Stow’s View of Society

‘To those, we say, who have formed their notions from the aspect of calm seclusion in the parlour or in the nursery, such necessity for so mighty an expenditure in providing moral machinery may appear strange; but to ourselves, who have been accustomed for twenty years to visit the hovels of the poor in our city lanes, such a sum, on the part of the country, will appear small indeed.’ 1

The St John’s Experiment

We have already noted in the article on Stow’s personal life 2that Thomas Chalmers was a significant influence on Stow’s thinking not least on his views about how society should be organised. Coming from a rural parish, Chalmers was horrified at the effects of industrialisation in the city. It was only too obvious that the population was increasing out of all proportion to the churches available, and that large numbers of people were not, and indeed could not, attend church. This was regarded not only as a moral and spiritual issue but as an economic problem since poor relief was administered by the parish church. (See the appendix on parish provision of education in Scotland). Chalmers eloquently articulated a social conscience concerning the worsening living conditions in the city, which was directed at, and appealed to, the merchant classes and factory owners. He recognised that these had both most to fear from, and most to offer to, the rising numbers of the poor. On the one hand, for example, unemployed and near starving men were creating social and political unrest ‘with riots and mass meetings in Glasgow and Paisley that expressed the resentment of many who had fought for their country and returned to find themselves treated as seditious rabble and industrial scrap’.3

A national strike and rising called in 1820, for instance, resulted in 47 arrests and three executions. Chalmers had no sympathy for the establishment of a more just society through violent revolution: ‘We hold nothing to be more unscriptural than the spirit of factious discontent with the rulers of our land’.4

On the other hand, he recognised that the church must make some positive contribution to relieving distress, and depended on the wealthy classes to provide the resources in terms of finance and personnel. While appealing to the wealthy to set an example in church attendance and to give open support to the church, he also awoke and harnessed their charity. He pertinently pointed out that the middle classes, with their comfortable living standards in the west of the city, should not ignore the congested and foul wynds and vennels which housed the workers who supported them. The engagement of the laity was essential if the church was to reach the thousands of inhabitants who made up the city parishes, and their contribution had to be built into an organised and easily administered structure.5

Chalmers persuaded Glasgow Town Council to provide a new parish, St John’s, in the working class district of Calton to the east of the High Street and in 1818 he was elected its minister.6The church, opened in 1820, is clearly shown on Wood’s map of 1822, in a small square off Graeme Street.7

David Stow left the Tron Church to follow him becoming one of Chalmers’ elders in the autumn of 1821.8

Chalmers’ social ‘experiment’ in St John’s Parish is well documented and there is no need to replicate the full details here. The strategy was triggered by a number of related factors which combined to create difficulties in the distribution of poor relief. In Glasgow, as in Scotland, provision for the poor was the responsibility of the parish church. Nevertheless, relief was largely undertaken on a voluntary basis through charitable institutions and collections taken at the church door in support of the Town Hospital which was, in effect, a work house. This was supplemented by a tax on property. The significant increase in the population and the worsening social conditions put a considerable strain on such minimalist provision: inevitably neither the well-off who were required to give more, nor the needy who received less, were satisfied with the arrangements. Tensions over poor relief paralleled those in England where movement towards reaching a more permanent solution was gathering pace.
GISS 7 magazine
Both the English and the Scottish systems acknowledged that the old, the young, the infirm, and those in temporary need as a result of poor harvests, unemployment or bad weather were deserving of compassion. The difficulty lay then, as now, in providing for the genuinely deprived without creating expectations in others. Grants for additional children, for example, appeared to encourage large families; subsidies to farmers to provide agricultural work appeared to promote low wages; and even the warmth, shelter and regular food of the workhouse could seem to be preferable, especially in winter, to conditions outside. Above all, there was a fear of pauperism – the establishment of a permanently needy underclass.

Chalmers’ plan was to recreate the Scottish rural parish in the city. Traditional Scottish mores of thrift, hard work, temperance, delayed marriage, family responsibility and compassion for the poor would be encouraged. Those in temporary need would be expected to rely, in the first instance, on relatives. Only where the family was not available, or unable, to provide succour would community funds be provided. Before any funds were made available, however, a careful investigation would be made into the family’s circumstances.

