University of Leicester
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Working-class education and illiteracy in Leicester, 1780-1870

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posted on 2014-12-15, 10:44 authored by Elaine. Brown
This thesis concentrates on elementary and adult working-class education and illiteracy in Leicester between 1780 and 1870. The need for a literate workforce for the town's economic viability is also examined.;The introductory chapters argue that economic and social change had had an adverse effect on education. Moreover an educated working class was perceived to be a threat to the existing social order, although the necessity for working-class education became increasingly apparent. Contemporaneously, members of the working class - particularly among the artisans - sought self-improvement, and appreciated the value of education in their desire for political and social reform.;A variety of sources were used to trace the development of schools and Sunday schools in Leicester - the majority of which were founded in response to middle-class philanthropy and/or denominational rivalry - but with few exceptions voluntary provision failed to reach the poorest children. The need for more schools, sectarian conflict, and the quality of education were among issues that the Leicester School Board had to resolve. Indeed the effect of education upon illiteracy - measured by the ability to sign the Anglican marriage registers some 15 years later - had become most noticeable by 1890.;Evidence for working-class interest in adult education can be seen in an attempt to establish a Mechanics' Institute in Leicester. However this was eventually inaugurated by the middle class to provide scientific and technical education for the working class. Numerous other institutions were founded by philanthropic middle-class reformers, but - with exception of the Working Men's College, and science schools - these tended to concentrate on 'rational recreation'.;The study concludes that although Leicester's economy expanded in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was not until about 1881 that the need for a technically-educated literate workforce came to be considered as crucial if Leicester was to compete in foreign markets.


Date of award


Author affiliation

English Local History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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