British Values: Robert Raikes and Education for All

Mention the phrase “Sunday school” to most people, and if they grew up in a church-going family then the chances are it brings back memories of rather dry and dusty (in more ways than one) Bible stories read from faded, dog-eared books in classrooms for which the word “beige” would be far too exciting. I can still remember the ticking of the clock, and time passing so slowly that I could watch the minute hand move. These days, even the name has gone out of fashion, to be replaced by “Children’s church”, or something topically meaningless, and applied to an activity that is often little more than a child-minding service while the grown-ups get on with the serious business of the liturgy. But it wasn’t always like that.

Sunday School
Robert Raikes was a newspaper publisher, a business that he inherited from his father. Like his contemporary Josiah Wedgwood, Raikes believed in the importance of philanthropy and social concern, although that’s pretty much the limit of their similarities. Raikes was well-to-do by the standards of the time, certainly, but his wealth didn’t approach Wedgwood’s and, unlike Wedgwood, he was never involved in the burgeoning London social and political scene. Comfortably middle class rather than prosperous, Raikes did his philanthropic work primarily in his home town of Gloucester.

Raikes’ particular concern was for those incarcerated in the workhouse, and came to the conclusion that there existed a social underclass whose lack of employable skills would almost inevitably lead them to a life of dependency and crime. His solution was the same one that most politicians tend to suggest for the same problem today: Education. The difference is that Raikes thought of it first.

In the late 18th century, education was only available to those wealthy enough to purchase it. Raikes set out to change that. He set up and funded a free school for slum children, initially in the home of a lady who we know only as Mrs Meredith. Crucially, because the children would usually be working for six days of the week at the local factories, his school operated on the only day they were free to attend: Sunday. The curriculum started with basic literacy, and then proceeded on to the catechism.

This was not without controversy. Some opponents of his schools considered that teaching – even voluntarily – was contrary to the Biblical prohibition of work on the Sabbath. Others feared that the schools would be a means whereby Raikes would be able to indoctrinate other people’s children with his own political ideas, their parents being a captive market for his schools because of their inability to buy it themselves in the free market. And some complained that, by offering education at no fee, Raikes was stealing the livelihoods of tutors who eked out a living delivering limited education to those who could just about afford it, but barely more.

Despite this, “Raikes’ Ragged School”, as it was dubbed by his detractors, was a success. Within just a couple of years, his one school for boys only had multiplied to several schools in and around Gloucester catering to both sexes. Ten years later, in the 1790s, the movement had spread widely enough for Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, to give it his endorsement. Raikes died in 1811, but by then the momentum was unstoppable and by 1831 no less than 25% of the child population of Great Britain was in Sunday school each week.

Other than the first few schools in and around Gloucester, Raikes had no direct involvement with other schools in the growing movement. But, in retrospect, this is what gave it its strength. Raikes didn’t start something that was to be independent of the churches. Instead, he led by example and inspired the churches to continue it themselves. All across the country, Sunday schools were set up by local clergy and laity and funded by the church and local philanthropists. Raikes created a template, not an institution. By the time that parliament legislated for compulsory education in 1880 – almost exactly a century after Raikes founded his first Sunday school – the Church of England was by far the largest provider of education in the country.

That legacy lives on in the faith school sector of today’s state education. The school my daughter attends was originally set up in 1896 as a “National School”, a school run by the Anglican National Society for the Education of the Poor – an organisation which in turn could trace its own lineage back to the Sunday schools that grew from humble beginnings in Mrs Meredith’s Gloucester house, where a small group of children gathered together to learn how to read and write. The idea that even the poor have a right to education took a while to take root. Without Robert Raikes, it may never have taken root. But the belief that all children deserve an education, irrespective of their parents’ ability to pay, is so uncontroversial now that it’s practically taken for granted. A great British value, if ever there was one.

British Values: Ebenezer Cobb Morley and the Laws of the Game

Most people, other than the historically uneducated, will have heard of the first two names in my series, even if they don’t necessarily associate them with the same topics that I have. But today’s source of British values is far more obscure. And yet his influence is, arguably, far more widespread.

The original handwritten Laws of the Game, by Ebenezer Cobb Morley
The original handwritten Laws of the Game, by Ebenezer Cobb Morley

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was, by profession a solicitor. Alongside his paid work, he also served as a county councillor and a magistrate. And, in his spare time, he was a keen amateur sportsman. Originally from Yorkshire, one of his first acts on moving to London at the age of 22 was to found (or take control of; historical sources are unclear) the Barnes Club, one of the oldest rugby football clubs in existence. On the water, too, he was a skilled oarsman and founded the Barnes and Mortlake Regatta – an event which still takes place each year.

