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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 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.

Strong Island Calendar 2015 – Very Limited Stock Left!

We have been absolutely overwhelmed with the interest in our 2015 Calendar. In the last three years we have raised over £800 for the Alzheimer’s Society’s Portsmouth based services. We have a VERY limited number of calendars available and there is a good chance we will sell out quite soon, so if you haven’t got yourself one then don’t hang around too long!

You can get yourself a copy from our online shop HERE. They are priced at £10 each if you collect from Strong Island Co, 12 Highland Road, Southsea. Postal orders cost £12 each with international postage at £14 each.

Keep an eye out for the launch of the Strong Island 2016 Calendar #SICal2016 in the next few weeks!

Calendar 2015

Portsmouth Tricorn Centre: A Photographic Inspiration – New Strong Island Website Launched

For the 2014 Portsmouth City Museum exhibition, Tricorn: Controversy in Concrete, marking the 10 years since the demolition of the Portsmouth Tricorn Centre we asked the people of Portsmouth to submit their photos of the city’s iconic Brutalist structure. Over 500 images were submitted by more than 30 photographers, of these 100 were put together in to a community photography panel that went in to the exhibition.

From the outset the Tricorn was considered a likely source of creative inspiration for photographers throughout its history and the submitted photography for us proved this opinion. The light and shadow, the lines and corners of the building, all were captured in creative ways by photographers both from Portsmouth and the rest of the UK. Many of the images were shot with 35mm and medium format film.

We wanted to, for the first time, bring all of this beautiful imagery together online with a new website, we’re happy to say that the website is now complete and live. This website is home to an ever growing selection of the best imagery of the much loved & hated building that dominated the city skyline from 1966 to 2004.

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed their photography. If you would like to submit your own images please EMAIL us. The website can be found at:

www.portsmouthtricorn.com

Portsmouth Tricorn Centre: A Photographic Inspiration - New Strong Island Website Launched (1)

Portsmouth Tricorn Centre: A Photographic Inspiration - New Strong Island Website Launched (2)

Under the Spotlight Coming Soon at Coastguard Studio

Under the Spotlight is an upcoming exhibition that will feature 40 spotlights on artwork & photography by 40+ local creatives, all homed in the beautiful new Coastguard Studio in Southsea. More details on the exhibition will be announced in the coming weeks by the Coastguard Studio so keep an eye on their website at coastguardstudio.com and the date of 13th February firmly written in to your new diaries.

Under the Spotlight Coming Soon at Coastguard Studio

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!

Strong Island Clothing Co.

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