Friday, November 03, 2006

Charity schools

Charity schools, which emerged at the end of the 17th century and burgeoned in the 18th century, were the first widely popular form of subscription charity. They arose to supply the need for trustworthy servants and in early 18th century London they were the chief outlet of philanthropy. In the 1690s they were no more than a handful; by 1700 there were 112, educating 2597 boys and 1490 girls. In 1723 the high water mark was reached when 1,329 charity schools were recorded, though the numbers then remained static until the 1770s. One reason for the decline in growth lies in the fact that after 1714 the Whigs suspected them of Jacobitism.

Education: They provided education in the 3 Rs but at their heart was Christian instruction. They were catechitical schools established to give instruction in reading the Bible and the catechism and sometimes (in the cases of the boys) in writing and casting accounts. The children, who attended between the ages of 6 and 10, received instruction and clothing which marked them off from grammar school children and those in the private venture schools. On Sundays the teachers accompanied the pupils to church and sat with them in pews reserved for them.

Teachers: These were required by the SPCK to be communicant members of the Church of England, of ‘meek temper and humble behaviour’. London charity-school masters were full-time teachers. They had to be in school from 7 to 11 am and 1-5pm in summer (with shorter hours for winter. The men had to be able to ‘write a good hand’ and understand basic arithmetic. They had to be approved by the minister of the parish. Women teachers were not required to understand arithmetic.

Financing: Some children paid a nominal sum, others had their schooling financed by charity. The subscription schools drew funds not only from the well-to-do but also from substantial numbers of the middling sort. The funds and the administration were vested in trustees, usually members of families resident in the neighbourhood. Charity sermons were an important money-raising device.

From the mid 18th century subscriptions fell off and many schools had to depend on charity sermons and personal bequests. The decline was probably caused by minimal population growth and signs of a labour shortage in the 1730s and40s. By the end of the century, when the population began to rise, charity schools were overtaken by Sunday schools, which had the advantage of not taking the children away from work.

Charity schools flourished in the provinces. The first parish based school in Bristol was sparked by a bequest in 1699, which allowed for the education of seven poor orphans of Temple parish. It was founded by Arthur Bedford, vicar of the Temple church; the patron was Edward Colston. Bedford was a correspondent for the SPCK.

Case study: Mary Webb’s school, Fishponds, Bristol. The school was set up following the will of Mary Webb, dated 15 October 1729. The school was to be set up in the parish of Stapleton for teaching ‘Twenty poor Boys and Ten poor Girls’ and the master was to be paid £15 pa.; the remaining part of the charity was to provide an almshouse and 12d a week for ‘three poor old Women’ of the parish.