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Heroes of Portsmouth #1: John Pounds and The Ragged School Movement by Imogen Reed

Every Portsmouth schoolchild can tell you about the most famous former residents of the city. The ubiquitous Dickens, Kipling, HG wells & Conan Doyle all trip off the tongue. There is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, James Callaghan and Southsea born Peter Sellers. Portsmouth born Christopher Hitchens, author controversialist and outspoken atheist, is a recent loss. This stellar array of varied talent is just a fraction of the roll call. But what about those who are not household names to people outside Portsmouth? One great, but little known hero of 19C Portsmouth, is John Pounds, who was the originator of schools for children of the poor. Others have tried to claim the title, but it is Pounds who began the Ragged Schools Movement, and deserves his place in history. Chosen as ‘man of the millennium’ by local people, few outside of the city have heard of him. And while Dickens’ concern for the poor is legendary and Blake’s poems about destitute London children are heart-rending, it was in Portsmouth in 1803 that a humble shoemaker was demonstrating through his actions this concern and compassion in deeds, which went on to drive forward help for poor children all over the country.

Shoemaker, Schoolmaker

Born on 17th June 1766 John Pounds was apprenticed to the royal dockyard as a shipwright by his father, at just twelve years old. His brief career ended in disaster three years later however, when he fell from the side of a ship he was working on, into the dry dock below, shattering his thigh bone. After treatment failed, he was left permanently disabled and was unable to continue working on the ships. He took up shoemaking, and did so well at it that he had his own shop in St Mary Street by 1803 (now Highbury Street). It was during this period that he began teaching the children out on the streets. At this time, just as in London, children of the poor were left to fend for themselves, running barefoot through the streets, ragged and dirty, picking pockets and getting food where they could. Pounds was horrified by the neglect, and began taking children in, teaching them to read as he worked at his shoemaking. He did not charge for this service and his reputation as a fine and natural teacher grew.

Thomas Guthrie

It is true that without the work of others, John Pounds pioneering work may not have seized the imagination of the great and good in the way that it later did, and it is Thomas Guthrie who made Pounds work widely known. He offers an insight into Pounds’ early experiment in schooling, writing of an engraving he had seen, which first pricked his own interest in Ragged Schools. In the picture was –

…a cobbler’s room; he was there himself, spectacles on nose, an old shoe between his knees, that massive forehead and firm mouth indicating great determination of character; and from between his bushy eyebrows benevolence gleamed out on a group of poor children, some sitting, some standing, but all busy at their lessons around him.

Soon the classes expanded, although the room in which they were taught was only 6×16 feet in size. Up to fifty children crammed themselves in, and the classes expanded from reading to writing and arithmetic and onwards. Guthrie goes on to describe Pounds’ care for Portsmouth’s abandoned children thus:

“When he went out upon the Portsmouth quays at night he put baked potatoes in his pockets for the ‘drifts’. Not only so but he taught his girl scholars to cook simple food, so that the ragged school cookery class had its origin in the shoemaker’s shanty. To the lads he taught his own trade…”

Clearly the conditions of the school were not ideal, but in time Pounds’ school inspired the creation of three new schools, one in Portsea, one in Fratton and the John Pounds Training Home for Girls. Collectively these were known as the Ragged Schools.

The Movement Gathers Momentum

The movement went from strength to strength after Pounds death, aided by the writings of Guthrie and Dickens. Dickens wrote a description of the attempts being made to help the poor through Ragged Schools, which were set up in London, in a letter to the Editor of the Daily News:

“This attempt is being made in certain of the most obscure and squalid parts of the Metropolis; where rooms are opened at night, for the gratuitous instruction of all comers, children or adults, under the title of ‘RAGGED SCHOOLS.’ The name implies the purpose. They who are too ragged, wretched, filthy, and forlorn, to enter any other place: who could gain admission into no charity-school, and who would be driven from any church-door: are invited to come in here, and find some people not depraved, willing to teach them something, and show them some sympathy, and stretch out a hand which is not the iron hand of the Law, for their correction.”

The intake of Ragged Schools would be today described as ‘mixed’. There were no shortage of appallingly badly behaved children, just as today, and you can read accounts here from the diary of a Ragged School Master, who recounts the astonishing trials of teaching the most challenging of pupils. However, overall the experiment was a great success. Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged Schools Union in 1844, and in the following eight years alone over 200 free schools were set up, helped by money from rich philanthropists. By the time of the Education Act of 1870 there were 350 free schools in existence, which were gradually absorbed into the new ‘Board Schools’. Education for all was being born and it was thanks to a simple Portsmouth man, to whom the nation should be truly thankful.

