The History of Ragged Schools in Angel Meadow

The Ragged School Movement began in Aberdeen under Sheriff Watson in 1844, but Portsmouth cobbler John Pounds is often cited as their inspiration.

The Ragged School Movement adopted the name Shaftesbury Society & Ragged School Union in 1914- after significant benefactor and champion Lord Shaftesbury.

The Eros fountain in Piccadilly is a monument to his work.

Today the Ragged School Charity is known as Liveability.

The Ragged Schools provided Sunday school teaching, basic education, food and clothing to children who were too "ragged" to go to normal Sunday schools and church services. Children attended from the age of 5 until they were 13.

Ragged schools were mainly run on non-denominational lines by evangelical groups. Charles Dickens commented that these schools were "not sufficiently secular, presenting too many religious mysteries and difficulties, to minds not sufficiently prepared for their reception"

Further reading on the Ragged School Movement can be found here.


Due to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation in Britain, and in particular Manchester, there was a need for the support structure given by Ragged Schools. 

The Charter Street Ragged School and the Sharp Street Ragged School are both situated in Angel Meadow, on the outskirts of the city centre. They provided invaluable support to the poor, some of whom were escaping the potato famine in Ireland.

Adults were also helped with literacy classes and free meals. They were encouraged to stay out of the pubs and beer houses, which were numerous in the area of Angel Meadow, by signing the pledge and being members of the Band of Hope.


Charter Street Ragged School

The Charter Street School opened in 1861. It was set up on the site of the first Juvenile & Industrial School in Manchester which had opened 1 January 1847.

The former Industrial School had become a dancing saloon "of the lowest class" and "a meeting house for thieves and prostitutes" with gaudy decorations. In 1862, the Chartered Street School felt compelled to buy the building so as not to have to compete with the saloon.

The School initially worked with the Cotton Famine Relief Committee to help people who were affected by over production of textiles, and the disruption of imported baled cotton because of the American Civil War.

The existing building was started in 1866 and extended in 1891 and 1900. It was renamed Charter Street Ragged School and Working Girls Home in 1892 by Lord Shaftesbury. The building also offered poor relief including "food, clogs & clothing for children, and a Sunday breakfast for destitute men and women; medical services were also provided."

The school rewarded good behaviour and attendance with annual trips to Lytham with as many as 1000 children making the journey from nearby Victoria Station. Whit Walks to outlying town and suburbs were also popular.

Charter Street tried to help a wider range of people in the community via the Working Girls Home, which provided safe accommodation (with bathrooms) for young girls who would be vulnerable to groomers.

The School also helped elderly people, who either had trouble receiving parish assistance or problems in qualifying for the old age pension when it was introduced in 1908.


Timeline of Charter St

1861   Angel Meadow Ragged School founded on site of the Juvenile Refuge &            School for Industry, shared with dancing saloon for "lowest class"

1862     School became established and building purchased for £200

1863   Problems identified with secular lessons

1867   Renamed to Charter Street Ragged School

1868   Infant Day School had 130 pupils with just two female teachers

1870   Total Alcohol Abstention founded Band of Hope

1881   Secular classes stopped under 1870 Education Act. Men's club and                   gymnasium started

1891   Area affected by lodging houses  for around 3723 persons

1892   New extension opened by Lord Shaftesbury including the Working Girls               Home on 28th April

1900   Duchess of Sutherland- Lady Millicent Fanny St. Clair-Erskine            (1867-1955) opened an extension to the Working Girls' Home, next to the Charter St      Ragged School on 26th July 1900

1906   Sir Winston Churchill visited Charter St as part of his election campaign on              7th Jan 1906. He donated 5 pounds and chose the hymn 'Mine eyes                          have seen the glory' which was played at his funeral

1914   No mention of impending war

1915   Sixty-three staff & pupils serving in armed forces. Football club suspended

1916   Five school members killed in the war

1918   One hundred & twelve staff and pupils had served in the WW1

1919   Post-war economic downturn with munitions factories closing and                                  unemployment on the rise in Manchester

1921   Roll of honour put up for seven staff and pupils killed in the war

1922   Football club reinstated. Ex-servicemen given assistance by the mission

1944   On Christmas Day 120 children attended and given food, clothing and toys

1945   Building was very cold due to coal shortages

1945   VE day party on 13th June given for sixty children and twenty adults

1947   The School Choir won the National  Shaftsbury Society Choral Competition


Following post-war decline of the area and the demolition of slum-housing the building gradually became less used.

