:  Read letters from the Earl of Shaftesbury and from James Cuncliffe Esq, reporting the purpose of arrangements with Walker.

Obituary:    London City Mission Magazine  for May 1, 1896

We have received intelligence also of the death of another servant of Christ, who at one time did earnest effective work as a London City Missionary. A gentleman in Edinburgh writes:-

On the 3rd of February there died at City Troy, New York State, at the patriarchal age of eighty-nine, Mr. Andrew Walker, well known fifty years ago as the pioneer of the Ragged Schools in Westminster.

He was born at Craigsford, Earlston, a pretty village in Berwickshire, July 20th, 1807, and partly educated in the village at the same school which the famous Dr. Waugh, of Wells Street, London, had attended half a century before.

When the time came for choosing a calling, he became, like Robert Moffat, a gardener. His first engagement was at Newton Don, his last in Scotland at Camperdown . . . From Camperdown he went to Hans Place, London. Wandering one day through the narrow lanes and courts of Westminster that lay to the south of the Abbey, he was so impressed with the signs of vice and misery all around him, than he resolved he would make it his life’s work to do what he could to bring light and liberty to the region.

He gave up his occupation at Chelsea, entered the London City Mission, November, 1838, and began his work within the district bounded by Clare Street, Orchard Street, Strutton Ground, and Great Peter Street.

Mr. Walker remained there for fourteen years, and during that time, by the blessing of God on his labours, effected a most remarkable change in the inhabitants. When he went there were six public-houses, one of them having a thieves’ training school attached to it, after the manner of that described by Dickens in “Oliver Twist”.

His first place of meeting was in an old stable . . . By the kindness of Lady Trowbridge, part of it was fitted up for girls. Lady Hope provided sixty of the children with articles of clothing. On the opening day many titled people were there, and Robert Moffat - home on furlough - addressed the children.

Mr. Walker was not long in finding out that any benefit given during school hours was neutralised by the scenes of home life. It was, therefore, decided to retain the young people there night as well as day and provide them with food and clothing - in short, to form a Ragged School, the first of the kind in Westminster. In this he was greatly assisted by Lord Shaftesbury - then Lord Ashley - who, by public speech and private influence, was the means of exciting interest and raising money. Mr. Walker’s next step was to secure the interest of the thieves in his Mission. The district was one of the headquarters of the “swell mob”. These he sought to influence, and accomplished it in this way. Securing a place of meeting in the upper room of one of the public-houses, he accosted some of them one day when they were playing “pitch-and-toss”, and invited them to form a Sunday afternoon class, to which none but those of their own fraternity would be admitted. They agreed, and next Sunday met for an hour in the afternoon for singing, prayer, reading, and explaining God’s Word.

Mr. Walker had many visits from those interested in reclamation work. In his journal he mentions meeting Charles Dickens, and taking him round the district. The result of the visit was a powerful article in Household Words, entitled “The Devil’s Acre”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil's_Acre) Another visitor was William Chambers, who came introduced by Lord Kinnaird, a warm friend of Mr. Walker’s. This visit was also followed by a paper which appeared in Chambers’  Journal, under the heading “A Visit to Westminster, but not to the Abbey”. His final scheme was to secure another of the public-houses, known as “The Green Man”. It also was fitted up as a Refuge, where trades of various kinds were carried on. Secular education was given during the week and, by the assistance of various ladies and gentlemen, Sabbath instruction also.

In due time the lads passed into the world to earn an honourable living, many of them going to Australia and the States.

After this arduous labour in Westminster, Mr. Walker removed to the Surrey side of the river, and began the Wellington Nursery for the reclamation of the wanderers, where education and out-door occupation were combined. Here he was again visited by Charles Dickens, who penned another graphic article in Household Words, called “Tilling the Devil’s Acre”. Acting under medical advice he gave up this work in 1858, sailed for the States, and settled down in Troy City, where he became an active worker and elder in the United Presbyterian Church, carrying on his first occupation.

You may copy, distribute, display and make derivative works based on this information only if you give London City Mission credit as the owner of the original source material.  

Thomas Guthrie and Edinburgh Ragged Schools
Guthrie was appalled by what he saw around him on the streets of Edinburgh when he arrived in 1837.   Writing in 1872 Guthrie says; ‘Five-and-thirty years ago, on first coming to this city, I had not spent a month in my daily walks in our Cowgate and Grassmarket without seeing that, with worthless, drunken and abandoned parents for their only guardians, there were thousands of poor innocent children, whose only chance of being saved from a life of ignorance and crime lay in a system of compulsory education’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 438).  Inspired by a cobbler from Portsmouth called John Pounds who saved 500 ‘ragged children’ from a life of neglect and delinquency, Guthrie became the Scottish ‘Apostle’ of the Ragged School movement.  There was already an Industrial Feeding School in Aberdeen pioneered by a Sherriff Watson in 1841 but the key difference was that Guthrie’s Ragged Schools were always attended by choice rather than coercion or as an alternative to custody.  Inspired by the Aberdeen school, and a similar school in Dundee established in 1842, Guthrie began to gather those of like mind to rescue thousands of children who, as he says of one poor boy were; ‘launched on a sea of human passions and exposed to a thousand temptations…left by society, more criminal than he, to become a criminal, and then punished for his fate, not his fault’ (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 440).

The ‘Ragged School Movement’ was galvanised by the publication of Guthrie’s now famous book ‘Seedtime and Harvest of Ragged Schools’ which was revised and republished three times.  His great skills as a communicator were put to excellent use in this book and Guthrie powerfully put forward the compelling social, economic and spiritual arguments for Ragged Schools.  Guthrie rises to his greatest heights of language in lambasting the money wasted in prisons and the inaction of the general (and particularly the Christian) public; ‘God forbid that I should judge any! Only I cannot comprehend the humanity of the man who stands on a stormy beach with a wreck before him, drowning wretches hanging in its shrouds, their pitiful cries wafted to his ears their imploring hands stretched out to the shore, and who does not regard this dreadful scene otherwise with cold indifference’ (Seed Time and Harvest of Ragged Schools, 1860, p 161).  Guthrie argues that the schools harmonised the views of two of Scotland’s preeminent philanthropists; ‘Our scheme furnishes a common walk for both.  They meet in our school room.  Dr Alison [William Alison, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh, who advocated social and economic measures to alleviate poverty] comes in with his bread – Dr Chalmers with his Bible: here is food for the body – there for the soul’ (Quoted in Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 457).   

The Ragged Schools were ingenious in that they didn’t take the children out of their homes but gave them a solid education and structure during the day.  The children attended for 12 hours during the winter and 11 hours during the summer.  The school day started at 8am with ‘ablutions’ followed by work, breakfast and play, calling roll and Bible lesson, work, walking, dinner, education, work or education, work and supper.  Interestingly there was a good balance between work, play and education and Guthrie often stresses how the children needed to be broken with Christian kindness rather than the lash of corporal punishment; ‘punishments are rare.  We work by love and kindness; and, though on entering our school they are as foul as the gutter out of which they had been plucked, unbroken as the wild Arab or wild ass of the desert, ignorant of everything that is good, with rags on their backs and misery in their looks, such change comes over them that better-behaved scholars, sharper intellects, happier faces you will see nowhere (Seed Time of Ragged Schools, 1860, p 165).  The results of the ragged schools were remarkable.  The Edinburgh prison population in 1847 (the first year of the Ragged Schools in Edinburgh) consisted of 315 under 14’s (5% of the prison population).  By 1851 the figure was 56 out of 5,869 (1%) (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, p 459).  Guthrie and his fellow social reformers proved that prevention was indeed better than cure.

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