John Pounds and The Ragged Schools Movement

John Pounds was born in St Mary's Street, Portsmouth on 17th June 1766.  His father was a sawyer, employed in H.M.Dockyards and in 1778 John was apprenticed as a shipwright in the same dockyard.

Aged 15 years John fell from the staging of a ship in the dock injuring himself. He was put into a barrow and wheeled home but the result was that he remained crippled and deformed for life. Sometime later he became apprenticed to a show maker in High Street and worked there for 20 years until the old shoe maker died.  In 1803 John set up a business in a wooden shop back in St mary's Street where he was born. The shop had 2 very small rooms on the ground floor from where John was able to see ships being fitted out in the dockyards and he began to teach himself to read, using anything he could find with writing on.

John's brother was a sailor whose son had been born with both feet turned inward.  John made special boots for the boy to wear that helped to remedy his condition.

Living conditions for the poor in Portsmouth at that time were appalling. There were many homeless children sleeping on the streets and infant mortality was very high. John began teaching his nephew to read and that later led to him gathering together vagabonds from the street and teaching them to read in his workshop.  His little wooded shop became in effect the first ragged school.

At any time John would teach up to 40 children. He taught elementary mathematics by the counting of shoes in the workshop and the children were shown how to make toys to sell. They were encouraged to appreciate nature and taken for rambles into the countryside.

When news of John's work with children spread people travelled from all over England to see what he was doing and so began The Ragged Schools Movement.  Lord Shaftsbury was probably the greatest social reformer to become involved.  As the President of the Ragged Schools Union he was able to influence Parliament and with the weight of public support for change the Elementary Education Act was passed in 1870, driving children out of work and into education.  

Unfortunately, John had died suddenly some years earlier during the sever winter of 1839 while at the home of Edward Carter, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth.

Cliff Willetts OBE former Superinendent wrote a short story about John Pounds and the birth of Ragged Schools  This history contains the testimony recorded by Rev James Guthrie (Scottish Divine) about the good works done by John Pounds.  READ MORE: Download Clifford's booklet.