Born to Robert and Mary Raikes in 1736, Robert Raikes was baptised at St. Mary de Crypt ( still there in Southgate St. ) and educated at the Crypt School ( the authors old School ) and later on at Kings School which can still be found by the Cathedral. He was then apprenticed to his father, a printer who founded the ” Gloucester Journal “. When his father died in 1757 he took over as editor of the Journal and made his own mark by enlarging the size of the paper and improving the layout.
Like many of his contemporaries, he was passionately concerned with the need for prison reform, and used the Journal to tell the public of the terrible conditions inside the prison that he saw as a prison visitor. After the riots of 1760 many protestors were in prison for demonstrating against the high price of corn, even though they were starving. He was described by the diarist Fanny Burney as ” a good liberal master who paid good wages “.
His main claim to fame was the founding of the first Sunday School . One day, while looking for a gardener, he found himself in St. Catherine’s St. He noticed a group of ragged children playing in the street. The gardeners wife told him that it was even worse on Sunday when the street was full of children cursing and swearing and spending their time in noise and riot.Most of these children were employed in the pin making industry and would have worked six days a week for very long hours .
Robert Raikes then realised that the prisons were full of people whose lives had been shaped by their deprived childhood.Soon after this, he and the reverend Thomas Stock opened the worlds first Sunday School in St. Catherine’s St. Unfortunately, despite local opposition, the council have demolished this building. At the time, any children between the ages of five and fourteen were admitted, no matter what the state of their clothes. Lessons were given by suitable ladies ( paid 1 shilling and sixpence ) and included reading and writing and a visit to Church.
The success of these Sunday Schools was reported in the Journal and they soon spread throughout the country . The famous evangelist John Wesley remarked ” I find these Scools springing up wherever I go “
Robert Raikes retire in 1802 and died in 1811 of a heart attack. The local children that attended his Sunday School attended his burial in St. Mary de Lode church and were each given 1 shilling and a large piece of Mr. Raikes plum cake.
A statue of Robert Raikes can be seen in Gloucester Park