By Jess Owen

Ragged Schools were instituted at the beginning of the 1840s. Amongst their early advocates were the Brownings and Charles Dickens. The belief was that young people could be educated away from the vagaries and uncertainties of city life by offering “School Training instead of Street Training.”

The movement came under severe criticism from the later Chartist movement, a member of whom described it as “one of those popular fallacies which present a sufficiently attractive and specious appearance, and effect just such an amount of benefit in individual and isolated cases as to direct into that channel the resources which might otherwise have been available for more useful plans.” He also spoke of “amiable, well-intentioned persons, leagued with a score or two of Church clergyman and Dissenting preachers, taking dilapidated old cow-houses, stables and piggeries, in the heart of the destitute and demoralised districts, assembling such of the children as they can lay hold of, and teaching them sundry scripture lessons and spiritual hymns.”

The first Ragged School in Fitzrovia was opened at Fitzroy Market in July 1860. Despite offering ‘instruction to upwards of 1,000 children’ by the end of the following year it was struggling for want of funds. By June the following year an annual Flower Show by the pupils had been organised. The Schools, with more than 300 pupils on the books, were still struggling for funds in 1867.

In January 1872 “The Works and General Purposes Committee” of the London School Board submitted a Report to the Education Department recommending that 20 new school buildings be erected across London. Fitzroy Market was one of four sites suggested for Marylebone.

The matter went before the Metropolitan Board of Works on February 2, with a frontage for the school proposed for Whitfield Street. The application was referred to the Building Acts Committee. They reported back on February 9, when “the application” was granted. Meanwhile the Statistical Committee of the LSB had done a little thinking and submitted a report on February 29 that suggested: “A closer analysis of the figures shews that although there is a deficiency of School accommodation in [The Fitzroy Market] sub-division… there is a excess… in the immediate neighbourhood to the west.” They “accordingly recommend that that this site be abandoned; and that the Works Committee be instructed to look out for another site in lieu thereof in the sub-division, which lies to the east of Tottenham Court-road, for which…it will be necessary to build for 750 children.” The Rev John Rogers promptly moved a motion to this effect and it was “Resolved”.

Two years later the schools issue was still active. It was reported that at an early August meeting of the London School Board it had been unanimously agreed “to build some additional schools in the Fitzroy Market district.” Objections had been raised, on the grounds that “the land was very expensive.” It was agreed that the places planned for would be raised from 320 to 500. A year later the prebendary Irons was asking the Board to rescind its commitment. In reply “The Rev J Rodgers pointed out that “the proposed additional school accommodation was requisite and that the Board were bound to provide it.” His motion to that effect was debated for “several hours” before the meeting was adjourned. A fortnight later progress was stalled on the motion of a Rev Maguire, instructing the “Works Committee to take no further steps in the matter for six months.”

A year later the matter was before the Board, yet again. The Prebendary Irons, once again attempted to have the “site near Fitzroy Market” removed from the proposed list. He was again defeated on a vote. The promised school places finally evaporated when the Metropolitan Board of Works recommended that the Commissioners of the St Pancras Baths and Washouses be granted a loan of £20,000 “for the purposes of erecting baths and washouses on the site of Fitzroy-market.” They were opened in May 1878. The chairman of the Board of Works, James M’garel-Hogg MP, thought that “there was no better institution calculated to benefit the poorer classes” than a washouse. No doubt thinking cleanliness more fitting than an education.

By February 1877 newspapers reported that the Board of Works had given permission for the building of baths and washouses on the site of the old market.

The builder, Mr Horace Gundry was not satisfied with this. He next applied for permission to build “a furnace chimney-shaft” for his enterprise. Still dissatisfied, he later proposed a “one storey projecting bay window on the first floor.” The matter was referred to the Building Act Committee. It came before the MBW again in June, when it was moved by Mr Selway, and seconded by Mr Pocock. The application was approved “on condition that the erection be made in entire conformity with the latter of application….and be not at any time, in any manner, altered or raised without the consent of this Board.”
Undoubtedly, it soon was.