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State of Education.

There are various minor schools maintained by charity: the parish schools, the Lancasterian and National Schools,the Sunday schools; and there are calculated to be near 4,000 private schools in and about the metropolis.

The dissemination of the common rudiments of learning amongst all classes, even amongst the most humble, the labourer and the beggar, has, within the last few years, become the laudable and favourite object of every portion of his majesty's subjects that had power to estimate the value of education by its absence or its possession, or that had a mite to spare to promote the cause of public charity and public improvement. The consequences have been, from Joseph LANCASTER and his friend Fox, (patronized as they were most warmly by his majesty,) beginning that novel course of instruction which was soon conducted on a grand scalethat schools grew up in all parishes and districts, from the labours, however, of private and unknown individualsthat such private and unknown individuals triumphed over enormous difficulties, and succeeded, not only in establishing numerous free and independent schools, but in increasing the desire for information, amongst the poor and the ignorant,and that the bishops, the clergy, and the nobility having seen the excellent inclinations of the people cooperated in the great design, and commenced the NATIONAL schools. These instructions are not rival establishments:both acknowledge the same faith, both admit and act upon the necessity of instructing in order to improve the poor, and both allow considerable latitude to the feelings of the various sects. Those founded on the Lancasterian principles introduce the reading of the Bible without comment, and thus exclude no sect or persuasion :the National Schools, maintaining that the British constitution is "fundamentally protestant," introduce the creed of our established church as the fit commentary on, interpreter, and support of the Bible. But these are minor differences ;both together promote the great work of universal education, universal improvement.

The number of their institutions, and the extent of their labours, astonish and gratify their staunchest and most sanguine supporters, Subscribers have poured in from all quarters, from the king and princes down to the mechanic and the peasant; and that requisite peculiarity has experienced a corresponding desire on the part of the helpless and the necessitous to receive instruction; hence have arisen in every considerable parish or district, not only in London, but throughout the nation, schoolhouses for the cheap or gratuitous education of the children of the poor and necessitous. The inquiries before Committees of the House of Commons, promoted and actively supported by Mr. Brougham; and the annual and other reports of various of the associations unfold amazing facts of the success hitherto attendant on the grand scheme of general education, at the same time demonstrating the necessity that existed of some assistance being extended.

According to evidence before the House of Commons, it appeared that there were in St. Giles's alone 6,000 poor Irish families, exclusive of children; and that they all had a disposition to have their neglected children taught at these institutions. Nay, many of the parents themselves, about 100, attended four nights in the week, to be taught to read. In Spital-Fields, it was found that about 2,000 children in a population of about l8,000 persons were wholly destitute of the means of education. These facts afford some idea of the lamentable condition of thousands. To meet these wants, great exertions were made. The Rev. J. T. Walmsley, secretary to the National Society, said, that up to June 1815, such society had contributed towards the erection or enlargement of 122 schools; that considerable supplies of elementary books had been furnished; that 336 masters, and 86 mistresses, had been trained in the principles and practice of the National system, and were, with few exceptions, conducting important schools in town and country; and that too whilst a succession of masters had been kept in constant pay at the Central School, for the purpose of being sent out wherever their services were required for the formation of new or the regulation of old establishments. Besides the great number of children who had then quitted the different National Schools, after having received a competent share of instruction, more than a hundred thousand children were actually returned to the Committee, as at that time under a course of education in 570 schools formally united to the National Society. Since that period, about 140 schools had been united, in addition to that 570. And the following is some account of the disposition of grants by the National Society:


26 Grants of these, 16 towards building new schools.


40 Grants......................... 28 towards building new schools.


55 Grants.........................42 towards building new schools.


46 Grants.........................33 towards building new schools.

Total ..167 Grants---...........121 towards building new schools.

Grants of Money made by the National Society.

1813................... £2,332

1814..................... 3,832

1815..................... 4,510

1816..................... 3,120


But upwards of 30,000l. has been received by the National Society. According to the plan of the National Society, the expense of books for fifty boys was 1l. 3s. 11d., amounting to less than sixpence for each child; but as under good management each of the tracts comprehended in this calculation would serve six children in succession, the real expense for books, for suitable instruction in reading and in the first rudiments of religion, could not he calculated at more than one penny for each child. So immense a saving in the means of instruction, together with such increased facility in the mode of imparting education, will form one of the proudest peculiarities of our generation. There are about thirty large schools in London alone united to the National Society;each school teaching from 200, to 1,000 children according to the extent of its means, and the size of the school-room. The immense success of the NATIONAL SOCIETY is proved by the following brief statement of its operations since its first establishment:It is not to be denied, that at its commencement considerable opposition was made to the new system of education; time, however, is said to he the best cure for prejudice; an observation, which will be abundantly confirmed by the succeeding recapitulation:

In 1812 there were united to the National Society
.........52 Schools containing 8,000 children

1813....240 ........................ 40,000 

1814... 360 ........................ 60,000 

1815... 564 ...................... 100,000 

1816... 756 ...................... 117,000 

1817..1,009 ..................... 155,000 

1818..1,239 ..................... 180,000 

This statement is from the Rev. J. T. Walmsley zealous and worthy secretary of the society.

