High Town Ragged School
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By far the most important development for church and school in the mid 19th Century in Cradley was the opening of its first ragged school at High Town in 1863. Sunday Schools, set up by most of the churches originally to teach the 3 R’s, became more concerned with teaching the Bible.
Ragged School is a name commonly given to the many independently established 19th century charity schools located in working class districts. They provided entirely free education and other missionary services for those too poor to pay. John Pounds, a Portsmouth shoemaker, provides one of the earliest examples of The Ragged Schools Movement. He began teaching poor children without charging fees from 1818.
The term ‘Ragged School’ appears to have been first introduced by the London City Mission. It used the term 'ragged' in its 1840 Annual Report to describe the establishment of five schools for 570 ‘children raggedly clothed'’.
Reverend Thompson became the vicar of St Peter’s Church in 1857. He visited the homes of Cradley people to carry out an initial survey of his parish and found many families in High Town where no one attended church and a common reason given was that they had no suitable clothes. Even more surprising is that a large number of children didn’t attend any school at all, let alone Sunday school. There was obviously a need to provide education in the poorer, rougher areas of Cradley, not only for children but for men and women as well. Local businessmen and benefactors helped financially with this; men like Noah Hingley, Jeston Homfray, Thomas Crowther, and Thomas Bloomer. The religious principles of the Ragged Schools were non-denominational.
Isaac Meacham recorded in a Historical Sketch that: ‘It was the last Sunday in May, 1860, that Mr Thomas Crowther, of Cradley, with a heart burning with a desire to work for his heavenly master in winning souls for the kingdom of heaven, was distributing tracts in High Town, Cradley, a place renowned for almost every species of sin and vice, a place where, as it were, Satan held his carnival, and lying, cheating, swearing, gambling, fighting, pigeon-flying, and sabbath-breaking were indulged in to a fearful extent. Husbands forgot their duty to their wives, wives to their husbands, parents to children, and children to parents, whilst the salvation of their never dying souls was utterly neglected being scarcely ever thought of.
The text goes on to tell how Mr Crowther offered religious leaflets to a group of about 16 men, women and children, none of them very clean or well dressed, and all unable to read. It was agreed to meet one week later in one of the men’s houses at 10 am. This was the beginning of High Town Ragged School.
Noah Hingley, Jeston Homfray and Thomas Bloomer made arrangements for a school to be built which would belong to the Ragged School. The new School was eventually opened with a tea and meeting on Friday 29th May 1863. In the same year new records were produced by Rev Tommy Two Sticks that showed a large number of both children and adults in the High Town area of Cradley and who had had no previous affinity to any church were beginning to attend High Town Ragged School.
In 1880 the Infants department of the Cradley British schools separated from the Girls’ school because of lack of space and moved to the High Town Ragged School until the new British schools were built in Colley Lane.
Noah Hingley and Jeston Homfray went on with Thomas Perry to establish the Ragged School at Two Gates in 1867 on land bought from Samuel Bennett.
The Cradley School Board (c.1900)
READ MORE: About education in Cradley and the first meeting of Cradley School Board, c.1900. Click the link to old Cradley Links website
Cradley Memorials Heritage Trail
CLICK: to explore more about 16 memorial sites
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Read More: an article written by Norman Bird entitled
'Early Non-Conformity in Cradley & John Wesley's Visit'
In 1770 John Wesley visited Cradley and preached from an upping stone that stood on the High Street near to Dungeon Head. The stone on which he is reputed to have stood is now preserved at High Town Ragged School. CLICK: to visit the John Wesley memorial.
CLICK: to explore High Town Ragged School memorials.