However, Morley’s biggest contribution came in a different sport. One of the issues which plagued the sport of football was the lack of any consistent set of rules by which it was played. The Barnes Club, as already mentioned, is now known primarily as a rugby club, but in Morley’s day it would play according to any set of rules, depending on who the opponents were and what could be agreed between them.

Morley was not the first to find this situation unsatisfactory. In 1848, Cambridge University Football Club had drawn up what became known as the “Cambridge Rules” for the game. This was the first significant attempt to standardise the rules, and many clubs subsequently adopted them. But many (including Sheffield FC, the oldest football club still operating) did not. The simple problem was that CUFC was just one club, albeit a prominent one, among many and had no authority to impose their rules on any club which did not adopt them voluntarily.

Morley’s solution was to create an official governing body for the sport, independent of any of the clubs playing it. In 1863 he set up a series of meetings which led to the founding of the Football Association. Morley was elected as the FA’s first secretary. One of his first tasks as secretary of the newly formed association was to draw up a set of draft rules.

Morley based his rules essentially on those drawn up by CUFC. The three key aspects of the Cambridge Rules which were adopted by the fledgling FA were: a prohibition on most handling of the ball, a ban on deliberate tripping and hacking as a means of dispossessing the player with the ball, and permitting forward passes (as with existing rugby rules, many early forms of football only allowed backwards or sideways passes).

The inclusion of these three rules had two significant consequences. On the one hand, it formalised the split between the handling and non-handling forms of the game, with the majority of clubs who preferred the handling form declining to join the FA and, instead, becoming founding members of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. But, on the other hand, by making only minor amendments to the Cambridge Rules, the FA made it easy for clubs who preferred them to join as they didn’t need to significantly change their style of play to do so. The FA wasn’t an instant success, but from the eleven founding member clubs – all based in and around London – it had grown to 50 members from across the country when the FA Challenge Cup was instituted eight years later in 1871. By the time the Football League was launched, with the FA’s approval, in 1888 that number had grown to many hundreds and the FA’s role in overseeing the rules was essentially unchallenged.

The original 13 rules of Association Football – known as the “Laws of the Game” – have changed remarkably little in the intervening period. The only major change has been the introduction of a ban on all handling of the ball, other than by a designated goalkeeper inside the penalty area – Morley’s rules had no provision for a goalkeeper, and instead allowed any player to block or catch (but not carry, throw or pick up) the ball with their hands. Other changes over the years have included tweaks to the offside system, the addition of goalbars and alterations to the definitions of fouls and their penalties. But these are all evolutionary changes, and a game of football played to Morley’s rules would still be recognisable as the same sport as the games being played in Brazil this evening.

But what has this got to do with British values? Ebenezer Cobb Morley wasn’t the first to codify the rules to a sport, nor was he the last. But this is where we see a pattern. Of the world’s most popular sports, the majority of them can trace the ancestry of their rules back to this island. As well as three forms of football (Association, Rugby Union and Rugby League), Britain is responsible for the modern forms of cricket, tennis, table tennis, hockey (both field and ice), golf, polo, badminton, snooker, darts, many variants of motorsport and several winter sports (including downhill skiing and bob-sled).

Of the world’s ten most popular sports, anything from six to eight (depending on how you measure popularity) originated in the UK, with Association Football being far and away the leading example. Among the exceptions, two (American Football and baseball) are themselves directly descended from sports first codified here. Only one major global sport, basketball, has no direct lineage to the UK. We may not necessarily be particularly good at playing sports, 1966 notwithstanding, but we sure as heck are good at writing the rules for them. And the principles we established have proved remarkably resilient. For all FIFA’s endemic corruption and overbearing commercial pressure, the Laws of the Game have successfully resisted excessive tinkering.

In any survey of what people consider to be important British values, the rule of law is always one of the most highly placed. When people give this answer they are generally thinking of common law and statute law, of things ranging from the Theft Act to the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations. But respect for the rule of law is exemplified in sport. Nobody is forced to adopt the rules of a sport. There’s no law, in the statutory sense, compelling it. But schoolchildren having a knockabout game of football in the park still conform to the Laws of the Game as far as their circumstances permit. A church cricket team playing against their neighbours doesn’t have to do as they’re told by MCC. But they do.

Ebenezer Cobb Morley may be only one of many people who exemplifies British enthusiasm for the rule of law. But his contribution to it has probably been felt more widely than any other. Now, if only the English football team could live up to that heritage…

British Values: Josiah Wedgwood and Philanthropic Activism

If you ask someone about the abolition of slavery in the UK, most people will come up with the name of William Wilberforce. To be sure, Wilberforce had a central role in outlawing slavery in Britain and beyond, but, of course, he didn’t act alone. Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp were two others who played a seminal part. But there’s a reason why none of them are in the title of this article. And yes, it is still (mostly) about slavery.

