Carlisle Central School, in the early years of the 19th century, was set up to counter ‘the pernicious effects’ of the Industrial Revolution. A worthy (if perhaps self-interested) venture, it also embraced the latest idea in educating the poor.
Dr Bell’s Madras System of Education
Dr Bell’s Madras System of Education is now making its way through every part of England, and, where properly conducted, by dint of its superior excellence, is superseding, almost to exclusion, the various methods heretofore pursued.
So read an advertisment in the first ever edition of the Carlisle Patriot, on June 3, 1815.
Andrew Bell was a Scottish educator who developed his Madras System (as you can guess) while he was in India. As superintendent of the Madras Male Orphan Society, he decided the best way to get children interested in learning was to get an ‘advanced student’ to teach them.
You can read more about it here.
Approved by the Lake District poets
Bell’s admirable aim was to inspire poor children to learn – and there were plenty of poor children back home in the UK, as well as in India.
A newspaper article in 1933 says that three famous Lake District poets were fans:
Southey coupled him with Thomas Clarkson as “the two greatest benefactors of the human race who have appeared since Martin Luther,” and Coleridge wrote to him, “Oh, dear Dr Bell, you are a great man!” adding the assurance that, “While I have life and power, I shall find a deep consolation in being your zealous apostle.”
Wordsworth was almost as complimentary, though less picturesquely quotable. The young Hartley Coleridge and three young Wordsworths were entrusted to the doctor’s great system.
That’s (largely forgotten) poet laureate Robert Southey and the more familiar Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, of course.
Carlisle Central School and a city of manufacturers
But it wasn’t because of three poets who wandered high o’er vales and hills that there was an advertisement in the Patriot in 1815.
Because the advert was for Carlisle Central School. Which had been extended, with ‘a larger school raised behind the West Wall of the city, capable of containing nearly 1,000 children’.
While Carlisle may not be the first place anyone couples with ‘Industrial Revolution,’ by the early 1800s, it was a city of manufacturers.
And: Major transformation took place in 1813, when city walls were finally demolished, heralding final transition of Carlisle from insular enclosed community to fully-fledged modern city. (source).
Hence a growing population. And a lot of children who in the run of things wouldn’t have received any education.
Education in the early 1800s
For schools in those times were an ad hoc mixture of those that only the wealthy could afford to send their children to; grammar schools, and; a rag-tag assortment of dame schools and charity schools for the rest.
Carlisle Grammar School was for the children of merchants and traders: the middle classes of the day.
Step forward the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, other senior churchmen, the mayor and corporation of the city, and a host of civic-minded and charitable folk. Who funded and set up Carlisle Central School.
And who enthusiastically adopted Andew Bell’s Madras System of Education.
Plain knowledge and sound morals
The advert for (donations to) Carlisle Central School tells us a lot both about the industrial growth of Carlisle at the time. And about the attitudes of the benevolent folk who set up the school. And about the education on offer.
…the children of the whole city and neighbourhood may receive, gratis, education in the soundest religious principles, and in the elements of that plain and useful knowledge, which the good of the community, and the present as well as the future comfort of the individuals themselves, so much require.
This wasn’t an opinion universally shared, by the way. The idea of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ was shared by many in the higher levels of society, who feared rather than valued the idea of an educated workforce.
The concern of Carlisle Central School seem to have been more about morals, however.
If the introduction of manufactures, from the indiscriminate concourse of persons which it brings together, has a natural tendency to weaken, if not destroy, all regard for good principles, surely they who reap benefit from those manufactures, and all those good Christians who are sensible of the dangers alluded to, will feel the necessity, not to say the duty, of endeavouring to counteract the pernicious effects which are obviously produced from such a source.
That 74-word sentence may lack punch, but the meaning is clear. The founders of the school were afraid factories and mills would transform the city for the worse. An influx of poor labourers, with no ties to the city or each other, would create social problems. They only had to look at the big manufacturing cities of England to see ‘the dangers’ they alluded to.
The solution was ‘the education and training of the younger part of this mixed and neglected assemblage’.
And the final appeal for donations makes it clear the main concern wasn’t spiritual, but fear of crime.
For the committee hoped to ‘engage the general concurrence and assistance of every lover of religion and good order.’