It will be recollected, that these exertions are made independent of the parish and other schools, as well as of the LANCASTERIAN Schoolsestablishments that led the way to the vast changes in the mode and extent of disseminating the rudiments of learning. It was not till about 1808, that Joseph Lancaster's system attracted any extended attentiona system by which, even if parents were obliged to pay for the school, a child might be completely taught at the expense of 4s. 6d. per annum! But previous to this our venerable Sovereign had condescended to give Joseph Lancaster a personal interview, and was so much impressed with the value of the simple and economical plan of teaching, and the probable benefits which the country and the world might derive from it, that he became an annual subscriber of 100l., and recommended the Queen and other branches of the Royal Family also to become subscribers to a considerable amount. The prejudices which had been operating against the founder (who had been practising his system from 1798), had so far diminished the subscriptions in the beginning of 1808, that they amounted then to little more than those of the King and Royal Family! Joseph Fox saw that unless a vigorous exertion was immediately made, the whole plan was in danger of being utterly lost. At that period but few schools upon the system existed in the country, the public was not aware of the value of the plan, and nothing but a bold and decisive measure could have saved it. Joseph Fox made that vigorous exertion, advanced near 2,000l., and became responsible for all the debts; and by such means without doubt saved the system from being abandoned, if not lost to this country. After that time, Mr. Allen and other benevolent individuals co-operated with Joseph Fox; and by their own efforts, subsequently aided by the powerful patronage already named, and of the dukes of Kent, Sussex, and Bedford, they succeeded in bringing the system into extensive, if not into full operation. Between 1808 and 1815, subscriptions and donations to the amount of 16,127l. were received besides 7,000l. towards paying off debts, amounting to 10,000l. The Society then proceeded so successfully, that, in 1816, upwards of two hundred schools for boys, and seventy-four for girls, on their plan, which they call the "British System," had been organized and established in the metropolis, and about the country! and each school educated from 150 to 500 children ; indeed the plan does not operate advantageously in a small school. Great expense has been gone to for school houses For the Spital-fields district, one was erected which cost 1,700l., and between 2 and 3,000 children have already been educated in it. When full, it holds 800 children. But, according to the evidence of Mr. William Allen, and which has been amply confirmed by others, there are upwards of 100,000 poor children in this metropolis alone who are without the means of education; and he added, what ought to make a strong impression on every reflective and benevolent mind "I am confident that one half and upwards of the poor are destitute of the means of education, and that a large proportion of them, through the neglect of society, are actually training in vice." This is the language not of any theorist, but of one who spoke from what he had witnessed. The annual income of this society, according to their report of May 1817, was about 1,600l.; and the amount of the invested, subscriptions was 11,043l.

And in aid of all these exertions for the poor, there are the SUNDAY SCHOOLS. To promote this mode of instructing children there is a "Sunday School Union;" it is an association of gratuitous Sunday school teachers, and others feeling an interest in the instruction of the young, for the purpose of extending such schools as much as possible. It consists of teachers of various sects of religion. According to returns made to this association, between 40 and 50,000 children are instructed in the Sunday schools formed in the metropolis alone. The teachers, secretaries, &c., exert themselves gratuitously. In most instances it is found that the children make great progress, as they pay more attention on a Sunday; and in some of those schools, the teachers not only instruct on the Sunday, but the most advanced scholar are taught writing and arithmetic during the week. The scholars not only appear in the schools, but they regularly attend public worship, and are taught to reverence the sabbath. These schools instruct those poor children whose time is fully employed in labour during the weekdays, and to them this is the only opportunity of gaining instruction. The children learn their lessons during the week, to repeat to their teachers on Sunday; and the teachers visit the children at their own habitations, and procure the co-operation of their parents, and watch over their conduct as much as they can. There are between 4 and 5,000 of these gratuitous teachers in the metropolis; and, as they all perform such labour from a sense of duty, they do it much better than paid teachers, generally speaking; but if they were paid only 2s. for each Sunday, which would be very humble pay, considerably above 20,000l. per annum would be required for salaries alone!

Thus from what has already been related in the course of this chapter, besides the great establishments founded on public or other grants; the district and parish schools, &c., there are now in actual operation vast means for educating thousands of those who heretofore were excluded from instruction. The beneficial effects of the operation of these several systems of extending instruction, of making education, industry, moral demeanour, and religious habits, go hand-in-hand, are demonstrated by the memorable fact that scarcely one boy who has belonged to any of the institutions has been found in the pursuit of criminal courses. The Rev. Mr. Walmsley has stated, on the authority of the Recorder, that since 1814 down to the present time, there were committed to Newgate 497 juvenile culprits, of whom only fourteen ever belonged to the National Schools; and of those six were taken out, after having been in the school only a week, in order to give evidence against a notorious receiver of stolen goods, who has been since transported. If the benefits of education could be extended to all the poor and deserted children, this proof shows how incalculable might be the advantages to society!

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819