London's Charity Schools, 1690-1730
'The greatest Instances of publick Spirit the Age has produced', but confessional strife between Anglicans and Nonconformists, as well as the bitter battles of Whigs and Tories, was the stimulus for an educational programme for the poor. Craig Rose investigates.
‘The Charity-Schools which have been erected in late Years', wrote Richard Steele in 1712, 'are the greatest Instances of publick Spirit the Age has produced'. This was no exaggeration. In 1698 there were barely a handful of charity schools in the London conurbation. Yet a mere six years later, 2,000 children from over fifty schools crowded into St Andrew's Church, Holborn, to attend the first anniversary meeting of the London and Westminster charity schools. By 1711 the spectacle was even grander, some '4000 children from more than 100 schools attending the eighth anniversary service at the neighbouring church of St Sepulchre. Eight years later, according to the Society of Trustees of the charity schools, no less than 10,000 pounds was being raised annually for the support of the metropolitan charity schools. These schools had become the chief outlet for the philanthropy of early eighteenth-century Londoners.