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Swinton Industrial School - how paupers were educated in 19th-century Manchester
"I read an autobiography of someone who attended the Swinton Industrial School in the 19th century. What was this and why was it built?"
Poverty in Britain was severe in the early decades of the 19th century. The economic state of the country meant that the system for poor relief which had worked for a couple of centuries was stretched to the limit. Until 1834 the Poor Law worked on the assumption that parishes had a responsibility for their poor and a household levy was paid as poor rates. After the Napoleonic wars the poor rates increased and the new system, brought in by the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834), had a completely different basis. The premise now was that the poor were responsible for themselves. There was a stern approach to people who applied for help and workhouses became a major plank in dealing with the poor. They were places of discipline and hard work, less comfortable than anywhere on the outside so there was a reduced desire to go to them. In fact they became frightening places of last refuge, dreaded by the working classes. In some places the authorities were more enlightened and some workhouse institutions pioneered both caring and education.
One such was the Swinton Moral and Industrial School set up by the Manchester Poor Law Union. 'Union' was the name given to groups of parishes which had joined together to provide workhouses. The Union was run by a board of Guardians, one from each parish and appointed by magistrates. The Manchester Union was one of the first to set up a large separate institution for pauper children, the Swinton Moral and Industrial School. The building, which cost £60,000, was put up in the 1840s, an elegant structure designed by Richard Tattersall. It was a three-storey building with towers and Dutch gables and the education given to pauper children is said to have been of a high quality. Charles Dickens himself visited the school in 1850 and said that it could easily be mistaken for a duke's country seat.
The School was designed to take 1,500 children though it never got near that number. In 1881 there were 799 children between the ages of 5 and 15, with a staff of 30. The building closed in the 1920s and was knocked down in the 1930s. The present Swinton Town Hall stands on the site.
John Cook of the Swinton and Pendlebury Local History Society
Trevor May, The Victorian Workhouse (Shire, 1997)
Norman Longmate, The Workhouse (Norman Longmate, 2003)
Stuart Hylton, A History of Manchester (Phillimore, 2003)
See the Education section for more on Industrial Schools, including Swinton (under Manchester Union).
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Vanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald.
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