New Church Worthies

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley


And the Introducers of Infant Schools and Cheap Schools into this Country

WE have pointed out in our last that Infant Schools had their origin in the heavenly earnestness and wisdom of Oberlin, whose mind scanned the whole of human life, and saw the immense importance of training childhood well. They who would have first-rate plants, or animals, know that their early life must be watched and guarded with care, or no great excellence will be attained; so is it with human beings. Hence in the rough state of things which prevailed before the Lord's Second Advent no wonder that the mass of the people were so violent, and so little valued, as they were, being accounted things for press-gangs, semi-slaves, with the poorest pittance of wages; indeed they were so generally ignorant and neglected that they may be said to have "tumbled up," rather than been brought up and trained to be what the Lord designed them to be, true and noble men and women on earth, and then angel-men and women.

Let any one read Thackeray's description of the time of George II., or any good memoir of that dreary period, and he will feel as the souls under the altar, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth" (Rev. vi., 10). The Lord did judge in the world of spirits, where final judgments take place; and soon new and brighter influences began to pour into the world.

Men began to care for the children; Infant Schools, Sunday Schools, cheap Day Schools, took their rise, and rapidly multiplied. It was as if the Lord was felt to have said, Train them for Me; and good men everywhere felt the impulse, and went to work. We need not wonder that those whose hearts the Lord had touched with the great truths that God is Love itself and Wisdom itself, were among the foremost to initiate these principles into practice. We have seen how this was with Oberlin. The name at the head of this article, Buchanan, was the first associated with an Infant School in this country. He had been, I think I have heard, at New Lanark, where Robert Owen had established an Infant School in Scotland. The English school was commenced at Westminster about 1820, and was supported chiefly by Mr. Brougham, afterward the renowned Lord Brougham. He was at first the entire supporter of this school; but the master, Buchanan, was a New Churchman, attending the place of worship of the Rev. Thos. Goyder, in St. George's Fields. The second school, begun in a few months afterwards, was that of Mr. Wilderspin, at Spitalfields, also a New Churchman, connected with the same congregation, at the sole expense of Joseph Wilson, Esq. This Mr. Wilderspin did much to spread the Infant School system. He wrote an admirable book on the subject, and delivered many lectures in which he described many droll things in relation to the difficulties of the management of the little ones at first. Quite a number of very young children were taken in the first day, and for an hour or so they got on pretty well, with repeating and singing little amusing songs; but the children got tired of sitting still; some yawned and some began to cry. The disorder was becoming great, and the master and his wife were getting to their wits' end, when the thought came into his mind that he would put his wife's cap on and dance up the room. This manoeuvre succeeded to perfection. The young disciples were charmed, and paid the utmost attention to see what would come next. He then marshalled the children to march after him, and thus alter the position, and after a time to settle again, and so introduced change and variety. Thus was evolved a plan of part work, part play, mixed with music, and there was a great success.

It was urged by Mr. Wilderspin, "that the expense of sending two convicts to New South Wales would support an Infant School, of 200 children, a year. Thus, supposing each child to continue in the school five years, sixty useful members might be introduced into society for the sum which it costs to send two injurious members out of it; there surely, then, cannot be a more profitable as well as benevolent mode of employing some portion of the finances of the nation." On the necessity of such schools, Mr. Wilderspin wrote: "We find by sad experience that children can very early learn vice. While in their cradle they will watch our motions and notice our actions, and be those actions good or bad they will copy them, and manifest them in their own conduct as soon as they are able. How extremely cautious, then, ought we to be, in whatever we do or say before children, how zealous ought we to be in checking the very first appearance of evil in the infant mind! But how can this be done without taking them out of the streets? Will the parents do it? Many cannot. The father goes to his daily labour in the morning before the children are out of bed, and probably does not return until the children are in bed again at night. The mother, in many cases, goes out also because the father's earnings will not support the family. In this case, if they were so disposed to instruct their children, they cannot do it. What is the consequence? The children are intrusted to the care of some girl, whose parents, probably, are still poorer, and who are glad to let her earn something towards her support. I know numbers who go out in this way before they are twelve years old. These children are not qualified to check the first appearance of evil in their little charge, poor things. They have received no education themselves but what they acquired in the streets, and this is readily taught to those placed under their care. It consists in general of deceit, lying, pilfering, and extreme filthiness." Mr. Wilderspin evidently proved the necessity of Infant Schools, and several other New Churchmen entered upon the occupation of teachers.

