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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Schools for working-class children

We’d hoped to see the Civil War re-enactment at Nantwich on Saturday (Holly Holy Day), but we mistook the date, so we’ll have to wait until next year for that treat. Instead we had a walk around the Styal estate, home to Quarry Bank Mill. In Regency Cheshire I looked at the Greg family business and the workers there. Nearly three quarters of the workers at Quarry Bank Mill in 1790 were parish apprentices. Greg was considered a humane employer by the standards of the time – the children ‘only’ worked six days a week from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m., with an hour and a half for meal breaks. The children were given a varied diet and had a doctor to look after them.

By contrast, children such as Robert Blincoe, who was apprenticed to Ellice Needham’s Litton Mill in Derbyshire, were sadly mistreated.

Samuel Greg also built a school for his child workers and the adult workers' children at Styal. In towns such as London, Manchester and Birmingham, there was a woeful lack of schools for working class children, and the Ragged School movement, which owed a great deal to Lord Shaftesbury’s support, helped fund schools for them. My forthcoming book The Children History Forgot will explore the horrors of the parish apprenticeship system and look at the birth of our modern education system.

Images: Styal primary school, founded by the Greg family. © Sue Wilkes.

Charter St Ragged School and Working Girls’ Home. The school was built in the Angel Meadow district in 1866 and extended in 1891. © Sue Wilkes.

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