Ragged Schools

On researching the Gransden family I was struck by the fact that Mary Ann Gransden nee Stone had left her husband in 1852 to strike out on her own. In 1852 this is an extremely unusual thing for a woman to do. However, a notice in the Hampshire Advertiser indicated that this was exactly what she did do.

Hampshire Advertiser and Sailsbury Guardian Sat July 17, 1852.


NOTICE.- I, Robert Gransden, of Orchard-lane, Southampton, Oil and Colourman, HEREBY GIVE NOTICE, that my wife, MARY ANN GRANSDEN, having left my residence, I will not be answerable for any debts she may contract after the date hereof.

Dated the 17th of July 1852


The next time I come across Mary Ann Gransden is in the 1861 census where she is still living separately from her husband. Mary is 72 years of age and is working as a Schoolmistress and living at 107 St Georges Rd, Millbrook Hampshire.

There was nothing in my research that indicated that Mary Ann was literate enough to be a schoolmistress and it was fairly unusual at this time for women to have significant education. So to see Mary as a schoolmistress was really interesting. Thus, I fell down the rabbit hole looking for possibilities as to why Mary may have been more educated than most women of her period.

The first place that I looked was at Mary’s parents. The family was reasonably well off, it can be assumed. As Mary’s father James Eloard Stone was a barber. He had an apprentice and was considered a Master Barber. This profession obviously had some links to his family as, to date, it has been possible to find that one of James’ brothers is a peruke maker or wig maker. Given the trade that James was in it would be expected that he would have a reasonable education. However, his wife was unable to sign the marriage register so she could not have taught her children to read and write. Either James was able to hire someone to educate his children or his children had been educated via other means. I still don’t know the answer to this question. However, I have found a possibility.

John Pounds, late of St. Mary Street, Portsmouth: who, while earning an honest subsistence by mending shoes, was also school master, gratuitously to some hundreds of the children of his poor neighbours. : Born 17 June 1766. Died 1 January 1839, aged 72. Published by Bouvé & Sharp, 221 Washington St., Boston, ca.1843-1845

Just down the street from Mary Ann Stone and where her parents lived and raised their children was a man by the name of John Pounds. John lived from 1766-1839 in Portsmouth. In his early years, John had signed up for a four-year apprenticeship as a sailor. However, he had fallen from the rigging at one point and broken his thigh and damaged his back significantly enough that he became badly deformed.

During John Pounds’ recovery time he learned to read and write. It seems that he took significant pleasure in the education that he developed as he healed. In addition, John took up the trade of cobbler where he made and fixed shoes.

John was quite an accomplished cobbler and when his nephew, Johnnie, was born with a deformity that caused his feet to turn in John made a series of boots for him with the aim of gradually fixing the deformity. Despite the gradual change in his feet, it appeared that Johnnie like to spend time at his Uncles shop, whether that was because he found running around in the early days difficult or not, I do not know. However, gradually Johnnie bought his friends to his uncle’s shop and that became the space that they played in.

John began to teach Johnnie and his friends how to read and write, he also taught simple arithmetic and some general knowledge. This space where kids were playing and learning gradually attracted more children. This included girls who were given the same basic education that the boys were given as well as some extra skills such as cooking. John Pounds used to like the concept of nature teaching children. So, he and the children would go on excursions outside of the town walls where they learned about flowers, wildlife and nature.

Over years John taught many children. They were the “ragged” children of the streets. John became quite famous for his work. One particular person, Thomas Guthrie wrote a book about John Pounds. There are many memorable quotes, one among the many describing John’s work.

“Many of the poorest of them he partly feeds and clothes. His shop is full of them. Oh such a little bit of a shop! One wonders how he gets them all in. Thirty or forty children at once; sometimes more; all happy about him. On a fine day you may see a row of them sitting outside in the street, on a little form, just under hiss (sic) little tumbledown window”.


On the death of John Pounds in 1839, John had inspired enough people that there were others who decided to take on his work and expand upon it. The first of these was Dr. Thomas Guthrie who opened up “Ragged” schools in Yorkshire. Thomas Guthrie continued to advocate for free schooling for all. In 1844, Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged School Union which continued to espouse John Pounds initial ideas.

English: Thomas Guthrie (1803-1873)
early 1870s Web link below as it stuffs up my formatting.

By the 1870s there were over 350 Ragged Schools in Britain. This led to the 1870 Education Act which encouraged the education of all children. Ragged Schools were not just in Britain, there were schools all over the world including in Australia. This became the beginning of the concept of universal education that many countries have today.

I still don’t know if Mary Ann Stone ever met John Pounds. Given where she lived, and when she lived, it would have been hard for her not to have known of him. Was Mary taught in her family or was she one of the hundreds of young children that clustered into John Pounds shop over the decades that he taught? We may never know. But, it is possible that Mary was one of those first little girls to be educated in the “Ragged School”.

John Pounds, Educational Reformer. 2020 https://www.welcometoportsmouth.co.uk/john%20pounds.html

Ragged University. 2021 Great Educator: John Pounds 1766-1839 https://www.raggeduniversity.co.uk/2014/09/18/great-educator-john-pounds-crippled-cobbler-portsmouth/

The History of Ragged Schools 2020 The Maybole Home Page. https://www.maybole.org/history/articles/historyofraggedschools.htm

Thomas Guthrie image http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/largerimage.php?firstRun=true&deceased=Y&role=sit&name=&gender=&search=as&desc=&grp=16%3BCountries+and+Counties&lDate=&LinkID=mp01954&occ=47%3BReligion+and+Occultism&subGroup=2003%3BScotland&submitSearchTerm_x=46&submitSearchTerm_y=6&submitSearchTerm=Search+Now&page=1&rNo


Ragged Schools — 2 Comments

    • Thank you. Good luck with finding out about your relatives Ragged School. I hope you find some fantastic information. I found out about a Ragged School in Sydney yesterday. I may follow up on that one. 🙂

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