Leisure, Religion and Education
As in the case of housing and sanitation, the provision of open spaces was at its worst at the middle of the nineteenth century. While the built-up area was expanding rapidly, 7,500 acres had been enclosed in the borough, and by 1845 there was no common land left.’ “The town is singularly destitute of anything [in the nature of a public walk or open space]”, states one observer in 1833.
The appeals of Sheffield artisans, many of whom had only recently moved into the town with its unhealthy workshops and cramped living quarters,, for healthy outdoor exercise and the provision of public parks, fell for the moment on deaf ears. But many walked miles on Sundays to reach the open moors, and the Operative cutlers still kept a pack of hounds going for sport into the neighbourhood on foot “and with great discretion”. In the summer “the rivers are crowded with bathers, although the water is often shallow, muddy, dirty and sometimes even offensive”. There were also the Sheffield fairs. held twice yearly, which were looked upon by Le Play’s cutler, as by many others, as the chief annual enjoyment apart from the Christmas dinner. Other recreations were treasure hunts, cricket, quoits, shooting matches, races and (boxing) fights.
Sheffield artisans were enthusiastic amateur gardeners.
It is highly gratifying to observe [wrote the Sheffield Times on 3rd June 1848] how very large a very large a number of working-men there are in this town who connect with the labouring at one of the staple cutlery trades, the cultivation of plots of land . . . these gardens are mostly cultivated by the artisan population of Sheffield during the intervals of their more regular employment.
In depressions, much effort was devoted to gardening, and flowers gave place to vegetables, but even at other times the Sheffield craftsmen determined his own hours of work, and could always find time for his garden. Rents, particularly those charged by allotment clubs on the fringes of the town, were reasonable, and for a rent of £2 per annum for a plot of 500 yards plus manure from the town at 5s. or 6s. per ton, a man could raise £12-£20 worth of produce, of better quality than could be bought in the market.’
Outdoor activities, however, were overshadowed by the publichouse as the most common scene of the workman’s leisure activities. Returning from an exhausting and often monotonous occupation to a dark, overcrowded and poorly furnished living-room at home, the artisan needed an exceptionally strong character to withstand the allurement of company in a cheery, well-lit and well-heated publichouse.
It was commonly believed that the relatively high wages, the irregular working hours and the hard physical work accounted for the excessive drinking habits in the town. The number of beerhouses and public-houses per inhabitant was near the average of all large towns in 1851, but the number of prosecutions for drunkenness (a doubtful measure) was the highest next to Liverpool’s. Whereas in Manchester there were public parks, gymnasiums, playgrounds for juveniles, a free library, reading-rooms, public museums, good theatres, cheap concerts, well conducted dancing-rooms and other places of recreation, “in Sheffield there is not a single moral or healthy amusement open to the working classes”.
Apprentices received wages from an early age, and some beerhouses catered specially for them. Many trade societies met in public-houses, the publican being secretary or treasurer, and fines were often to be spent on “refreshments”.’ Other incentives to drink were “linked” wages, that is the payment of wages to a group of men together in large coin which had to be changed in publichouses; the payment of wages in the manufacturer’s own public-house; the delays of some hours on payday, spent waiting in beershops; the habit of staying away from work on “St. Monday” and “St. Tuesday”, and the customs of “loosing ales” (stood by the young man just out of his apprenticeship to his fellow workmen), “birthday ales” and “wedding ales”,’ each an attempt to break the monotony of workaday lives.
The evil had increased since the passing of the “Beer Act” in 1830, which led to an immediate increase in the number of licensed premises. Although their number per head of population fell again in the 1840s, drunkenness, including that of women, did not, and in October 1852 the Town Council took the matter seriously enough to appoint a special committee of inquiry under Ald. G. L. Saunders. Its report, presented in January 1853, proposed, among other measures, the provision of cheap “moral” amusements; the control of beer-houses by magistrates; the closing of public-houses by 11 p.m. and the prohibition of the sale of drinks to adolescents under 17 years of age; and the ending of such traditions as paying wages on Saturdays and in public-houses. No immediate action was taken, but improved living standards, increased leisure ‘ facilities and, perhaps, the preaching of the temperance societies combined in the 1850’s to reduce the incidence of drunkenness among the working classes. The legislation Of 1854, the repeal of the Beer Act in 1869 and the Act Of 1872, which tightened control by the justices over licensed premises, further helped to keep the problem in narrower bounds.
Earnest middle-class reformers tended to link drunkenness with immorality, atheism and socialism. “There has been a susceptible and unfavourable change in the character of the children in our Sunday Schools since the prevalence of Socialism gravely asserted the Rev. Henry Farish in 1843,1 “Socialism has been rife in Sheffield, and this, added to the prevailing System of infant independence, has peculiarly corrupted that most influential class who are from 13 to 20 years old, which is peculiarly prone to imbibe errors agreeable to the passions.” Chartism was also specifically blamed for immorality.’
