The Ragged Schools

Vale Road School, or St. Ann’s School, was also known as the Ragged School – a name dating back to its Victorian beginnings in 1873.

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 schools were for the rich, most poor children never went to school and struggled to read and write.  The poor were initially introduced to schooling via the Sunday School movement.  Education for the poor was also provided by the Ragged Schools.  The Ragged Schools were one of the great movements of Victorian philanthropy, they provided for children who were excluded by virtue of poverty.

In 1870 a law was passed which made it compulsory for all children between the ages of 5 and 10 to attend school.  Over the next few years Ragged Schools were gradually absorbed into new Board Schools.

How privileged we are to have education provided by an organised state system where no fees are payable and education is provided, regardless of means, via the tax system.  A relatively new system, it was less than hundred years old when most of us started school.

What do we know about Rhyl’s Ragged Schools?  The 1874 Trade Directory lists the many schools in Rhyl.  There were 10 private schools: two on the West Parade, two on Russell Road and one each on Elwy Street, High Street, Wellington Road, Brighton Road, Crescent Road and Clwyd Street.  It then lists the “public schools”.  There was the British School on Vale Road (where the Little Theatre stands today), the National School on Clwyd Street, the Roman Catholic School on Wellington Road and the Ragged School on Vale Road.

ragged schoolRhyl and District Musical Theatre Company (previously Rhyl and District Operatic Society) bought the derelict Vale Road School building in 1966.

An article in the North Wales Chronicle on January 1st 1876 also makes reference to Rhyl’s Ragged School.  The article was entitled “Liberal Gifts by the High Sheriff” and goes to explain:  “We are pleased to record the generosity of the High Sheriff of Flintshire (Mr J. Churton) who has made the following gifts: £5 to the Women’s Convalescent Home, Rhyl.   £5 to the Children’s Hospital, Rhyl.  £5 to the Ragged School at Rhyl.  £2 to the Rhyl Poor Relief Fund and £2 to the Church Christmas Tree.”

The Ragged School on Vale Road was mentioned again in the Trade Directory of 1876 and in 1883, it lists two Ragged Schools – on Vale Road and Wellington Road.

Vale Road School’s Log Book gives us a little glimpse into life at the school.
The first entry in the book, dated January 27th, 1873, reads:
“Commencement of duties in this school this morning” – Jane Louisa Hughes.
The second entry reads:
“Had to punish a child for stealing in the morning”

The book describes a schoolroom and a classroom – the schoolroom was 52’ long, 20’ wide and 17’ high, the classroom was 15’11” long, 13’9” wide and 13’6” high, although the class room was enlarged in 1889.

The book pays particular attention to the levels of attendance.  The weather was often given as a reason for poor attendance, presumably due to lack of warm clothing and footwear.  There were visitors to the school on most days, many of whom would give lessons, and again details were all noted in the book.

On September 24th, 1873 is the following entry:  “Visited by Miss Cowsill who brought three shirts to be given to the poor.”

The first H.M. Inspectors report was on March 24th 1874. It made the following comment:
“School has not passed a very good examination but considering the difficulties it has to cope with and that it has not long been opened it could hardly have been expected to do much better. Arithmetic is its weakest subject”   The average attendance was 65.

An entry in the book on November 25th 1892 reads:
“Miss Bell has been again insulted by the Jones family. The husband coming into her school and threatening to strike her.  Miss Bell has decided to give up her place rather than be subject to such insults or rather outrage in this case.”

The log book records that the school was regularly closed for such events as the annual Harvest Festival, Tradesmens’ Holidays, May Day Festivities and Sunday School Outings.  Other more interesting events which closed the school  included:
May 21st, 1900 – “Holiday all day to celebrate the relief of Mafeking”
May 24th, 1900 – “Queen’s birthday, half day holiday this afternoon”
May 12th 1902 – “Visit of HRH Prince and Princess of Wales to Rhyl. School closed all day.
May 27th, 1903 – “School closed all day owing to the visit to Rhyl of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show”

Some questions remain unanswered.  St Ann’s Church was built in 1893/4, but when was the school built?  Does the School building in the photograph predate the Church?  Was there an earlier building?  Maps from the 1870’s don’t appear to show buildings on the site.    More research required or perhaps this could be your homework?


North Wales Chronicle 1876, Vale Road School Log Books (Flintshire Records Office),




Filed under Buildings/Location, Community

2 responses to “The Ragged Schools

  1. Garry Brooks

    What about the school in Pendyffryn road.?

  2. Garry, the private schools mentioned were just those listed in the 1874 Trade Directory – many more came afterwards.

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