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Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Right Path

During Georgian times, many people in the upper and middle classes regarded ‘the poor’ as a problem that society was lumbered with permanently, as ordained by heaven. The work ethic was all-important; idleness was frowned on. The devil ‘found work for idle hands to do.’  Families who did not use every means to support themselves, for example by making their children work, were considered improvident and a burden on the poor rates.
Educational writers such as Sarah Trimmer (1741-1810) and Hannah More (1745-1833) advocated work for young children as a good way of preventing them falling into lazy habits. Trimmer thought that schools of industry, such as the one at Lewisham (1796) which taught knitting and spinning, were a good way of setting poor children on the right path.  People were more willing to take children on as apprentices if they already had some training.
This idea continued into Victorian times; often workhouses had industrial schools attached to them where children learnt skills to help them earn a living. Many charity schools, such as the ragged schools, like the Westminster Juvenile Refuge and School of Industry gave homeless children food, a safe place to sleep and training in skills such as shoe-making, tailoring, leather-gilding, wood-turning or French-polishing.

Images: Hannah More, who opened several Sunday schools in Somerset. Lady’s Monthly Museum, July 1798.
Sarah Trimmer, a keen supporter of charity and Sunday schools. Lady’s Monthly Museum, November 1798.
The Lambeth Ragged School which opened on 5 March 1851Illustrated London News, 8 March 1851. All images from author's collection.

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