Law Hall of Fame logoJohn Pounds was born in 1766 in Portsmouth, England and trained as a shipwright from the age of 12 until, three years later, an accident crippled him.

He had to retrain himself and by 1803, had his shingle out in Portsmouth as a cobbler (shoemaker).

He took to searching out poor, homeless young boys, urchins, of which there were many in this era in England, and recognizing that abandoned to nature and the city, they would soon be take to crime. At the time, the criminal justice system made no distinction between young offender and adult offender.

He built a teaching pulpit in his home and began to take many orphans to his home and taught them to cook for themselves, read and writ, carpentry, shoemaking and basic math.

John PoundsHis teaching skills were extraordinary and he never tried to charge any child a fee. It has been estimated that he accommodated over 500 boys in his school/shop.

Wealthy citizens of Portsmouth took notice and began to provide him with financial assistance, as word of his ideas and saintly endeavors spread throughout England.

His idea of free schooling for homeless young people picked up steam.

Soon after his death, in part helped along by the poignant stories of city urchins in the novels of Charles Dickens, his dream was formalized and became known as the Ragged Schools.

Many of the wealthy financially supported the schools.

By 1870, there were 350 ragged schools in England, which served as an important precursor to public education and to the justice system's softer treatment and segregation of children from adult offenders.

REFERENCES:

  • The John Pounds Memorial Church at www.johnpounds.org.uk
  • Hirschel, D., Criminal Justice in England and the United States (London: Jones & Bartlett, 2007), page 324.