Memorial

John Pounds’ shop has now been destroyed, and in the absence of modern financial products to protect from such a loss such as shop insurance, it was never rebuilt. But a reproduction of the original shoemakers shops was eventually constructed in the grounds of the John Pounds Memorial Church, which shows the size of the place extremely well. When we consider classes of thirty today to be a headache, consider the difficulty of teaching fifty deprived children in this space and trying to run a business at the same time.

John Pounds is buried behind the Unitarian Church in the High Street, and his name was honoured at the newly opened £7 million John Pounds Community Centre in Portsea. But a national memorial would perhaps be more fitting, for this man led the way in the humane treatment and education of the poor, which has been the model for British society ever since. He added to the cultural history not just of Portsmouth, but to the whole nation.










6 Comments to Heroes of Portsmouth #1: John Pounds and The Ragged School Movement by Imogen Reed

  1. Interesting post. There are indeed many unsung heroes in Portsmouth’s history. The interesting thing is that many of the people often cited as being famous Portsmuthians although very famous, actually had quite weak links with the city – Dickens and Nelson, for example.

    James Daly on June 6th, 2012
  2. A fantastically written article, giving a real insight into our unsung heroes. Thank god for

    Anna Swift on June 7th, 2012
  3. men like Mr Pounds.

    Anna Swift on June 7th, 2012
  4. James, it’s a bit of a bum steer to talk about the “weak” links of Dickens with Portsmouth.

    Let’s look at another example. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was there for only a few days. But everyone knows it, don’t they? That’s because his whole life is celebrated. And his birth is a fairly important event in his life, right?

    Pompeyites should be proud to acknowledge that our city has value and deep cultural significance – and to celebrate it. It’s good for all of us to feel that greatness can be born here, whether they left when young or not.

    There is a strong positive message to be had from Dickens’ birth. I wrote about it here. http://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk/charles-dickens-a-ball-in-commemoration-of-his-birth-where-it-all-began-6th-february-2012/

    As for Nelson, he spent his last night and morning in Britain in Pompey. How much more connection do you want?

    John Pounds is a great hero, too. The only thing I think about him is that it’s a shame that he isn’t recognised nationally and internationally as the other Portsmouth Heroes are.

    He is hugely important, which is why I wrote about him here: http://www.lifeisamazing.co.uk/a-simple-act-of-kindness-can-change-the-world/

    I also spoke with someone who actually saw his house, in the basement of the Portsmouth City Museum – turned into rotten wood after the fire brigade flooded it when the museum was hit by an incendiary. The links are still around us to the past… Just!

    Matt Wingett on June 7th, 2012
  5. Love it. Christopher Hitchens is another great Pomponian

    Paul P on June 17th, 2012
  6. Excellent piece about John Pounds, I have to agree that he is truly one of Portsmouth’s unsung heroes.

    Apart from the church and a couple of buildings in Queen Street, he hardly gets a mention, but his work revolutionised education in this country and abroad.

    You can read more about John Pounds here http://www.welcometoportsmouth.co.uk/john%20pounds.html

    Dave on September 25th, 2013

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Features

Short Story Competition – Deadline Extended

We are really excited to announce that we have extended the deadline for you to submit your entry to our short story competition. The theme behind your short story must simply involve one of My Dog Sighs tin can men pictured at the bottom of the page. There is a word limit for each age group but apart from that, everything else is completely open to your own interpretation.

The entries will be split into three categories for the different age groups, each with a different word limit.

• 13 years and under (150 words)
• 14 years – 18 years (300 words)
• 18 years and above (500 words)

This event is open to everyone to enter and you don’t even have to be from Portsmouth to get involved. For the younger age groups we are looking for teachers who would be willing to lend a hand. This will involve going through some entries and maybe they would like to invite their school or class to get involved, maybe as part of a class project perhaps.

This competition will now run until Sunday 12th April, with the winner for each category being announced soon after. The three lucky winners will receive a copy of their story created by graphic designer Sam Barclay and personalised by My Dog himself. The winning entries will also be featured in an exhibition in our Strong Island Co shop which you can find at 12 Highland Road, Southsea.

If you or your are interested in getting involved with helping judge the winner you can drop me can email to stuart@strong-island.co.uk. Submissions should be sent to the same email address, please don’t forget to include your contact details and what category this is applicable to.

My Dog Sighs has a great talent for capturing character through the expressions on each piece of art, which should serve as an ideal inspiration for your short story. We look forward to receiving your submissions.

