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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 #SIC2015

With it being World Photo Day I thought it would be a good time to remind you that we are still taking submissions for our 2015 Calendar. We have got an awesome short list of images coming together but we still have space for more!

If you’ve taken a photo that you’d like to submit then you can email your submission via calendar@strong-island.co.uk. If you’ve taken a photo on Instagram that you’d like to submit for consideration you just need add the hashtag #SIC2015. There are no limits to how many you submit, the only rule is that the image must be relevant to Portsmouth.

Along with Instagram this year we also recommend you check out the Faded App. I’ve had a play with this App and you can create images that surpass anything that Instagram can produce. I especially love the overlay function.

Strong Island Calendar 2015

Here are a couple of snaps which I can confirm will be included in our 2015 Calendar.

Jonathan Taff O'Donnell SIC2015
Jonathan O’Donnell
Angela Chick
Angela Chick

Victorious Festival Competition | Win Two Sunday Tickets

The team behind Victorious Festival have kindly donated two tickets for next Sundays festivities. This is a great chance for you and a plus one to see the likes of Seasick Steve, British Sea Power, The Southsea Alternative Choir, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip and tons of other awesome artists.

The event is more than just a music festival, there will be lots going on in the Kids Arena as well a Real Ale Festival featuring many local breweries. For the weekend local seafront attractions will be FREE, these include Southsea Castle, Blue Reef Aquarium, D-Day Museum and Southsea Skate Park.

If you would like to win the tickets, then all you need to do is email stuart@strong-island.co.uk with your answers to the following questions. Because I am a nice guy I’ll give you a clue, some of the answers can be found in our Strong Island Victorious Festival Previews.

1) What artist appearing at Victorious did I dress up as at Bestival?
2) Name the former Southsea resident who is now the bassist for London based band Felt Tip?
3) Which Brit Award winning artist appearing at Victorious is from Chichester?

The deadline to enter the competition is midnight on Thursday, with the winners to be announced on Friday morning.

Victorious James White
Photo by James White

If you don’t want to risk missing out then you can purchase adult day tickets for £20 from the website HERE, or directly at Little Johnny Russells or either of the Belle Isle restaurants. Kids tickets cost £6 but those under the age of five can enter the festival for FREE.

You can stay up to date on all things Victorious via Facebook and Twitter @VictoriousFest, or by signing up to the mailing list HERE.

Victorious Festival 2014

Volunteers Needed This Week for the Strong Island Creative Cargo Project

Beginning back in 2011, we try and work on a major arts based project/exhibition every year, previous projects have included the Strong Island Exhibition at the Round Tower, The PRIMARY Photography Exhibition and The Creating Balance Project. The Strong Island main arts project for 2014 is the Creative Cargo project, which has the key aim of promoting the creative sector in the city of Portsmouth on a national and international level. The creative sector in the UK is one of the fastest growing in the economy and locally is going from strength to strength with local artists, designers, photographers, curators, agencies, organisations and businesses creating art, products and projects that packs a serious punch. We wanted to let the rest of the UK know just how creative, innovative, successful and inspiring the people and businesses that call Portsmouth home can be and Creative Cargo is how we aim to do so.

At the heart of the Creative Cargo project are ten vintage steamer cases that each will contain a curated selection of objects and products from these creative individuals and organisations in Portsmouth. Theses cases will be launched at a VIP event in London in September with each case destined to either be given to a person of national cultural influence or passed on to editors of national and international newspapers and websites focusing on culture, arts & design. A case will also be kept within Portsmouth to tour at key locations within the city to celebrate the creative sector locally.

We have the vintage shipping cases BUT we need to restore them and make them also representative of the city so will re-line them with textiles and paper designed and sourced locally. We need volunteers this week who would like to help us make these steamer cases look not only beautiful but also in their own way showcases that not only hold the project’s artwork and objects but are also works of local art themselves. We’re running the restoration from 11am to 6pm on Wednesday 13th August to Saturday 16th August at the Strong Island HQ Studio at 53 Albert Road and would love to have local people (skilled in textiles or furniture or just enthusiastic!) take part in the project, even if it is just an hour. With the cases restored we can then photograph them for the project website and the press pack to go to national and international press, websites & blogs. We are also producing a project book which will be full of the photography of the cases and which will be given to all the VIPs at the launch event…so everyone helping will not only have our huge appreciation and props but will also directly help this project make a positive difference in promoting the creativity in their city.

Also, if you have any textile or paper repeating designs/artwork that we could use to help restore these cases please get in touch too!

To find out more about volunteering or supplying possible artwork for lining the cases please email Kate at katethesmith@gmail.com.

If you can share this amongst your friends via Facebook & Twitter to get the word out it would really help!

We’ll have more details on the project soon. This project has been made possible with the support of Portsmouth City Council and Penny Mordaunt MP.

Volunteers Needed This Week for the Strong Island Creative Cargo Project

The Southsea Show Competition

The Southsea Show returns next weekend. If you’ve been passed Southsea Common you will have seen the tents and marquee’s going up in preparation. It looks like this years event is going to be even bigger and better than last years!

The Southsea Show team have kindly donated two sets of family tickets to give away, so thats two adults and two children. These tickets can be redeemed on a day of your choosing. All you have to do to win this prize is email stuart@strong-island.co.uk with your answer to the following question…

Hampshire based Batala Portsmouth are a local samba band playing authentic Afro Brazilian Samba Reggae music. They are returning this year and can be found performing on Sunday 3rd August. What three colours make up their uniforms?

The deadline for entries will be midnight Wednesday 30th July with the winners being announced on Thursday morning.

Tickets for the event are £8 or £5 for concessions and are available on the website HERE. You can follow all things Southsea Show on their Facebook and Twitter @SouthseaShow.

Southsea Show 2014

Southsea Comedy Festival Competition Winner

The first ever Southsea Comedy Festival opens with Eddie Izzard performing his most recent show ‘Force Majeure’ on 31st July and 1st August. Last week we gave you the chance to win two tickets to see Eddie Izzard on Thursday 31st July. The lucky winner is Si Bunting, he correctly answered the three following questions…

1) What is the name of the character voiced by Eddie in Cars 2?
Sir Miles Axlerod
2) In which American city did Eddie begin his 2014 tour Force Majeure?
Washington DC, America
3) For which charity did Eddie run an incredible 43 marathons in 51 days?!
Sports Relief

If you aren’t lucky enough to be Si’s plus one, then you can still get your Southsea Comedy Festival tickets by calling 0844 847 2362 and online at www.southseacomedyfestival.co.uk. You can follow the Southsea Comedy Festival on Twitter @SouthseaComedy.

Eddie Izzard Southsea Comedy Festival Logo

Southsea Comedy Festival

Photos from Head Jam 2014

For the second year running Head Mens Hairdressing, Strong Island and My Dog Sighs (this year with Lex Luthor) put on the Head Jam street art event on Albert Road in Southsea. The yard out the back of Head and the Strong Island HQ had last year’s artwork covered during last week and Saturday saw local artists My Dog Sighs, Los Dave, M-One, Lex Luthor, Mimic, Stu Linfield, I am Posy, freakSTATIC, Midge and Samo get involved with new artwork on all of the walls plus the new sculpture too. Extra artwork is also being added today by My Name is Leila. A huge thank you to all the artists and to everyone who popped by throughout the day.

Check some of the photos from the day below, you can see a load more on our Flickr (which is a growing archive of our photography over the last 6 years) or on our Facebook page and if you want to pop in and have a look visit Head at 53 Albert Road.


































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