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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

Strong Island Calendar 2015

You should all be well aware that over the last year we have been compiling a calendar using photographs submitted to us by you, the Strong Island readers. We are really excited by our 2015 edition, I didn’t think it was possible but the bar has been raised yet again!

The calendar again features photography submitted throughout 2014 from local photographers. The calendar is full colour printed A4 and folds out and hangs so that one side of A4 contains the month’s photos and the other side has a large format calendar perfect for keeping your important dates through the year.

£1 of each calendar sale goes to the Alzheimer’s Society Portsmouth based services. They are the UK’s leading care and research charity for people living with dementia and their carers.

The calendars are still only available as a pre-order from our online shop HERE. We are expecting to have them in hand by next Thursday. They are priced at £10 each if you collect from Strong Island Co, 12 Highland Road, Southsea. Postal orders cost £12 each and international postal orders cost £14 each.

I guess it’s about time we share with you some more of the amazing photographs which have been included this year.

Danielle Gridley
Danielle Gridley
Nick Weall
Nick Weall
Megan Barnes
Megan Barnes
Jay Hansford
Jay Hansford
Sam Brooks
Sam Brooks
Melanie Easthope
Melanie Easthope

New Strong Island Co Opens This Saturday!

Strong Island invites all our friends old and new to our new home in Southsea, opening this Saturday (15th November) from 10am. Strong Island at 12 Highland Road is a new shop and exhibition space, stocking all of the Strong Island Clothing Co range, a selection of high quality art prints, releases from Strong Island Recordings plus a collection of fine leather accessories from Raw & Auburn. We will also have monthly guest artists and designers selling their work too.

Our first exhibition in the space is a retrospective of some of the designs, projects and events we have worked on in our 6 year history. We’ll be having regular exhibitions throughout the year with shows by local and visiting artists, designers & photographers.

Strong Island Co, 12 Highland Road, Southsea, PO4 9AH.

We will be open every week on Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 10am to 6pm.

New Strong Island Co Opens This Saturday!

The Strong Island Calendar 2015 Pre Orders Now Available

We’ve been working hard over the last few weeks collecting together the incredible submissions from the many local photographers who have been capturing Portsmouth and Southsea over the last twelve months. The calendar is soon to be sent off to the local printers and we are now taking pre-orders for the calendar in our Shop Ahoy online store. As per our previous years, the calendar is £10 with £1 of each calendar sale going to the Alzheimer’s Society Portsmouth based services. They are the UK’s leading care and research charity for people living with dementia and their carers.

We’re offering a few pre-order options with UK and International postage plus the option to pick up the calendar in person from our new studio/store once the calendars have arrived (due early December). All postage pre-orders will be sent out with lots of time for Christmas.

We’ve sold out of calendars before Christmas for the last two years, to pre-order yours please visit HERE.

The Strong Island Calendar 2015

Strong Island Recordings Cash Free Christmas Party For Charity At The Eastney Cellars

On the 13th December Strong Island Recordings takes over one of Portsmouth’s finest establishments being the cosy little Eastney Cellars for an all day charity party in association with The Park Studio who will be kindly supplying us with much needed gear. The event hosts 11 bands as well as Champagne Justice deejays and we’ve decided to do away with cash entry for the event and instead entry for the event is a donation of non-perishable food which will be donated to local food banks.  From a tin of beans or packet of pasta to a bag full of groceries it all helps and we can all help those in need whilst having a blast.

Now for the line up. Once again we believe we’ve curated a heavyweight eclectic line-up that features some of the most exciting and up and coming acts from across the south. Headlining the day and representing the label family will be thrashy-grunge twosome Rickyfitts, quite possibly one of the finest and also loudest bands in the U.K at the moment. Also finely representing our little label is shoegaze/psychedelic outfit Dead Rabbits and garage pop duo The Boy I Used to Be. We’ve also dragged back a few of our friends who have graced our parties before. London dreampop trio Wyldest fresh from main-staging Green Man Festival and blowing up the blogosphere play later in the evening as well as everyone’s favourite blitz-pop duo Curxes. Along with both of them we’ve brought back indie rock/post-punk outfit Fever and also Death of the Author who killed it at our Southsea Fest stage back in September when they filled in last minute. New to any of ours shows is London’s shoegaze/grunge quintet Nevermind Me playing their first ever show, drone-stoner rock outfit Verletzt, doom grungers Bittertown Mary’s and also the incredible dark twisted psychedelia outfit from Southampton, ELEPHANTANTRUM who remind us of a cross between Tame Impala and The Wytches. Get ready to be dragged into their nightmare realm.