My Dog Sighs TCM 1

My Dog Sighs TCM 2

My Dog Sighs TCM 3

My Dog Sighs TCM 5

16388750482_60b03b4078_k

Portsmouth City Collection Part 1: Lost and Found

Collecting is something that goes way back to the early edges of the modern human psychology, a motivation to draw objects together that have a sense of meaning for the collector, that can illustrate aspects of an identity through representations of places and times past. Pretty much everyone has succumbed to the urge to collect at some stage in their life, be it stamps, stickers, shells, postcards, geology, fine art, sculpture and even aeroplane sick bags and My Little Pony. Beyond individuals, other groups create collections too, from small groups and trusts through to councils and right up to nation states. Portsmouth, like many other cities all over the UK and the World has its own collection of objects that represent its past, its culture and the people who have called it home.

The Portsmouth Collection began with the foundation of the Portsmouth museum service, established by order of the council back in 1892. The Victorians had a strong tradition of philanthropy which allowed the collection to grow from inception with people donating objects and art, the collection in essence owned by the then town (we became a city in 1927) and its people. 

The collection was homed at The Market House & Guildhall on High Street in what is now Old Portsmouth, designed by Benjamin Bramble and opened on June 28th 1838. The building was the civic centre with council chambers plus an open market and even an early police station too. The building quickly ran out of space for city officials so the new Guildhall in Guildhall Square was opened in 1879. With this move the building became the city’s museum and home to the collection.

Market House and Guildhall by Calcott, published by Charpentier
Market House and Guildhall by Calcott, published by Charpentier.

During the blitz in 1941, the city suffered with a huge loss of life and much of the city damaged and broken. On one air raid on the city the museum was bombed, with much of the city collection destroyed. Around 750 objects were saved from the destruction but it is impossible to know how much of the collection was lost as well as what these objects were specifically because all records were destroyed too. Only a handful of paintings were saved and some still show signs of burn damage. These objects that survived (to this day cataloged with ’S’ numbers to signify salvage) were the basis for a new museum service in 1945 with the end of the war.

Market House and Guildhall
Market House and Guildhall after the bombing.

From 1945 the museum service looked to acquire material relating to the history of Portsmouth and the natural history of the local area but also aimed to collect decorative art and modern British art. Under the theme of ‘The History of British Taste’ a national appeal was launched for donations to the collection from both individuals and organisations.

'Outskirts of Portsmouth Dockyard' charcoal drawing by W.H. Clarkson
‘Outskirts of Portsmouth Dockyard’ charcoal drawing by W.H. Clarkson.

The Portsmouth City Collection 70 years later is now both vast in size and scope. The collection contains archaeology, art, literary history, local history, military history and natural science with many of the objects donated or bequeathed to the city. The collection can be viewed at the city’s different museums including: Portsmouth City Museum, Charles Dickens’ Birthplace, The D-Day Museum, Southsea Castle, Cumberland House Natural History Museum & Eastney Beam Engine House. Even with all of these museums and exhibition spaces no more than approximately 15% of the City Collection is on display at any one time. 

With our next article we’ll be exploring the role of a curator for the museum service. If you want to see some of the finest items on the collection be sure to visit the A Hard Choice exhibition at Portsmouth City Museum. Many items on show in this exhibition were acquired by Rosalinda Hardiman over the last 35 years during her curatorship.

This Sunday there is a free guided tour around the exhibition by Rosalinda from 3pm to 4pm. Find out about some of the stories behind the objects on show and Rosalinda’s reasons for choosing them. Pre-booking is advised.

Throughout this year you can find out more about the Portsmouth City Collection and the many works of art and objects in contains with a Twitter account, simply follow: @PortsCityCollec

Portsmouth Harbour by Edmund T. Crawford
‘Portsmouth Harbour’ by Edmund T. Crawford.

Combat by Jack Canty
‘Combat’ by Jack Canty.

HMS M.33 Crowdfunding Appeal

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is home to some of the finest historic ships in the UK, with HMS Victory, HMS Warrior & The Mary Rose all iconic and tourist attractions helping bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. Soon to join this elite flotilla of ships is the HMS M.33, dry docked opposite the Victory and currently undergoing a huge refit inside and out ready for opening to the public in August. The M.33, a Monitor gun platform, was built in only 7 weeks specifically for ship to shore bombardment with it’s two heavy 6 inch guns. The shallow draft with it’s flat bottom design meant it could come close to the shoreline. The ship is one of a handful of Royal Navy craft left from WW1 and the only craft from the Gallipoli campaign, which occurred 100 years ago this year.

The redevelopment of the ship is restoring and redeveloping it from the bare metal up. The craft (and the dry dock) will welcome visitors in through new access points with the lower decks converted in to exhibition spaces. Working upwards the on deck cabins will be restored with the feel of a ship from 1915. The guns are also being lovingly restored by dedicated volunteers too.

