“Meeting Jesus, Making Friends”
The Origins of the Blackburn Ragged School
The information for this article is taken from two key sources: Brief Historical Sketch, by J. Chilman, on the occasion of the 50-year jubilee of the Blackburn Ragged School, in 1931; and Blackburn Ragged School: 90 Not Out, by Revd. P. Royston-Bishop, on the occasion of the 90-year jubilee, in 1971.
The Blackburn Ragged School was established in 1881, led by its two founders, James Dixon and John Walkden.
Snippets from “Half-a-century’s record”, in Chilman’s Brief Historical Sketch:
In the latter part of the year 1881, two young men, each between twenty and thirty years of age, struck with the lost looking conditions of hundreds of poor children in Blackburn, and imbued with an intense longing to do something to relieve and to mitigate as far as possible their adverse lot, decided to make a start to that desirable end by taking at a very small rental a little building at the corner of Lune Street and Leyland Street, whereby they might work beneficially for the bodies and souls of young life who might be prompted to enter. Gathering together a noble band of young helpers of between seventeen and twenty years of age, they between them commenced a work in the name of Blackburn Ragged School, little thinking that out of so small a beginning the little one should one day become a thousand, and its praises sung in every part of the world...
Bare heads, bare legs and feet, bare little bodies and nothing to cover them were the order of the day. It must be remembered, however, there was then no beneficent Charity Organisation Society, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had not yet come into being. So, free meals of solid bread and butter and coffee were started every Sunday morning, and as the need arose, meals of soup, bread, etc., were given during the week, every Tuesday and Thursday, to the number of six or seven hundred weekly, and this went on for many years. Then an old clothes room was started, and thousands of little bodies have received its benefits.
From the Trust Deed, 9th September, 1895:
Blackburn Ragged School and Mission to the Poor and Destitute
The object of the Institution shall be to impart moral and religious instruction to poor children, their parents and relations, and to carry the Gospel to those who from whatever circumstances have not yet come under its influence. To provide and distribute free meals, clothing, coals, etc. to the poor and needy, especially children, to assist in the Battle of Life destitute and neglected boys and girls, and generally to help the aged, sick and poor.
The said Institution shall be carried on upon evangelical and unsectarian lines, and all children admitted therein shall be trained in the Protestant faith and the Holy Bible shall be the groundwork of all religious teaching.
Taken from a cutting from the Blackburn Times dated October 29th, 1881:
Opening of the Ragged School
A number of Christian friends connected with Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Congregational and other churches have been meeting together during the last few weeks with a view to establishing an interdenominational school for street children. Having appointed Mr. James Dixon as Secretary and Mr. John Walkden as Treasurer, premises in Leyland Street were rented, and a room on the ground floor was soon prepared for the opening meeting which took place last Saturday when coffee and buns were supplied in abundance to as many poor children as the limited schoolroom would accommodate. On Sunday evening the first meeting of the Sunday School was held and 198 poor ragged children assembled in the schoolroom, where suitable addresses were delivered by Mr. James Dixon and Mr. Richard Woods.
Revd. Royston-Bishop continues the story, in 90 Not Out:
The year 1901 opened under the shadow of the death of Queen Victoria in January, and the continuance of the South African War...Material conditions among the town's poor had worsened, if anything, at the turn of the century, and it was decided by the Institution's Committee of Management of that day that a full-time missioner be appointed to deal with the pressing needs that were so prevalent. Mr. Jesse Chilman was chosen, and at the beginning of his beneficent career, proudly said, 'I am an old Ragged School teacher - I am not ashamed of it - I rejoice in it'.
Mr. Chilman served the School for 38 years as superintendent and missioner. In his lifetime, he became a legend. Born at Brasted, Kent, he came to Blackburn in 1881 as manager of a tailor's shop, and at once showed interest in the work of the Ragged School.
The Blackburn Ragged School continued to serve the community through the very difficult times of war and depression. The Ragged School’s 50-year jubilee was marked in 1931 with “an ambitious programme” of celebrations.
In 1941, Jesse Chilman resigned his position as superintendent and missioner at the school, and was succeeded by Mr. David Pluckrose, who had previously been working at Hoxton Market Christian Mission.
Mr. Pluckrose resigned from the position in 1946, and in 1947 was succeeded by Revd. and Mrs Royston-Bishop, who later reflected that “there was a job that God wanted them to do, and they were going to do it!”
From 90 Not Out:
Mr. H. N. Patterson, the well-loved Editor of the 'Blackburn Times' wrote a series of articles entitled 'Portrait Gallery.' Royston-Bishop was included in the series as follows:
'Ragged School's Dynamic Leader
'A firm belief in the resurgence of old fashioned religion in which the fundamentals spring from the heart and not the mind explains a good deal of the success attendant upon the ministry of the Rev. Philip Royston-Bishop, Superintendent of the Blackburn Ragged School.
Facing Modern Challenges
From the Blackburn Times, January 1961, reproduced in 90 Not Out:
When Blackburn Corporation have finally brought into being the new residential district now being built on the Montague Street slum clearance site, the Ragged School, in Bent Street, will not just be an old picture in a sparkling new frame, but a completely significant part of the new set-up of the progressive 1960s.
In the coming spring, work will begin on the School's development scheme, designed not only to make general amenities meet the needs of the times, but to effect some outward face-lifting which will make the whole of the School buildings match the appearance of the new Corporation properties, which will spring up all around.
And the school, which has played no small part in moulding the character of children and adults for nearly 80 years will be the only building in the whole area to survive the upheaval, with a par to play in the new Blackburn which is being created.
In 1971, Revd. Raymond Royston-Bishop, minister of Trinity Congregational Church, Sheffield, described Blackburn Ragged School as,
a centre for Mission; an ecumenical enterprise which works; a spiritual home for many hundreds; a most adequate and well-equipped centre for Youth; the best place in Blackburn for activities for the elderly; a place where no one in need is ever turned away.