However, today the building still accommodates an evangelical Primary School, a Community Dance School and provides food & clothing to the needy through the Charity Lifeshare.



Sharp Street Ragged School

This School was established 1853 by philanthropist and evangelical Christian Christopher Sharp. It is believed that he was descended from John Sharp who had set up the extant St. George's Road (now Rochdale Road) Methodist Church and after who the street was already named.

According to Banks' map of 1844 a previous Sunday school had operated on the site.

The current building dates from 1869. The ground floor was for the reception class where "wild and subdued children" were separated. The curriculum was of a very basic nature - the teaching of simple arithmetic, writing and reading, along with Bible-based religious and moral instruction.

In 1940, the Sharp Street school was bombed - although the stoic people who ran it still went ahead with the Christmas Treat for the children.

In the post war years Sharp Street had strong connections with the cast of Coronation Street and actress Violet Carson, who played Ena Sharples, became President of the school. This was an example of life imitating art as her character was a caretaker in a mission hall just like Sharp Street school.

In 1961, the minutes report changes in demographics in the area with only three houses still standing in the vicinity of the school. However, the 1976/77 report highlighted that the School was fulfilling a need to help tackle delinquency in the form of muggings and football hooligans, and highlights how "they didn't have the excuse of starvation to motivate them into crime like their Victorian counterparts". The building is now Grade II listed and operates as "independent offices and creative spaces".

Both schools met with resistance when they first started, from people with a vested interest in keeping the population of Angel Meadow ignorant and in want. The archives highlight that one group of people offered a higher rent for the original Sharp Street building to try to price out the school.


Timeline for Sharp St Ragged School

1853   School started by local businessman & philanthropist Christopher Sharp. 

1870   The School was taken under School Board control following Education Act

1895   School besieged by starving mothers. Basket making and artificial flower                   making introduced (encouraged by John Groom Society)

1900   Mothers class introduced

1914   No mention in the school minutes of impending war

1915   School disrupted by war with 49 serving and four killed

1916   Fifty serving and four killed

1918   By the end of WW1, 65 members of the school had served their country

1919   School affected by staff shortages due to the war and classes cancelled

1924   Pupils experiencing poverty with high unemployment and high cost of living

1931   Swimming club formed

1936   Clothing parcels distributed to the poor

1939   No Children attended services due to evacuation

1940   School suffered substantial damage in an air raid

1942   Attendance increased by cinema shows after the service. 40 school                            members serving in the forces 

1943   Staff shortages due to the war and female staff working in munitions

1960   Became a registered charity

1961   Falling numbers due to demographic changes & slum clearances

1969    Christmas Fairs became a popular event with many celebrities invited to                      open them including Dusty Springfield

1970     Coronation St actress Violet Carson (Ena Sharples) becomes president                    and an association with the soap begins. Several actors including                             William Roach, Pat Phoenix and Michael Le Vell also opened the Fairs                    in subsequent years

1976     School role helps tackle delinquency including muggings & football                                hooliganism

1978      Local Comedian Les Dawson opened the 150 anniversary Christmas Fair

1990    School building restored

2005    Eventually sold by Manchester Cathedral following years of inactivity

2012    Converted into private offices but retains a Community Theatre Space in                   the basement under a condition of sale


In October 2014 FOAM presented a talk on "The Ragged Schools of Angel Meadow" for the Ragged University Project.

Thanks to Sarah and the Archives Team at Manchester Central Library, William Kenneth Jones and FOAM members past and present.

The research compiled for that talk can be found here.