Index  (i)  (ii)  (iii)  (iv)  (v)  Preface.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6)  (7)  (8)  (9)  (10)  (11)  (12)  (13)  (14)  (15)  (16)  (17)  (18)  (19)  (20)  (21) 


The Spirit of Benevolence was Growing.

The School had been started at a time when intelligent people were worried about social and economic conditions. The Industrial Revolution had caused an all too rapid change in England, from a rural to an urban society. The towns had no organisation to deal with the problems; the old Poor Law system just could not cope. Poets had long been calling attention to the increase in abject poverty and a few writers such as Charles Dickens had provided eloquent descriptions of this. Conditions in Norwich were bad; there was no money to repair the drains and the foul water got into the wells from which half the population drew their drinking water in the 1850's. The result was a serious outbreak of cholera.

An ever increasing number of children were appearing before the magistrates for stealing, in Norwich and Yarmouth. Fortunately the extent of the problem did not demoralise Wright or Babington; they realised that "they could not save the world but only a small part of it". They also knew that it was the conditions in the towns that produced most of the misery. The central problem was that townspeople had find work in factories or not at all. If factories closed, as had many small textile places, then the workers were unemployed: they could not go back to the land, as they did in France, because they far outnumbered the vacant jobs in the rural areas. A consequence of this situation was that the Red House boys mostly came from Norwich amd Yarmouth; when they left some went to sea, some to the army and others emigrated to Canada, America and New Zealand. The school had contacts in all these lands.

The many letters from old boys who were overseas showed that most of them did well and had a much better choice than they would have had in England at that time. The one ray of hope in Norwich was that the shoe trade was expanding; Wright started a wing of the Red House school at Catton where older boys underwent training for this industry. There is a record of one of these boys later writing to Babington from India, asking him to send shoemakers' tools, which he did. The school continued to assist boys to obtain the tools of their trade on leaving and in later years some were provided with bicycles when this was necessary to get to work. The school was ahead of the times in the practical help which it provided, but their first aim was always to train the youngsters in an occupation which they could follow and so earn their keep. Such training seemed to build self-confidence in boys who had none.

John Wright and his friends were satisfied that whereas delinquent boys needed organised help, on the Red House lines, girls could always get training in household duties and then go into service with understanding people. Anne Wright, who was well travelled and had a country-wide circle of friends, was of the opinion that girls did not do well in institutions. Their nephew Philip had seen village-homes in France where not more than five girls lived in each cottage and received much needed care and affection of the woman in charge. At this time in France and Germany led in matters of child care but, in the 1860's, the spirit of benevolence was growing in England. Charles Kingsley's book "The Water Babies" was being widely read to children. Mary Sewell's own ballads, about the poor, were popular. Then she wrote "Mother's last words" with over 200 verses about two orphan boys, said to be from the Red House. This was published by Jarrolds who had already published Anne Wright's natural history and geology books, some based on lessons given by her at the school. Over a million copies of Mary's ballad were sold. "Our Father's care" followed and was nearly as popular. At last Parliament did something which the Wright family never forgot; Lord Shaftesbury's Chimney Sweep Act was passed banning the use of children under sixteen as sweeps.