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Rewards of merit at Sunday school

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 31, 2014

By John Workman

  • The book George Corbett received in 1924 for collecting 12/3d

  • Robert Raikes, founder of the Sunday School in 1780. Below: A Victorian Sunday School

  • The book that Arthur Andrews received from the Primitive Methodist School for regular attendance in 1909

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IT was Robert Raikes, a Gloucestershire journalist, who opened the first Sunday School in the city of Gloucester in July 1780, and with the help of the Rev Thomas Stock he proceeded to fetch a few of the "Idle, screaming, swearing and fighting children" that he had witnessed on the streets and introduce them to school life on a Sunday. The idea soon caught on and became very popular not only in Gloucester but further afield and the institution of the Sunday School, albeit much changed and perhaps not as well attended, has survived up until the present day.

It was also Robert Raikes who introduced a system of rewards of merit in order to maintain discipline, good behaviour and attendance, a tradition that was carried on into the 20th century. Recently we featured some Sunday School prizes, and Cradley Then and Now stalwart Jill Guest has sent us details of a few of her own that have remained in the family for years.

Jill told us: "I have finally got round to scanning some old Sunday School prizes which might be of interest. I have quite a few belonging to myself and my sister, but also a few that go back many more years to the childhood of my dad and great uncle.

The oldest book I have is called 'Dick and his donkey or how to pay the rent', a bizarre title for a book, but one that certainly catches the imagination. This is vintage 1909 and was awarded to my great uncle Arthur Andrews in February of that year after attending on a regular basis the Primitive Methodist School in Birmingham Street, Halesowen. The novel, which is a typical Victorian/Edwardian tale, very sad with a moral flavour, was read to us girls by our great aunt when we were little and it invariably made us cry.

"The other two I have managed to dust off the bookshelf are from my dad George Corbett's time, his earliest prizes, the first called 'Harold or two died for me' by Laura A Barter-Snow, which he received in 1921 was for good attendance when he would have been about 5 years old. I doubt very much whether he was able to read this at such a young age.

The second is called 'The Life Story of Robert Moffatt and was presented to dad in 1924 for collecting 12 shillings and 3 pence for Methodist missions, which 90 years ago would have accounted for a lot of money. The book is subtitled 'The Gardner Boy who became the great South African Pioneer'. Dad loved reading all his life, so perhaps this passion was kick-started by the books he received when he attended Sunday School."

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