Even with all this activity and work ongoing on the ship the National Museum of the Royal Navy is hoping to raise £19,150 to help finish the £2.4m project. The funding is being done through crowdfunding website Indigogo which is an innovative route for sourcing donations for the project for a ship of this type. You can watch the film below for all the details on how any donation will go towards creating another unique visitor experience celebrating the city and the nations nautical heritage.

I visited the ship to see progress in person on a rainy February day, the ship will be up there with its dockyard neighbours and not only that, you’ll also get to actually be in the scheduled monument dry dock too to see the ship from a completely new perspective. You can find out lots more about the project and make a donation before 18th March at:

indiegogo.com/projects/hms-m-33

Below are a selection of images from the visit to HMS M.33, you can see many more on our Flickr.




















Short Story Competition – Call For Submissions

We are really excited to announce that our short story competition is now open to submissions. The theme behind your short story must simply involve one of My Dog Sighs tin can men pictured at the bottom of the page. There is a word limit for each age group but apart from that, everything else is completely open to your own interpretation.

The entries will be split into three categories for the different age groups, each with a different word limit.

• 13 years and under (150 words)
• 14 years – 18 years (300 words)
• 18 years and above (500 words)

This event is open to everyone to enter and you don’t even have to be from Portsmouth to get involved. For the younger age groups we are looking for teachers who would be willing to lend a hand. This will involve going through some entries and maybe they would like to invite their school or class to get involved, maybe as part of a class project perhaps.

This competition will run until 25th March, with the winner for each category being announced soon after. The three lucky winners will receive a copy of their story created by graphic designer Sam Barclay and personalised by My Dog himself. The winning entries will also be featured in an exhibition in our Strong Island Co shop which you can find at 12 Highland Road, Southsea.

If you or your are interested in getting involved with helping judge the winner you can drop me can email to stuart@strong-island.co.uk. Submissions should be sent to the same email address, please don’t forget to include your contact details and what category this is applicable to.

My Dog Sighs has a great talent for capturing character through the expressions on each piece of art, which should serve as an ideal inspiration for your short story. We look forward to receiving your submissions.

My Dog Sighs TCM 1

My Dog Sighs TCM 2

My Dog Sighs TCM 3

My Dog Sighs TCM 5

16388750482_60b03b4078_k

Short Story Competition – Open To Submissions

We are really excited to announce that our short story competition is now open to submissions. The theme behind your short story must simply involve one of My Dog Sighs tin can men pictured at the bottom of the page. There is a word limit for each age group but apart from that, everything else is completely open to your own interpretation.

The entries will be split into three categories for the different age groups, each with a different word limit.

• 13 years and under (150 words)
• 14 years – 18 years (300 words)
• 18 years and above (500 words)

This event is open to everyone to enter, but for the younger age groups we are looking for teachers who would be willing to lend a hand. This will involve going through some entries and maybe they would like to invite their school or class to get involved, maybe as part of a class project perhaps.

This competition will run until 25th March, with the winner for each category being announced soon after. The three lucky winners will receive a copy of their story created by graphic designer Sam Barclay and personalised by My Dog himself. The winning entries will also be featured in an exhibition in our Strong Island Co shop which you can find at 12 Highland Road, Southsea.

If you or your are interested in getting involved with helping judge the winner you can drop me can email to stuart@strong-island.co.uk. Submissions should be sent to the same email address, please don’t forget to include your contact details and what category this is applicable to.

My Dog Sighs has a great talent for capturing character through the expressions on each piece of art, which should serve as an ideal inspiration for your short story. We look forward to receiving your submissions.

My Dog Sighs TCM 1

My Dog Sighs TCM 2

My Dog Sighs TCM 3

My Dog Sighs TCM 5

16388750482_60b03b4078_k

Strong Island Co. Exhibitions: EQUINOX by Joanna Dawson

Strong Island Co. is proud to announce the first external exhibition our in store gallery space will host. From January 28th to February 18th, local artist Joanna Dawson will be exhibiting EQUINOX, a collection of large format, mixed media abstract landscapes with a focus on coastlines near and far from her travels.

Joanna is no stranger to utilising mixed media and unusual paint substitutes, dabbling in gouache, watercolour, acrylic and even tea and coffee staining to create her works. Working as a professional artist and designer allows her the space to explore her creative direction and conduct these material experiments.

To find out more about Joanna, her work and the exhibition, give her a follow on Instagram to keep up to date with her happenings in the run up to the exhibition.

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