Mr. D. G. Goyder, then quite a young man, afterwards the Rev. Dr. Goyder, in his autobiography, informs us he was early induced to leave London to undertake an Infant School at Bristol; Mr. Chalklen was for some years an Infant School teacher; thus showing how early and how earnestly the New Church had to do with the introduction of this admirable loving system of training the young, whose parents, from occupation and other reasons, were so little able to discharge properly the important duty of teaching childhood.

The effect of Infant Schools and Sunday Schools, so good as far as they went, yet so limited in the amount of education they gave, was to induce a strong desire for good and cheap Day Schools. Our friends led the way in this respect also, and curiously enough the same society from which the Infant School men started, in 1820, commenced the first of the special cheap Day Schools to which we now refer. It was the society of the New Church in Waterloo Road, presided over by the Rev. Thomas Goyder. They began a school in 1821, and called it the New Jerusalem Church Free School. Mr. Grainger was the master, an admirable teacher, and an excellent man. For many years it was very prosperous, and did most gratifying work. It declined only after many years, the society to which it was attached having removed elsewhere. The building was given up and sold. These schools were not exactly free schools; there was a small payment of two-pence per week, and there was a system of circular classes and medals to promote emulation among the scholars, which made them very efficient, and the schools scenes of activity and excellent order. The boy who won the greatest number of medals in a week was head of his class to begin the next week. Schools on this system were much sought after by respectable artisans for their children. They found their children rapidly improved, and they preferred to send them and pay for them, to sending them to the National Schools then existing, and at which they paid nothing. The working people generally thought they were worth nothing, and they were not much mistaken.

The National Schools to which we are referring were commenced by Dr. Bell and Mr. Lancaster, of the Society of Friends, in 1811, and were free; but they were conducted with so little good-will under the auspices of the clergy, great numbers of whom disliked them altogether, and probably in the majority of cases committed them to the parish clerks, that the result was, they were little valued by the people. There was no compulsion requiring the children to attend, and the result was general neglect. Parents also, being themselves extremely ignorant, saw very little good from their children attending, and when they were persuaded by patronizing friends to send them they supposed they were conferring a favour in letting their children go. This feeling had also prevailed for a time in the early days of Sunday Schools. I have known places where children were paid a penny a Sunday to induce them to attend, and at least in one instance the mothers came and struck for some time for two-pence. This was the case at Sabden, near Pendle Hill.

In the schools commenced by our friends the feeling was entirely different. Such was the heartiness in teaching, such was the interest taken in them by New Church people, and such the excellent system of these circular classes, that the schools were soon filled and numbers waiting for vacancies that they might be admitted. In the second report of the London school, published in 1824, it is stated that two excellent examinations of the pupils had taken place, conducted by the Rev. Samuel Noble, at which a considerable number of friends were present, who expressed themselves fully satisfied with the progress which the children had evidently made, a progress which elicited from the examining minister unqualified praise, and his warm recommendation of the institution to all receivers of the heavenly doctrines. This, and other schools soon commenced in other parts of the church, to which we intend to call attention, were greatly assisted by a bequest recently left by Mr. Chester, of Dover, and administered by the General Conference, for the spread of education.

The Committee closed their report with the following excellent sentiments: "The Committee, grateful for the privilege of being instruments of promoting so glorious a cause, wish to impress upon the subscribers that the school of which they are the supporters cannot fail to be of especial service to the rising generation; but whether this will be perceptible on a small or on a large portion of society depends primarily on that Providence whose tender mercies are over all His works, and to whose goodness we are indebted for all the means, mental and physical, through which has been accomplished the little we have done. But, while we render up the praise to Him to whom all praise is justly due, let us not forget that the measure of utility depends, derivatively, upon our own exertions. Wherefore, let us not upon any occasion, when we cannot accomplish what we wish, neglect to do what we can, but let us go on, actively performing uses to those around us, in the full confidence that, while we keep within the means provided for us by our Heavenly Father, He will not fail to grant His blessing upon our exertions."

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