The views of middle-class observers, however, most of whom were grossly ignorant of the realities of working-class life, furnish a poor guide to its moral basis. It was true that in the large town the morals of the young deteriorated, and it was noted that the morals of the young men of Wadsley (an industrial village on the outskirts) and those of colliery children were better than those of Sheffield; but on the whole Sheffield remained peaceful and safe, despite the lack of an adequate police force.
There were some who attributed this state of affairs to the influence of religion. “Order is a moral result of religion in Sheffield,” wrote one visitor in 1829, when there were 6 churches and 17 dissenting chapels, accommodating about 25,000 persons, or one half of the adult population. In 1844, Sheffield was divided into 25 parochial districts and in the following years incumbents were appointed and churches built for each of them ‘ but in the first half of the century the Anglican Church could probably claim few adherents among the working classes in Sheffield. Even the Nonconformist sects had reason to complain of the indifference of working-men, though there were some who took a prominent part in the life of their chapels, like John Drury, William Dronfield and John Wilson, and it has often been observed that many Socialist and trade-union leaders learnt the art of speaking in chapel.
Socialism was then equated with agnosticism, and the influence of Robert Owen (as of Thomas Paine before him) was strong. Workmen would send their children to schools maintained by the different denominations, but, the Rev. H. Farish remarked in 1843, not one in ten of the parents of his Sunday-school children regularly went went to church.’ In 1827, of all the Sunday-school children at Brighouses (Methodist), no more than six or seven had religious parents. On 31st March 1847 a public meeting, packed as usual with workingmen, opposed the increase of grants to religious bodies engaged in education, since “the measure was an endowment of all religions, that it was unjust and centralising, and would increase the power of the clergy, as well as create servility of the people”, though some prominent Chartists, including Richard Otley, Isaac Ironside and Michael Beale, were prepared to swallow religious control so long as the education of working-class children received State support.* The close link between political Radicalism and religious Nonconformity in places such as Sheffield was formed by the tradesmen and smaller manufacturers. Many of their political movements, like Samuel Roberts’s campaign against the Poor Laws, were inspired by religious fervour.
In Sheffield, Methodism was undoubtedly the strongest of the Nonconformist groupings, but its official attitude towards working class aspirations was hostile. In 1850, for example, Aid. Schofield, a leading spokesman of the left wing of the suffrage movement, was expelled by the Wesleyan Methodists for attending reform meetings. In return, Sheffield small masters and skilled artisans were often critical of official Conference policy, and at the split Of 1849 the (Sheffield) East Circuit lost 1,500 members and 30 out of 56 preachers.
Other denominations were also represented in the town, and there were, in all, in 1850, 23 churches of the Establishment and 47 other places of worship, with 44,000 sittings, of which only 14,300 were free, for a population Of 135,000. On the Census test Sunday, 30th March 1851, the number of worshippers counted in the morning was 20,300-4,600 in the afternoon and 18,500 in the evening. Among the major denominations, in Anglican churches 32 per cent. of the sittings were filled during the morning service, in Methodist chapels of all groupings 53 per cent., among Independents about the same proportion; whilst the Roman Catholics recorded 2,000 worshippers, in two services, in a church holding 950 seats.
Education was largely in the hands of the religious bodies. In 1850, 14 local day-schools of the National Society held about 5,500 scholars, a Lancasterian School had about 750 scholars, there were charity schools for boys and girls which held about 170, a Ragged School, formed in 1848, took about 175, and the chief denominations, such as Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Wesleyans, also had infant day-schools. In addition, there was the so-called Free Grammar School, taking 25 boys from the parish at low fees, and the Free Writing School, taking in 30 poor boys.’ These, together with private schools and “academies”, run by individuals of varying qualifications on a commercial basis,* formed the background to the education system ‘for children of artisans. About three-quarters of the children also attended Sunday-school. A detailed inquiry in 1843 had shown that only about half the children of school age attended a day-school of any kind for an average of one year, learning little besides the three Rs and the rudiments of religious knowledge. About two-thirds of the working class thus grew up in ignorance. Between 1843 and 1851, the numbers of school places barely kept pace with the population.
Education suffered from the general hostility towards expenditure on social services, from religious intolerances and from the fear the educated workmen might forget their proper station in life. Hence flinds for education were limited, teaching staff was poor, especially in the smaller schools and private schools, and the methods of instruction used have often been pilloried.
The educational provisions of the Factory Act of 1833 and of later legislation did not apply to the trades of the town. In many local ndustries, children helped in the workshops from 8 years of many local industries, children helped in the workshops from 8 years of age onwards,’ though full apprenticeship only began at the age of 13 or 14.
In expanding trades, boys were apprenticed to their fathers or uncles, and after a year or two their assistance might materially increase piece-rate earnings, so that the incentive to set the boys to work at an early age was great.’ In years of severe depression the number of school children increased: there were many among them who would have been sent to work at other times.
Statistics of literacy are difficult to interpret, butseveral of them agree that about the middle of the century half the Sheffield work-men could neither read nor write, though some groups of workmen, like those at Joseph Rodgers’, the Globe Works, the silver trades and the saw grinders and smiths, had a much better education. The secretary of the United Committee of Table Blade Forgers, Grinders and Hafters formed in October 1848 kept his minute-book, not only in an excellent handwriting but in correct grammar and spelling, and even entered his name (John Barnes) in Pitman’s shorthand.
