John Pounds was born in Portsmouth on 17th June 1766. His father was a sawyer in the royal dockyard and when was twelve years old, his father arranged for him to be apprenticed as a shipwright. Three years later John fell into a dry dock and was crippled for life.
Unable to work as a shipwright, John became a shoemaker and by 1803 had his own shop in St. Mary Street, Portsmouth. While working in the shop, John began teaching local children how to read. His reputation as a teacher grew and he soon had over 40 pupils attending his lessons. Unlike other schools, John did not charge a fee for teaching the poor of Portsmouth. As well as reading and arithmetic, John gave lessons in cooking, carpentry and shoemaking. John Pounds died in 1839.
After his death, Thomas Guthrie wrote Plea for Ragged Schools and proclaimed John Pounds as the originator of this idea. Guthrie started a ragged school in Edinburgh and Sheriff Watson established another in Aberdeen. Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged School Union in 1844 and, over the next eight years, over 200 free schools for poor children were established in Britain.
John Pounds, is also something of a local hero and was chosen by the people of Portsmouth in a survey carried out by a local newspaper in 1999 to be the “man of the millennium”. Also the church is strongly associated with Charles Dickens – he may well have attended the church when very young, but the connection is really rather tenuous! However the annual Dickens Birthday Lecture (of the Dickens Society) does take place in the church on a Saturday close to February 7th. each year – the date of the author’s birthday in 1766.
The replica of John Pounds’ workshop is located at the Portsmouth Unitarian Church, High Street, Old Portsmouth. Visitors need to call at least a week in advance if making a special trip to check opening times (02392 821101). The workshop is always open on Thursday mornings 10.30am-12.30pm, along with the Sanctuary with tea & coffee served in the hall.
Here is the John Pounds walk leaflet for you to download. It gives details of where the original workshop stood, plus insights into life in Old Portsmouth all those years ago.
Local writer, Matthew Wingett, has written an article about the work of John Pounds on his blog page. You can read it by clicking on the following link.