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AT the top of Farringdon Street in the
City of London, once adorned by the Fleet
Prison and by a diabolical jumble of
nuisances in the middle of the road called Fleet
Market, is a broad new thoroughfare in a
state of transition. A few years hence, and
we of the present generation will find it not
an easy task to recall, in the thriving street
which will arise upon this spot, the wooden
barriers and hoardingsthe passages that lead
to nothingthe glimpses of obscene Field
Lane and Saffron Hillthe mounds of earth,
old bricks, and oyster-shellsthe arched
foundations of unbuilt housesthe backs of
miserable tenements with patched windows
the odds and ends of fever-stricken courts
and alleyswhich are the present features of
the place. Not less perplexing do I find it
now, to reckon how many years have passed
since I traversed these byeways one night
before they were laid bare, to find out the
first Ragged School.

If I say it is ten years ago, I leave a handsome
margin. The discovery was then newly
made, that to talk soundingly in Parliament,
and cheer for Church and State, or to
consecrate and confirm without end, or to
perorate to any extent in a thousand
market-places about all the ordinary topics of
patriotic songs and sentiments, was merely
to embellish England on a great scale with
whited sepulchres, while there was, in every
corner of the land where its people were
closely accumulated, profound ignorance and
perfect barbarism. It was also newly
discovered, that out of these noxious sinks where
they were born to perish, and where the
general ruin was hatching day and night, the
people would not come to be improved. The
gulf between them and all wholesome
humanity had swollen to such a depth and
breadth, that they were separated from it as
by impassable seas or deserts; and so they
lived, and so they died: an always-increasing
band of outlaws in body and soul, against
whom it were to suppose the reversal of all
laws, human and divine, to believe that Society
could at last prevail.

In this condition of things, a few unaccredited
messengers of Christianity, whom no
Bishop had ever heard of, and no
Government-office Porter had ever seen, resolved to
go to the miserable wretches who had lost
the way to them; and to set up places of
instruction in their own degraded haunts. I
found my first Ragged School, in an obscure
place called West Street, Saffron Hill,
pitifully struggling for life, under every
disadvantage. It had no means, it had no
suitable rooms, it derived no power or protection
from being recognised by any authority, it
attracted within its wretched walls a
fluctuating swarm of facesyoung in years but
youthful in nothing elsethat scowled Hope
out of countenance. It was held in a
low-roofed den, in a sickening atmosphere, in
the midst of taint and dirt and pestilence:
with all the deadly sins let loose, howling
and shrieking at the doors. Zeal did not
supply the place of method and training;
the teachers knew little of their office; the
pupils, with an evil sharpness, found them
out, got the better of them, derided them,
made blasphemous answers to scriptural
questions, sang, fought, danced, robbed each
other; seemed possessed by legions of devils.
The place was stormed and carried, over and
over again; the lights were blown out, the
books strewn in the gutters, and the female
scholars carried off triumphantly to their old
wickedness. With no strength in it but its
purpose, the school stood it all out and made
its way. Some two years since, I found it,
one of many such, in a large convenient loft
in this transition part of Farringdon Street
quiet and orderly, full, lighted with gas,
well whitewashed, numerously attended, and
thoroughly established.

The number of houseless creatures who
resorted to it, and who were necessarily
turned out when it closed, to hide where they
could in heaps of moral and physical pollution,
filled the managers with pity. To relieve
some of the more constant and deserving
scholars, they rented a wretched house, where
a few common bedsa dozen or a dozen-and-
a-half perhapswere made upon the floors.
This was the Ragged School Dormitory; and
when I found the School in Farringdon
Street, I found the Dormitory in a court
hard by, which in the time of the Cholera
had acquired a dismal fame. The Dormitory
was, in all respects, save as a small beginning,
a very discouraging Institution. The