Education in Bath


The education of the poor

In 1789, Bath had three charity schools, one school of industry and thirty Sunday schools.


The culture of the rich

Circulating libraries would supply readers with literature.


Charity schools

Two charity schools were founded in Bath in 1711. One was supposed to instruct 50 boys, the other 40 girls. They could count on three sources of finance :

  • the town council
  • private subscriptions and donations offered by people of quality and members of the local gentry
  • takings from the collection carried out twice a year at the abbey, after a ‘charity sermon’ preached specially for the occasion.

The figures available for 1712 refer to £161 in annual subscriptions, £65.3.9 of miscellaneous contributions and £173.0.11 in abbey collections, which comes to a total of £399.4.8. Since the S.P.C.K. (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) estimated the yearly running costs of a school at £75 for 50 boys and £60 for 50 girls, the schools in Bath therefore had a reserve of capital equal to 2 years’ budget.

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School of industry

The pupils had to stay in school from 7 in the morning to 6 o’clock in the evening, with two breaks of one hour each for meals.

The work was that of a traditional home textile industry that it is surprising to still find in existence in 1785, despite the progress of the ‘Industrial Revolution’. An equal number of boys and girls learned to knit stockings and garters, as well as to spin and to card. Certain tasks, however, were reserved for girls, who had to know how to sew and to darn: «Sewing is absolutely necessary for all females to know.»

There was little room in the day for Religious and Elementary instruction. Morning and evening, the teachers read prayers to the pupils. Each child also received, twice a day, a lesson in reading and writing. This strongly resembles what the workhouse proposed, which is proof that the borderline between charity and social work could sometimes be blurred.

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Sunday schools

Sunday Schools started developing near the end of the century. The education they offered was still more elementary than the syllabus of the charity schools, though they partly had the same aim: teaching the catechism, reading, and social discipline.

Since the pupils only attended school on Sundays, they were not kept from working throughout the week. It is no accident that such a practice originated in the age commonly called ’The Industrial Revolution.’

The reduced number of weekly teaching hours obviously caused a weakening of the curriculum and an increase in the number of pupils, all the more so as entrance was not selective.

However, the Sunday schools had to defend themselves against the same objections as the charity schools half a century earlier: they were attacked for encouraging social mobility. A noteworthy answer to such criticism was to predict universal literacy - a prediction, though, which came true only several decades later. As is generally assumed, it was not before 1830, when pupils were more than a million in number, that all the children of the labouring classes could attend Sunday schools, which occasioned considerable social changes.