Doors on the day open at 13.oopm so get down early as you don’t want to miss any of the acts as they’re all splendid. In the event you’re coming down please do rummage through your cupboards and ask any friends or family if they have any bits they don’t mind donating too and hopefully all of us together can help those in need whilst also having a marvellous time watching some of the best bands in the country. Check out the Facebook event here as well as below with a playlist of some of the acts playing the all day Christmas party. You can also keep up to date over on our website. See you there on the 13th December for the Christmas party in Portsmouth.

xmas party

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project

After months of planning (and crossing fingers for no rain) yesterday saw as part of the launch of the 1851 Trust our joint community art project with Ben Ainslie Racing happen down at the Camber. During this past weekend street artist James Waterfield put down a base mural of The Solent on the 100+ foot long hoarding wall of the new Ben Ainslie Racing HQ, ready for yesterday’s event. From 9am yesterday morning pupils and staff arrived from six local schools: Admiral Lord Nelson, St Jude’s Primary, Charter Academy, Park Community, Ryde Academy and Ryde School ready and prepared with designs, templates and plans for yachts and sea craft, all ready to paint. Throughout the morning over 70 pupils worked with three local street artists (James Waterfield, Luke Storkey and My Dog Sighs) on their paintings of sea craft throughout the ages, their part of the huge street art mural. As well as the young artists getting covered in paint they were also helped by some of the trustees of the 1851 Trust, the Minister for Portsmouth, some of the elite racing crew from BAR and Sir Ben Ainslie.

By the time the rain started at lunchtime the mural was covered with sea craft such as fishing boats, racing yachts with colourful sails, HMS Victory (with Lord Nelson), flying boats and many, many more. The mural will be finished up this Saturday by James and will then be on display until the opening of the new BAR HQ in May next year.

A huge thank you to Pippa, Jo and the team at BAR and ITTB, the artists, the site team at their new HQ, all the fantastic staff and pupils, Jack Daly and the local people (including sailors) from Old Portsmouth who popped down and showed so much support.

Photos from Monday shown below are by Jack Daly.

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (1)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (2)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (3)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (4)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (5)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (6)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (7)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (8)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (10)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (12)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (13)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (14)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (15)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (16)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (17)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (18)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project

For the last few months we have been working with the team at Ben Ainslie Racing devising a schools street art event that for us for the first time involves both sides of the Solent! Seventy two young people from six schools in Portsmouth and Ryde will come together on the 13th October for this community art project. They will paint images from the rich maritime heritage of the Solent onto a mural on the hoardings of the construction site at the Ben Ainslie Racing headquarters. It’s a maritime history that Ben Ainslie Racing will continue from their new base on The Camber, in Portsmouth’s Old Town.

The event is to celebrate the launch of a new charity that Ben Ainslie Racing will support through a number of areas, including hosting a Visitor Centre at their new headquarters building. The art project is being coordinated by Strong Island with BAR and we’ll be working with renowned local street artists James Waterfield and Dharma 77, and the internationally recognised My Dog Sighs on the mural design.

The six local schools (St Judes Church of England School, Park Community School, Admiral Lord Nelson School, Charter Academy, Ryde School & Ryde Academy) have been invited to get involved and paint the mural too. The school children will range in age and ability from Primary School students from St Judes Church of England School, all the way to GCSE students. The young artists will paint a wide variety of craft throughout the history of travel on the Solent including flying boats and hovercraft, both built and developed on the Isle of Wight, and the latter still carrying people between Portsmouth and Ryde. The Mary Rose, a successful Tudor warship that sank fighting the French during the Battle of the Solent, salvaged and now displayed in the city. Naval ships and submarines will be there, along with previous British challengers for the America’s Cup; Sir Thomas Sopwith’s Endeavour, built in Gosport and launched into Portsmouth Harbour. Ben Ainslie Racing’s new hydrofoiling catamaran boat will also be featured.

James Waterfield will paint the background design this weekend – and everyone is invited to come along to the Camber and see it progress. It will be a skyline and seascape scene stretching across the Solent from Ryde on the Isle of Wight, to Portsmouth…With the mural along the length of the BAR HQ hoarding wall facing the harbour, all 100+ feet of it! Dharma 77 and My Dog Sighs will then join Waterfield on the 13th October to work with the art students, giving them the opportunity to learn street art skills and techniques from these local artists.

Ben Ainslie Racing’s Team Principal, Sir Ben Ainslie commented, “We really hope people will come along this coming weekend, and on the 13th and have a look at the work the students are doing. We’re really excited about this, and we’re going to find a permanent home for the best work in the Visitor Centre at the new headquarters.”

On Monday the students will be working from 9.30am until 2pm and everyone is welcome to come along and watch the mural take shape! We’ll be photographing and filming the event and will be sharing the results soon after the day too.

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (1)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (2)

Ben Ainslie Racing and Strong Island Schools Art Project (3)

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