Gould Street Sunday School

Both sides of my father's family were closely involved with the Sunday School movement in Manchester. His mother's family (the Hills) had a long association with Gould Street Sunday School.

If the records from Gould Street still survive then they are almost certainly not in the public domain. To my knowledge they have not been deposited in any of the local archives in which one would expect them to be. Typically this would be either Manchester Central Library or Greater Manchester County Records Office. Most probably, if they are still in existence somewhere then they will be in private hands, possibly with the family of one of the last school officials. I live in hope that one day some long-forgotten material will surface!

I have however, been able to piece together some information about the place. My father was a regular attendee until at least his late teens, and he told me a few anecdotes which help to add a bit of background material. My cousin Joan gave me a couple of booklets issued by the school to commemorate various milestones in its’ history and which had passed to Joan from her mother Mary (my father’s sister). Below, in my own words is a very brief history of the school and it's connections with our family.

Gould Street Sunday School was variously described as ‘non-sectarian’ or ‘un-denominational’ and owed its’ origins to the creation of the Sunday school movement in the late eighteenth century. About twelve of these schools began in the Manchester and Salford area, one of these being in an old building near the bottom of Miller Street. In 1819 the school moved to new premises in Sharp Street and was given the imposing name of the Angel Meadow Sunday School for Children of all Denominations. Various sectarian divisions were to take place in later years, until in 1834 there was a split and a group of the current Sunday school workers moved into a room at an old mill in Simpson Street. Then began the construction of a new school and in 1837 the building in Gould Street was completed. The Angel Meadow Sunday School did not appear to last very long, because documents indicate that it became the Sharp Street Ragged School.

In those early days before regular schools became commonplace, it was left to the Sunday School Movement to provide a basic education. Children had first to be taught how to read and write, and Gould Street’s motto, enshrined in the original Trust Deeds was “Teach the Children from the Bible their duty to God, to their neighbour and to themselves”.

The school was provided with desks which fixed to the wall, and these desks had inkwell containers at the back. A tin box with slides and loose letters for the children to build up words was also supplied. Furniture was very sparse. There was a box to hold Bibles and Hymn books for each class, and the teacher would sit on the box with the children standing round in a semi-circle, their toes touching a row of brass nails in the floor. When the school assembled each Sunday, the scholars stood in a straight line along the room, their feet again following a line of brass nails.

The pulpit was at the end of a large room under a semi-circular window looking out over Gould Street, and although the pulpit appeared to have gone by 1937 when the school celebrated its’ centenary. Some of the old brass nails could still be seen, however, as a reminder of the early years.

A small harmonium seems to have been the original source of music for the Hymns, and although this was still in place in 1937 it was probably not used regularly by that time.

The school had many sections. It had its’ evening services, Scouts and Guides, and various groups for trips and walks etc. One important aspect of the organisation though was the Sick and Burial Society. This began at the Angel Meadow site in 1828 in order to ‘encourage thrift among the poor and needy’. I suppose that this type of society would have been the forerunner of something like the Hospital Saturday Funds, whereby small amounts were paid weekly by members and benefits paid in the event of sickness or death.

Benjamin Stocks was the first President of the society, a position he held for many years. The original name is unclear, however when the Sunday school split occurred it was described as the Simpson Street and Angel Meadow Society. In the report for 1837 it was referred to as the Gould Street Angel Meadow Sunday School Sick and Burial Society. This was shortened in 1860 when the reference to Angel Meadow was dropped. At this time the funeral benefit was a maximum of £7 which was attained by six years’ membership.

It would appear that when the split from the original Angel Meadow school took place, the senior officers moved to the new school. Benjamin Stocks was also one of the founding Trustees at Gould Street, and several other officers from Angel Meadow kept their positions at the new location.

The Hill family were enthusiastic supporters of Gould Street and attained prominent positions over the years. John Saxon Hill was Vice President of the Sick and Burial Society from 1887 until his death in 1904. He was also the treasurer between 1898 and 1904. Joseph Hill occupied the Vice Presidency from 1905 until he died 1923. Both Joseph (1906-1923) and Edward Hill (1925-1929) were also Trustees. The younger John Saxon Hill was Secretary between 1909 and 1929.

Other family members found amongst the list of Gould Street officers were William Hill?, Richard Dalton Smith, H. Hill?, Frank Hill, Mrs Ella Hill and Mrs Purdy, although which Mrs Purdy this would be I have not yet determined.

As part of the centenary celebrations the school paid for a trip to Southport on 19th June 1937 for all the current scholars and teachers, with special reserved carriages on the train. Buckets and spades were also provided! On Saturday 18th September of that year there was what was billed as a ‘Grand Social Evening and Reunion’. One of the hosts was John Saxon Hill and the hostesses were Mrs Purdy and Mrs A. Hill? It is worth recording that the oldest surviving Superintendent of the school, Mr J. Prince was the other host.

Even as the school was celebrating its’ centenary the writing was on the wall. In the beginning the area was full of working class housing but by 1937 people had started to move further away from the centre of Manchester. The streets were slowly being cleared of the slum properties and industrial premises were springing up. Writing in the centenary guide John Saxon Hill comments “….whether our School will continue to live is doubtful”.

Now it most definitely gone, although Gould Street itself is still there, leading off from the west side of Rochdale Road. The only remaining part of the old Sunday School is a section of the back wall which now overlooks the storage yard of a van hire company.

© John Purdy 2004