The Wedgwood Institute, Burslem
The Wedgwood Institute, Burslem. Photo by Slidewinder44.

Josiah Wedgwood is widely renowned for his pioneering work as a potter. As an entrepreneur and a designer he was noted for his innovative approach as well as his commitment to excellence. From relatively humble beginnings in a sleepy backwater of North Staffordshire, he built a company which put tea sets on the tables of royalty and helped make six towns into England’s own “capital of China”. He is also credited as the inventor of modern marketing, including techniques such as direct mail, money back guarantees and “buy one, get one free”.

What’s maybe less well known is that Wedgwood was also a philanthropist. He helped fund the construction of new roads, canals, schools and chapels (not churches; Wedgwood was from Dissenting stock, which may partly explain his commitment to social justice), as well as building a model village for his workers which predated the Cadbury brothers’ Bourneville by nearly a century. But, given that, it’s unsurprising to discover that Wedgwood was also one of the leading campaigners against slavery.

Unlike the majority of other prominent abolitionists, Wedgwood was neither a politician, a clergyman nor an academic. But his business acuity was invaluable to the cause. So, to be frank, was his wealth. A popular campaign is always easier to run if it’s bankrolled by a rich industrialist.

Probably his biggest contribution, though, was his marketing skill. If you’ve ever worn a “Help for Heroes” wristband, a pink breast cancer ribbon, or even a CND badge, then you can thank Wedgwood for coming up with the idea. As part of the campaign, Wedgwood mass produced ceramic medallions bearing the logo of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade and donated them to the society for distribution. According to his contemporary, and founding father of the USA, Benjamin Franklin, their effect was as good as any written pamphlet. As Thomas Clarkson later wrote,

Some had them inlaid in gold on the lid of their snuff boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and this fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom.

Promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom is, of course, a British value in itself. But Josiah Wedgwood’s contribution wasn’t just that. It was to harness the power of industry and marketing to promote the cause of justice, humanity and freedom. Wedgwood may not have invented philanthropic activism. But, like pottery, he reinvented and refined it and turned it into something that we exported to the world. And that’s a true British value.

British Values: Simon de Montfort and Representative Democracy

“British values” have been in the news recently. I was going to write a blog article listing my own choices for what British values consist of. But, instead, I thought I’d write about a few people that I think have done a lot to shape British values.

None of these people are particularly obscure, although they’re not necessarily the most famous in their field. And those that are better known are picked here for reasons that are not necessarily directly connected with their primary claim to fame. But I think they all deserve to be remembered for their contribution to British values.

I was originally going to do this as a single article listing lots of people. But, having written half of it, I’ve decided instead to split it over several posts and focus on one person (or maybe a couple of people) each time. If nothing else, it will give me something to write about for the next few weeks.

Simon de Montfort memorial in Abbey Park, Evesham
Simon de Montfort memorial in Abbey Park, Evesham

Simon de Montfort wasn’t even British. He was a French nobleman who became embroiled in the Second Barons’ War, taking the side of those who wanted to enforce the provisions of Magna Carta against Henry III. In the course of the war, de Montfort’s troops controlled most of southern England and left him the de facto ruler, having captured and imprisoned the king. As ruler, one of the things he did was to summon a parliament.

Neither parliaments nor democracy were an innovation in 1265. Ancient Greece was the cradle of democracy, and Iceland’s parliament is known by millions of pub quizzers as the oldest still extent. Previous English kings, too, had summoned ad hoc parliaments to offer advice to the monarch. De Montfort’s novel concept was to combine the two. As well as the usual (for the time) bishops, abbots, earls and barons, de Montfort also called for two knights from each shire and two burgesses from each borough. As well as being the first time that an English parliament had included members explicitly intended to represent their localities, de Montfort went a step further and stipulated that the representatives were to be elected, not appointed.

Simon de Montfort didn’t rule England for long. Edward Longshanks (Henry III’s son, and the future Edward I) escaped from captivity and assembled an army which later defeated de Montfort at the Battle of Evesham. The barons lost the war, and Henry III resumed control. But their principles lived on. Edward had been sympathetic to the reformers and briefly considered siding with them against his father. Although family loyalty won out in the end, he retained his interest in reform.

Following his accession to the throne, Edward I instituted what is now referred to as the Model Parliament. As the name suggests, this was very much the template for future parliaments, and current parliamentary democracy is a direct descendant of it. But what was remarkable about it was that the model parliament itself was modelled on Simon de Montfort’s parliament, complete with elected representatives from the boroughs.

England has had an elected representative parliament ever since. It’s a model of government that we have exported to the world. Every democratic nation on the planet uses a form of representative democracy which can be traced back to Edward I and Simon de Montfort. There are few values more British than that.