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Robert Raikes (1736–1811).

Robert Raikes ("the Younger") (14 September 1736 – 5 April 1811) was an English philanthropist and Anglican layman, noted for his promotion of Sunday schools. Pre-dating state schooling and by 1831 schooling 1,250,000 children, they are seen as the first schools of the English state school system.

Raikes was born in Gloucestermarker in 1736, the eldest child of Mary Drew and Robert Raikes, a newspaper publisher. He was baptised on 24 September 1736 at St Mary de Crypt in Gloucester. On 23 December 1767 he married Anne Trigge, with whom he had three sons and seven daughters. Their oldest son Reverend Robert Napier Raikes had a son General Robert Napier Raikes of the Indian Army.

Sunday schools

Robert initiated the Sunday school movement. He inherited a publishing business from his father, becoming proprietor of the Gloucester Journal in 1757.The movement started with a school for boys in the slums. Raikes had been involved with those incarcerated at the county Poor Law (part of the jail at that time) and saw that vice would be better prevented than cured. He saw schooling as the best intervention. The best available time was Sunday as the boys were often working in the factories the other six days. The best available teachers, were lay people. The textbook was the Bible, and the originally intended curriculum started with learning to read and then progressed to the catechism.

Statue of Robert Raikes on the Embankment between the River Thames and the Savoy Hotel, London
Raikes used the paper to publicise the schools and bore most of the cost in the early years. The movement began in July 1780 in the home of a Mrs Meredith. Only boys attended, and she heard the lessons of the older boys who coached the younger. Later, girls also attended. Within two years, several schools opened in and around Gloucester. He published an account on 3 November 1783 of Sunday schools in his paper, and later word of the work spread through the Gentleman's Magazine, and in 1784, a letter to the Arminian Magazine.

The original schedule for the schools, as written by Raikes was "The children were to come after ten in the morning, and stay till twelve; they were then to go home and return at one; and after reading a lesson, they were to be conducted to Church. After Church, they were to be employed in repeating the catechism till after five, and then dismissed, with an injunction to go home without making a noise."

There were disputes about the movement in the early years. The schools were derisively called "Raikes' Ragged School". Criticisms raised included that it would weaken home-based religious education, that it might be a desecration of the Sabbath, and that Christians should not be employed on the Sabbath. "Sabbatarian disputes" in the 1790s led many Sunday schools to cease their teaching of writing.

By 1831, Sunday schools in Great Britain were teaching weekly 1,250,000 children, approximately 25 percent of the population. As these schools preceded the first state funding of schools for the general public, they are seen as the forerunners of the current English school system.

See also


  • Anita McCONNELL, ‘Raikes, Robert (1736–1811)’ in ODNB, OUP, 2004 [22344]
  • Alfred GREGORY, Robert Raikes, Journalist and Philanthropist, A history of the origin of Sunday Schools published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1800s but undated.
  • J.M. HARRIS, Robert Raikes, the man and his works.
  • Frank BOOTH, Robert Raikes of Gloucester published 1980.

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