There was a minority determined to make good the deficiencies in their early education. The movement for adult education was particularly active in Sheffield where the means in workingclass households were, perhaps, less limited than elsewhere and where the men still found scope for individual skill, ingenuity and enterprise in the local trades.
Of the educational institutions catering for adult working-men in 1850, the Mechanics’ Institute was the oldest. It began in 1824 as a Mechanics’ Library, which had grown to 20,000 volumes in 1851, but was dominated by middle-class members and was directed, not to the widening of the horizons of working-men, but to making them more efficient in their trades, and in this respect it filled an important need. In August 1832 a Mechanics’ Institute was formed, largely by members of the Library, which again emphasised instruction in the sciences and arts useful to the workmen’s trades.’ It was destined to be even more in the control of its middle-class sponsors than the Library, and at no stage did it play an important part in further working-class education in the commonly accepted sense. For one thing, its teaching remained at an elementary level; for another, it soon ceased to cater for manual workers. By 1836, only 60 Of its 320 students were artisans in the staple trades, and the syllabus offered soon showed a bias towards the needs of men in clerical and similar occupations, who had replaced the mechanics. Though it erected a new building after the foundation of an associated “Atheneum” in 1847, and appointed a full-time manager in 1853, the Mechanics’ Institute was perennially in financial straits; in 187 1 it was saved by a Government grant to which was added in 1872 a grant by the Town Trustees, but in 1890, when the Town Council refused it further support, it was forced to close its doors.
Other institutions in the town which provided working-class adult education about the year 1850 included the Handsworth and Woodhouse Mechanics’ Institute with 25 members in 1851; the Church of England Instruction Society, formed in 1839, with 400-500 members; the Unitarian adult school, opened in 1840; and the dayschool of the Society of Friends, started in 1845, which became an adult school in 1854. In 1843 was founded the School of Design, which had the support of the Board of Trade, and became, in 1857, the new “School of Art”. Other cultural institutions, like the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society and the Norfolk Street Atheneum were not accessible to the working classes.
The most influential institution for further education among Sheffield artisans was the famous Sheffield People’s College, a pioneer institution which served as a model for Maurice’s foundation in London.’ It was opened in August 1842 by the Rev. R. S. Bayley, minister of the Howard Street Congregational Chapel . 5 His intention, clearly set out in the People’s College journal, edited (and largely written) by himself in 1846-7, was to widen the horizons of workingmen, to emancipate them, as a class, from the trammels of ignorance and lack of opportunity, and to make them capable of occupying a social and political status in society equal to that of other classes. Bayley thus had a strong social, if not political, purpose, and shared many of the ideals of Hodgskin, Bray and Cooper., though he was hostile to Chartism as such.
The approach touched a chord of response from the Sheffield artisans, who came to study before and after the hours of work. The sights were set high. there was only one “rudimentary class” in the 3 Rs, the other ten subjects being Geography, Modem Knowledge, English and General History, English Composition, Science, Logic and Algebra, Philosophy and Natural History, English Literature, Latin and Greek, mostly taught, at a high level, by Bayley himself, and there was also a weekly lecture on general topics. By the end of the second year, in 1844, there were 50 classes, and the 14 classes examined, including Latin and Greek, showed remarkably good results.
In addition to its formal education, the College was also outstandingly successful in creating a vigorous intellectual atmosphere and a spirit of independence and self-government among its ordinary working-class students. A Management Committee of 18 students was elected, and the College had its own press. issuing among others, five text-books prepared by R. S. Bayley and a journal from November 1846 onward.
After the departure of Bayley from Sheffield, a public meeting on 16th October 1848, called by a committee of former students, determined to reorganise the College, making it entirely selfsupporting and self-goveming. Within a month, 200 students had enrolled, and by the end of the session, 530 were on the books. Before long children’s day classes also were started, and became so popular that the numbers had to be limited by raising the fees.
Though several elementary classes and commercial subjects crept in in the following years, the teaching of ancient and modem languages, history, political economy and similar subjects continued at a high level.’ In 1856 the first student sat for the Society of Arts Examination in London, and by 1859 there were 14 such candidates. Financially the College was also sound. There were soon paid instructors in the modem languages, though the majority of classes were still being taken by voluntary teachers, mostly former students, and in 1853 the institution acquired a useful collection of scientific apparatus. Among the students who later rose to important positions were Samuel Plimsoll and james Moorhouse, Bishop of Melbourne.
In the early 1860’s the numbers of students began to fall off, and the College was finally closed in 1879. Its influence had extended beyond the limited number of its students. At a time when there were few other sources of enlightenment available, it had trained many who became prominent in the moulding of local opinion or were active among working-class organisations. It is, perhaps, significant that Sheffield became one of the first towns, and the first in Yorkshire, to adopt the Public Libraries Act of 1850: the first small library was opened at the Mechanics’ Institute in 1856.”