Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Raikes, Robert

RAIKES, ROBERT (1735–1811), promoter of Sunday schools, born at Gloucester on 14 Sept. 1735, was son of Robert Raikes, printer. His mother was daughter of the Rev. R. Drew. The elder Raikes had in 1722 founded the ‘Gloucester Journal,’ one of the oldest country newspapers, and died on 7 Sept. 1757. He had prospered in business, and his son Thomas, father of Thomas Raikes (1777–1848) [q. v.], eventually became a director of the Bank of England. The younger Robert succeeded to the Gloucester business on his father's death, and in 1767 married Anne, daughter of Thomas Trigge. He was an active and benevolent person, and in 1768 inserted in his paper an appeal on behalf of the prisoners in Gloucester. The gaols were marked by the abuses soon afterwards exposed by Howard. No allowance was made for the support of minor offenders, and Raikes says that some of them would have been starved but for ‘the humanity of the felons,’ who gave up part of their rations. Howard visited Gloucester in 1773, and speaks favourably of Raikes, who entertained him. Raikes's attention was naturally called to the neglect of any training for children. Various accounts are given of the circumstances which led to the action which made him famous. He mentions an interview (traditionally placed in St. Catherine's meadows) with a woman who pointed out a crowd of idle ragamuffins. He is also said to have taken a hint from a dissenter named William King, who had set up a Sunday school at Dursley. Cynics reported that Raikes made up his newspaper on Sundays, and was annoyed by the interruption of noisy children outside when he was reading his proofs. In any case, he spoke to the curate of a neighbouring parish, Thomas Stock (1749–1803), who had started a Sunday school at Ashbury, Berkshire. Raikes and Stock engaged a woman as teacher of a school, Raikes paying her a shilling and Stock sixpence weekly. Stock drew up the rules. Raikes afterwards set up a school in his own parish, St. Mary le Crypt, to which he then confined his attention. Controversy has arisen as to the share of merit due to Raikes and Stock. It must no doubt have occurred to many people to teach children on Sunday. Among Raikes's predecessors are generally mentioned Cardinal Borromeo (1538–1584), Joseph Alleine [q. v.], Hannah Ball [q. v.], and Theophilus Lindsey [q. v.] Raikes's suggestion fell in with a growing sense of the need for schools, and became the starting point of a very active movement. His first school was opened in July 1780. In November 1783 he inserted in his paper a short notice of its success, without mentioning his own name. Many inquiries were consequently addressed to him. An answer which he had sent to a Colonel Townley of Sheffield was published in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ in 1784, and a panegyric, giving a portrait and an account of his proceedings, was in the ‘European Magazine’ of November 1788. The plan had been quickly taken up at Leeds and elsewhere. Raikes's friend, Samuel Glasse [q. v.], preached a sermon in 1786 at Painswick, Gloucestershire, on behalf of the schools there, and stated in a note that two hundred thousand children were already being taught in England. The bishops of Chester and Salisbury (Porteus and Shute Barrington) gave him their approval. William Fox [q. v.], who had been trying to start a larger system, thought Raikes's plan more practicable, and, after consulting him, set up in August 1785 a London society for the establishment of Sunday schools. Jonas Hanway and Henry Thornton were members of the original committee, and ten years later the society had sixty-five thousand scholars. Wesley remarks in his journal of 14 July 1784 that he finds these schools springing up wherever he goes. He published a letter upon them next year in the ‘Arminian Magazine,’ and did much to encourage them among his followers. They were introduced into Wales by Thomas Charles [q. v.] of Bala, in 1789, and spread into Scotland, Ireland, and the United States. They had attracted attention outside of the churches. Adam Smith, according to one of Raikes's letters in 1787 (Gregory, p. 107), declared that no plan so simple and promising for the improvement of manners had been devised since the days of the apostles. At Christmas 1787 Raikes was admitted to an interview with Queen Charlotte, who spoke favourably of the plan to Mrs. Trimmer [q. v.], and Mrs. Trimmer started schools, which were graciously visited by George III. Hannah More [q. v.] followed Mrs. Trimmer's example by starting similar schools in Somerset in 1789. When, in 1788, the king visited Cheltenham, Miss Burney, then a maid of honour, went to Gloucester, and had an interview with Raikes. She regarded him with reverence, but thought him rather vain and ‘voluble.’ He was, she says, a ‘very principal man’ in all the benevolent institutions of the town, including an infirmary and a model prison in course of construction, and he heard ‘with rapture’ that the queen would be interested in his work (Madame D'Arblay's Diary, 19 July 1788). A Sunday School Union was founded in 1803. The first teachers were generally paid, until, difficulties having arisen in Gloucester in 1810 about their maintenance, some young men resolved to carry them on gratuitously.

Raikes retired from business in 1802, receiving a life annuity of 300l. from the ‘Gloucester Journal.’ He died at Gloucester, 5 April 1811, and was buried in the church of St. Mary le Crypt, where there are monuments to him and his parents. His widow died, aged 85, on 9 March 1828. They had two sons and six daughters.

Raikes is accused of excessive vanity; but he seems to have been a thoroughly worthy man. His merit in the Sunday-school movement appears to have been not so much in making any very novel suggestion as in using his position to spread a knowledge of a plan for cheap schools which was adapted to the wants of the day. He very soon came to be regarded as the ‘founder of Sunday schools,’ but does not appear to have himself ignored the claims of his co-operators. A ‘jubilee’ was held in 1831, at the suggestion of James Montgomery, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the movement (really the fifty-first), when it was said that there were 1,250,000 scholars and one hundred thousand teachers in Great Britain. A centenary celebration was also held in 1880, when Lord Shaftesbury unveiled at Gloucester the model of a statue of Raikes, intended to be placed in the cathedral. It has never been executed. Another statue was erected upon the Victoria Embankment.

A portrait from the original now in possession of General Robert Napier Raikes, of Strangford Villa, Park Road, Watford, is prefixed to his life by Gregory.

[Robert Raikes, journalist and philanthropist, by Alfred Gregory, 1877, gives the fullest account from original sources, the author having been employed on the Gloucester Journal, and supplied with family information. See also Robert Raikes and Northamptonshire Sunday Schools (by P. M. Eastman), 1880, published on occasion of the erection of a monument inscribed to the ‘founders of Sunday schools,’ at the Essex Street Unitarian chapel; Memoir of R. Raikes by G. Webster, 1873; and Memoir of William Fox by Joseph Ivimey, 1831. For various notices, see European Mag. xiv. 315; Gent. Mag. 1784 i. 377, 410, 1788 i. 11, 1831 ii. 132, 294, 391; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 428–31, ix. 539. A large collection of notices from newspapers was communicated by Mr. H. Y. J. Taylor of Gloucester.]

L. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.230
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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170 i 13 Raikes, Robert: after James Raikes' insert (afterwards belonging to General Robert Napier Raikes, of Strangford Villa, Park Road, Watford)