Thursday, May 26, 2022

Hastings, Sussex

Ragged girls

Before the 1870 Education Act, education for children in England was patchy. Some areas had free schools run by charities or by the church, but many did not, so those who could not afford to pay for education saw their children missing out. One notable movement of the 1840s aimed to address this problem by providing free elementary schools for children aged between five and twelve in areas that lacked provision. These schools were aimed specifically at poor families and the people who set them up provided additional help such as food and clothing for families who were in the most desperate financial straits. Because of the worn clothes in which many of the pupils turned up, these charitable free schools became known as ‘ragged schools’; the name stuck.

Probably the first body to use the term ‘ragged schools’ officially was the London City Mission, which founded five schools in East London in the 1840s. I passed the one in my photograph when I was in Hastings recently. Although its Gothic architecture, with pointed windows and fancy bargeboards, is far from untidy, it was apparently a girls’ ragged school founded in 1863. It was opened on 29 October that year, a boys’ school having been established elsewhere in the town about three months earlier. The school was designed for 80 children, although the average attendance was closer to sixty – an indication probably not so much of a shortage of poor children as of varying attendance in families in which one crisis or another prevented children from going to school every day. After the 1870 Education Act, the ragged school would have continued, eventually being absorbed into the system of state-funded schools.

No longer used as a school, the building seems to have recently been restored and the sign at the entrance repainted. I have not been inside, but through the window I could glimpse the large, high schoolroom in which children would have sat in rows, often divided into groups under the supervision of ‘monitors’, older pupils who were sometimes charged with overseeing a group of younger ones while they completed tasks. I hope someone has found a use for the building, so that this bit of architectural history can remain.


hels said...

I know Ragged Schools was just the name for a very progressive movement, but was that name meant to be somewhat derisive?

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

It's difficult to believe that the wood of the barge-board on the gable end would not have rotted since 1863 - I presume therefore that the timber work is sympathetic restoration. I like the quality of the brickwork too. I can't see if the roof is, as one would expect for the period, best Blaenau Ffestiniog slate, or later lookalike replacement. A still-complete 1860's slate roof would be a phenomenon, I guess. Lots of good buildings in Hastings - including from the 1930's, I recall.

Brian Harris said...

I tried to submit a comment a few days ago drawing attention to an example in Central London, The Grotto Passage Ragged and Industrial School, Marylebone ( Did my comment fail to reach you, or did you not think it worth sharing?

The origin of the name of the alley Grotto Passage is interesting too (

Philip Wilkinson said...

Brian: Thank you for your comment. The original one didn't reach me – I'm not sure why. Sometimes I don't see comments for a day or two after they have been made, at which point I approve them for display on here. But this did not happen this time.

Thank you for the link. I didn't knoiw about Grotto Passage, although I was aware of the pleasure gardens from reading about that subject a few years ago. And I'm always meaning to photograph the shell buildings in Victoria illustrated in the link you sent – I often used to go past them when using the Oxford Tube coach service.

The ragged school in Marylebone is likewise interesting. Thanks again.