My accountant, Chris Stolborg, told me about John Pounds and said his story was inspirational. So, one fine day, I ventured out to the High Street in Old Portsmouth to the Unitarian Chapel named in his honour to find out more.
Walking down the side of the church, I caught sight of a memorial to John Pounds and, astonishingly, attached to the church, a replica of what I understand to be his workshop which stood at nearby Highbury Street (then known as St Mary’s Street).
Who was John Pounds then? Well he was a Portsmouth shoemaker, who was once apprenticed as a shipwright in the Dockyard. During his tenure there, he tragically fell into a dry dock however and was crippled for life, thus needing to find another career path. He became a shoemaker with his own shop in St Mary Street.
In 1818, Pounds, known then as the crippled cobbler, began teaching poor children without charging fees. He actively recruited children and young people to his school – teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic. His reputation as a teacher grew and soon he had more than 40 students attending his lessons. For over 30 years, he fed, taught and clothed hundreds of poor children.
After he died in 1839, Thomas Guthrie proclaimed him as the originator of the idea of the Ragged School movement which spawned hundreds of Ragged Schools throughout the country to help the children of the poor. Another Portsmouth-born novelist, Charles Dickens was a big supporter of the movement and was inspired by it to write A Christmas Carol.
It just shows you the difference one person can make in the world and how an idea can spark a movement. Chris is right – John Pounds is truly inspirational.
Contributor & Photographer: Sue Lowry
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