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Days Gone By - The history of the Ragged School in Ipswich

PUBLISHED: 12:36 19 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:49 19 February 2019

Work in May 1984 to move the frontage of the former Ragged School building back so that Waterworks Street could be widened. Picture: OWEN HINES

Work in May 1984 to move the frontage of the former Ragged School building back so that Waterworks Street could be widened. Picture: OWEN HINES

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Local history enthusiast David Kindred has shared pictures and his knowledge of the former Victorian Ragged School on Waterworks Street.

The same view of Waterworks Street, Ipswich now. Picture: DAVID KINDREDThe same view of Waterworks Street, Ipswich now. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

Every day hundreds of vehicles use Waterworks Street, Ipswich, as part of the town’s gyratory traffic system.

Few drivers notice the small building that was once home to a school.

With Victorian bluntness the Ragged School was founded in 1849 for children: “Too poor, too ragged, too filthy, too ignorant, for ordinary instruction.”

The sign on the front of the Ragged School building in Waterworks Street, Ipswich. Picture: DAVID KINDREDThe sign on the front of the Ragged School building in Waterworks Street, Ipswich. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

The school was first in St Clements Church Lane, it was established by Richard Dykes Alexander, a local wealthy banker and philanthropist.

The St Clement’s and Rope Walk areas of Ipswich was then packed with tiny poor housing with a high rate of crime and unemployment.

The school later moved to the Waterworks Street building. When the Ipswich School Board started in 1871 the Waterworks Street building became Waterworks Street Infants.

The move of the Ragged School frontage attracted a lot of attention on May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINESThe move of the Ragged School frontage attracted a lot of attention on May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINES

When plans were made to make Waterworks Street wider for traffic in the mid 1980s the frontage of school building was moved back several feet to save this important part of Ipswich’s education history.

It was not only the Victorians who were tactless when naming schools and organisations. In the 1920s there was a building at 253 Ranelagh Road, Ipswich, called “Home for Feeble Minded Girls” with Miss Lincoln as Matron. This building is now gone and a McDonalds drive through restaurant, close to the junction with London Road, is there.

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Were you among those who watched the Ragged School building frontal being moved back to widen Waterworks Street, Ipswich, in May 1984? Picture: OWEN HINESWere you among those who watched the Ragged School building frontal being moved back to widen Waterworks Street, Ipswich, in May 1984? Picture: OWEN HINES

The picture below shows the sorry state of the children at the Ipswich Ragged School, it gives some idea of life close to the Ipswich town centre in the Victorian period.

It was said at the time that parts of Ipswich had a “Class of boys and girls who were prevented, either by their debased condition, by the worthlessness or criminality of their parents, or the tattered state of their garments, from receiving instruction from any previous school”


The photograph taken around 1859 is one of a set of photographs taken by Richard Dykes Alexander, a pioneer of photography in Ipswich. His photographs are now stored at the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

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Similarly the next picture shows a sad looking bunch of boys at the Ragged School in 1859 has one boy with an injured arm and one in bare feet.


With them is Joshua Newman who taught at the school for nineteen years with his wife Deborah.

In 1859 Mr Newman had 135 pupils. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander, courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

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Pictured here is George Newman with a group of Ragged School boys in 1859.

The pupils were reported to be unmanageable, unruly and insubordinate. Then there was no state or compulsory education; parents who could afford a private education for their children sent them to a fee-paying grammar school. Christian religions opened schools for a select few from their own parish, but most young people went without education. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

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Engineers and builders on site as the Ragged School building was inched back in May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINESEngineers and builders on site as the Ragged School building was inched back in May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINES

Engineers and builders on site as the Ragged School building was inched back in May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINESEngineers and builders on site as the Ragged School building was inched back in May 1984. Picture: OWEN HINES

Deborah Newman with a group of girls at the Ragged School, Ipswich, in 1859. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.Deborah Newman with a group of girls at the Ragged School, Ipswich, in 1859. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

New premises for the Ragged School were built in Bond Street, within sight of the Waterworks Street building, with foundation stones laid in November 1900. This is the building as it looks now. Picture: DAVID KINDREDNew premises for the Ragged School were built in Bond Street, within sight of the Waterworks Street building, with foundation stones laid in November 1900. This is the building as it looks now. Picture: DAVID KINDRED

Children were taught to read and write. Lessons were given in carpentry and cutting and chopping firewood.  Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.Children were taught to read and write. Lessons were given in carpentry and cutting and chopping firewood. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

These Ragged School pupils appear to be making rag rugs under the watchful eye of teacher George Newman. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.These Ragged School pupils appear to be making rag rugs under the watchful eye of teacher George Newman. Picture by Richard Dykes Alexander courtesy of the Suffolk Record Office, reference K420.

The Ragged School building in April 1984 as preparations were made to move the frontage of the building back several feet.This Waterworks Street building was still listed in the 1930s as the Industrial Ragged Sunday School. Picture: RUSSELL WHIPPSThe Ragged School building in April 1984 as preparations were made to move the frontage of the building back several feet.This Waterworks Street building was still listed in the 1930s as the Industrial Ragged Sunday School. Picture: RUSSELL WHIPPS

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