And the Sunday School Movement
The Raikes family moved to Gloucester when Robert Raikes the Elder, a printer and publisher, became the proprietor of the local newspaper the ‘Gloucester Journal’.
They lived in Southgate Street in a half-timbered house (still standing) opposite St Mary de Crypt Church. Robert Raikes the Younger was born in this house on 14 September 1736. He was baptised in the family church across the road and was obviously a regular attendee.
He attended the local Crypt Grammar School, and later the King’s School attached to the Cathedral. He was apprenticed to his father as a printer and when his father died in 1757 he took over as proprietor and editor of the ‘Gloucester Journal’.
Raikes was a Gloucester prison visitor and campaigned vigorously through the pages of his newspaper to have prison conditions improved. As a business man and a human being he was greatly admired and was known as “a good liberal master who paid good wages.”
Birth of the Sunday School
One day, while searching for a gardener to employ, Robert Raikes came across a group of ragged children noisily playing in the street. He was told by the neighbours that it was much worse on a Sunday when the children were not employed in working in the factories. The street would be full of children running riot, cursing and swearing and getting into mischief.
Raikes realised that the prisons were full of people who had experienced similar disadvantaged childhoods and determined to do something about it. He decided education was the key to a successful life and combined keeping the children off the streets with learning to read and write and religious instruction.
Sunday was the only day when the children were not employed in the pin making factories. Raikes set down the schedule for the schools:
"The children are to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they are then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they are to be conducted to Church. After Church, they are to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise."
First Sunday School 1780
The first Sunday School was set up in July 1780, in the home of Mrs Meredith in St Catherine’s Street. The textbook was the Bible and the lay teachers were mostly women who were paid 1 shilling and sixpence. In the beginning, Raikes funded the schools entirely from his own money.
The pupils were boys aged 5 to 14 years but later on, girls were included. The children were sometimes rewarded for their efforts with a slice of plum cake provided they had a clean face and combed hair!
Raikes publicised the commencement and success of the Sunday School through his newspaper. Later, word of the work spread through the Gentleman's Magazine, and in 1784, a letter in the Arminian Magazine.
Despite the obvious benefits accruing to education of the poor, initially there was quite a bit of opposition to the day of the Sabbath being used for ‘work’. Reading the Bible was all right, but writing was not and in the 1790s the teaching of writing was temporarily ceased. The schools were derisively referred to as ‘Raikes’ Ragged School’.
Nevertheless the popularity of the schools increased and they spread throughout the country. The famous evangelist John Wesley remarked "I find these Schools springing up wherever I go ".
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Raikes buried in St Mary de Crypt Church
Robert Raikes retired in 1802 and died in 1811 of a heart attack. The local children that attended his Sunday School attended his burial in St Mary de Crypt Church and were each given 1 shilling and a large piece of "Mr Raikes Plum Cake".
The legacy of Robert Raikes is that by 1831, Sunday School in Great Britain was ministering weekly to 1,250,000 children, approximately 25 percent of the population.
There are several memorials around Gloucester to this famous man (statues in Gloucester Park, Gloucester Cathedral and a plaque on Raikes House).
Google Maps - Robert Raikes House