Ancestry UK

Bristol Ragged / Day Industrial School, Bristol, Gloucestershire

Bristol's first Ragged School, 'for the instruction and moral improvement of those whose poverty, habits and mode of procuring subsistence, have unfitted them for belonging to any other school', was founded by Mary Carpenter, with the support of local surgeon John Bishop Estlin. The School was opened on August 1st, 1846, in a room in Lewin's Mead and Mr Grant engaged as master. Operations were begun by the master's going out into the Lewin's Mead, a street 'notorious for the general vicious character of its population', and collecting round him a number of the idle and lawless boys who abounded in the district, and telling them he was going to open a school the following day, which would be free to any one who would come to learn how to read and write. Some at once agreed to try how they should like to learn; others inquired what the master would give them if they attended. He assured them that he had nothing to give them but such instruction as would enable them to instruct themselves, and to become useful, honest, and happy boys. At nine o'clock on Sunday morning (August 2) three boys presented themselves at the school-room, and in the afternoon 13 or 14 came. The following extract from the master's diary describes the proceedings:

That afternoon I shall never forget. Only 13 or 14 boys present; some swearing, some fighting, some crying. One boy struck another's head through the window. I tried to offer up a short prayer, but found it impossible: the boys. instead of kneeling, began to tumble over one another, and to sing Jim Crow.

The master persisted and, in a few weeks, there was a regular attendance of 30 boys, varying in age from 6 or 7 to 17 years. It was then decided to move the school to larger premises and to open it in the evenings. A chapel on Silver Street, St James's Back was hired for a year. A large gas stove was installed and in December, 1846, about 40 boys belonging to the day school attended opening evening along with many of the school's supporters. The hours the new school were, on weekdays, from 10 to 12, from 2 to 4, and from 7 to 9, except for Saturday for afternoon and evening. On Sunday from 9 to 11 in the morning, and from 6 to 8 p.m. Instruction was given in reading, writing and ciphering, with other subjects judged conducive to intellectual, moral, and religious improvement. No payment was required of the pupils. The school was open to the poor of every religious creed, or of no creed at all, and the instruction was entirely non-sectarian;. At the outset, the school was for boys only, but girls were later admitted.

On April 14th, 1877, the school became the first establishment to be certified under the 1876 Elementary Education Act as a Day Industrial School. It was subsequently suggested that it would be desirable for the school to be brought under the direct management of the Bristol School Board. This proposal was put into effect and a new certificate granted on October 3rd, 1877. During this period, the long-standing superintendent, Mr Grant, was absent from his duties due to illness. He died on December 13th, 1877.

An early inspection of the School noted that there was good schoolroom, classroom, dining-room, kitchen, scullery, store-room, a playground of limited extent, a shed for industrial occupation, lavatory, bath, and out-door accommodation. The premises could accommodate 120 children, aged 2 to 12 years. As to industrial training, a tailor attended in the afternoon on three days a week, and a shoemaker on two days. Wood-chopping and sack-sewing were also carried out. It was also noted that the boys had a bath every day. The girls helped in the cooking, kept the school in order, and were taught needlework. The school was open on Sundays for Sunday school and religious observances, and at 4 p.m. a good meal was provided. Attendance was voluntary on Sundays.

In 1878, Mrs Grant had now taken over as matron, with Miss Mary Kent as school teacher. By the following year, Mrs S.T. Cross had been appointed matron. In 1886, she was succeeded by Miss Gillman. Inspections of the School were by now becoming increasingly critical of the suitability of the premises for the number of children in attendance. Classrooms were overcrowded and the lavatories small and dirty. In 1887, however, it was noted that the School Board proposed to erect a more suitable building and had taken over a site for the purpose near the Temple Church for this purpose.

The new location, at Temple Back (or Temple Backs), was officially certified for operation on May 29th, 1889. The building was spacious and remedied all the defects of the old premises, with two good workshops, good lavatories and bathing facilities, and a swimming bath. The establishment could now accommodate 200 children, aged from 6 to 14 years. Charge of the institution was placed in the hands of Miss Barbara Ganson.

The Temple Back site is shown on the 1903 map below.

Bristol Day Industrial School site, Temple Back, Bristol, c.1903.

A report in 1896 described the School as being compact and well-arranged, although the laundry was said to be too small and hot, and the smuts from the chimney of a neighbouring foundry were troublesome. The joiner's shop, with with 4 benches and a lathe, provided a class of 16 boys with instruction in practical carpentry. About 50 boys in total were employed at wood-chopping on alternate afternoons. The girls learned to sew and knit. The older girls, about 30 in number, received a weekly lesson in cookery from an outside qualified instructress. Six girls gave help in the kitchen and two in the laundry. The house-cleaning was done by the children, the rougher work being done by the boys. Musical drill with dumb-bells and clubs was carried out regularly. The play-yards were of a good size, and a drill-hail had recently been built. The swimming-bath, which was much appreciated by the children, was of a good size. Most of the boys could swim, and the girls were also being taught. The boys played matches (calling themselves the Industrial Rovers) with outside teams. The school was closing for three weeks in the summer, and all the children under 12 were to camp out at Winscombe. A treat was given every Christmas.

Due to a decline in numbers being placed at the School, it closed on March 31st, 1917, with Miss Ganson having by then been matron for 28 years. A few months later, the premises were re-opened by the Bristol Education Committee as the Bristol Junior Technical School. The former School building no longer survives.


Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.

  • Bristol Record Office, 'B' Bond Warehouse (in the 'Create Centre' section from 3-Dec-2013), Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN. Holdings include: Admission and discharge registers (1879-1916); Return of children ordered to attend (1899-1916); Log book (1881-1917); Temple Backs building plans (1887);


  • None noted at present.