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Robert Raikes

Robert Raikes

ROBERT RAIKES
1736 - 1811

Known as the founder of the Sunday Schools movement, Raikes used his position as editor and proprietor of the Gloucester Journal to publicize the cause. However, many Sunday schools (and chapel and church communities) became crucial working class institutions and centres for mutual aid and association.

There is some debate concerning the origins of Sunday Schools. As Sutherland (1990: 126) has commented, Robert Raikes (1735-1811) is traditionally credited as pioneering Sunday Schools in the 1780s; 'in fact teaching Bible reading and basic skills on a Sunday was an established activity in a number of eighteenth century Puritan and evangelical congregations'. In Wales, the circulating schools offered one model of such activity (see the development of adult schools). That said, Robert Raikes made a notable contribution to the development of Sunday schooling.

Robert Raikes started his first school for the children of chimney sweeps in Sooty Alley, Gloucester (opposite the city prison) in 1780. Described as 'cheery, talkative, flamboyant and warm-hearted (Kelly 1970: 75), Raikes was able to use his position as proprietor and editor of the Gloucester Journal to publicize the work. After his first editorial in 1783, schools spread 'with astonishing rapidity' (op. cit.) In 1785 an undenominational national organization, the Sunday School Society, was set up to co-ordinate and develop the work. By 1784 there were said to be 1800 pupils in Manchester and Salford, and Leeds the same. Significantly, 'it was a characteristic of Sunday schools in both the North of England and in Wales that they were attended by adults as well as children (Kelly 1970: 76)

The idea of the Sunday School caught the imagination of a number involved in evangelical churches and groupings. Most notably, Hannah More and her sister Martha founded a number of schools in the Mendip Hills that involved innovation. These lay in the pedagogy they developed; the range of activities they became involved in; and the extent to which publicity concerning their activities encouraged others to develop initiatives. They attempted to make school sessions entertaining and varied. Programmes had to be planned and suited to the level of the students. There needed to be variety and classes had to be as entertaining as possible (she advised using singing when energy and attention was waning). She also argued that it was possible to get the best out of children if their affections 'were engaged by kindness'. Furthermore, she made the case that terror did not pay (Young and Ashton 1956). However, she still believed it was a 'fundamental error to consider children as innocent beings' rather than as beings of 'a corrupt nature and evil dispositions'

 
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