In return for a loan of £300 and an agreement that the church could keep all its church-door collections for the poor (without giving a proportion to the Town Hospital as beforehand) Chalmers promised to make the parish self-supporting not only in poor-relief but in parish provision for schooling. Elders (re-instated to offer spiritual oversight), deacons (to maintain their traditional role of administration of the poor relief) and Sabbath-School teachers (to provide elementary education) were appointed, including several who followed Chalmers from the Tron Church. Along with Stow, then aged twenty-three, were two of his close associates, James Playfair and William Collins. It is interesting to note that six of the original elders, with their wives, were also members of GISS.9

Inevitably, the lack of personnel in the St John’s experiment resulted in dual responsibilities and Stow, a deacon charged with poor relief, also transferred his sphere of activity as a Sabbath-School teacher from the Saltmarket. He was assigned, along with Thomas Aitken and Mrs Turney, to District 17 which was bounded by the Gallowgate, King Street and Claythorne Street: ‘I have this day assigned Mr. Anderson his district, from 26 Claythorne Street down to King Street, and up to Marshall’s Lane inclusive,’ wrote Chalmers to Stow on 17th April 1817. ‘The remainder of the proportion will form your district, and he (that is Mr Anderson), in the meantime, has taken all your scholars’.10

In economic terms the ‘experiment’ was a success. By 1823 all the paupers in St John’s had been removed from the Townhouse Hospital lists and by 1835 income ‘From collections at Church and chapel doors’ more than covered expenditure on ‘Paupers, Lunatics, Orphans, Foundlings and Coffins etc’.11

However, Chalmers left Glasgow in 1823 to take up the Chair of Moral Philosophy at St Andrew’s University. There is a hint of reproach in Stow’s comment: ‘I always wished that your great moving powers should be attached to the moral machinery of a Colledge (sic) but not for 2 or 3 years to come’.12

No doubt Stow felt that those on the ground had been left to get on with the ‘experiment’ before there was time for the principles to be established or fully tested. The amount of work involved also appeared to put off any ministerial replacement ‘There seems to be a universal feeling against undertaking the Pastoral labours of St. John’s’, Stow added in the same letter. The system relied too heavily on the voluntary work of elders, deacons and Sabbath-School teachers and it was left to others, including Stow, ‘to endeavour to persuade individuals the least employed and the most likely to take upon themselves the office of Superintendent & Treasurer (the Secretary afterwards to be appointed). As you may suppose this was the most difficult and harassing (sic) of my part of the labour’. Visitation was regarded as particularly onerous, being time-consuming and stressful as families understandably reacted with hostility to negative assessments. Stow wrote to Chalmers, after he had left St John’s, urging him to reinforce the need for visitation: ‘There is (sic) two subjects which coming from your pen and circulated amongst Teachers and Elders would I am persuaded do great good. 1st a short address to Elders & 2nd to Sabath (sic) School Teachers setting forth the great importance of visiting frequently their respective Districts’.13More than twenty years later, the Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine14was still urging teachers to visit families not merely to follow-up absentees but to create and maintain the kind of relationship envisaged in the ‘St John’s Experiment’.

The experiment had several interesting outcomes for Stow. The first was quite simply the exposure of a young, middle class merchant to the conditions of the poor. We know from his descriptions of his walk to work and church15and from Wood’s map that his route from the Gorbals 16took him across the ‘Wooden Bridge’ (now Crown Street) past the Jail, up the Saltmarket and along the Gallowgate.17to what, even now, is the poorer East End of the city. He was in the heart of the cotton manufacturing district and the desperate living conditions of the cotton-workers where many had no employment and no adequate housing, nutrition or hygiene – and no hope of improving their situation without outside help.

Secondly, as we have seen, although Chalmers is often credited with originating the ‘Local Plan’ or the principle of ‘territoriality’ whereby the parish was sub-divided into twenty-five proportions, each with a population of about 400, it was almost certainly Stow’s idea:
‘I therefore determined that none but neighbours should be admitted – thereby removing the aversion to appear ill-dressed among strangers – the proximity of their residences also rendering it easy for me to call upon the absentee children during the week, and to send for them on Sabbath evenings; also, that the school-room, although only a kitchen, should be within or close to the district. This principle was afterwards widely extended in this and other districts of the city, and is termed the Local System. The locality was confined to two short and narrow lanes, and no child was admitted who did not reside within the district, so I gave up the idea of the random mode of catching children on the streets.’18‘From 7 years experience (for you know I began a local school in two closes of the Saltmarket 3 and 18) I am fully satisfied that no other plan whatever will be effectual in drawing forth the most debased and careless part of our Population – and the same applies to the management of the Poor of a Parish’ he wrote in 1823 referring to 1816, or three years before the concept of the ‘St John’s experiment’ was formulated.19

It was Stow who was asked to speak publicly about the Local Plan system of Sabbath Schools in 1836. ‘As I think the first survey of St. Johns which I presume you have’, he wrote to Chalmers, ‘might be of service in this object, I shall feel obliged if you can forward it me by Coach and I will bring it with me to Edinb. when I go to the Assembly’.20

In a footnote to the Tenth Edition of The Training System Stow claimed:
Dr Chalmers about that period, viz., in 1816, had commenced establishing Sabbath schools, which were confined to his own parish, containing 10,000 souls, so that any child throughout the parish might attend any one of the parochial Sabbath schools. This method of inviting scholars from such an extended district, although parochial, did not secure the attendance of the most sunken or neglected children. Such children can only be brought out and retained by the district plan alluded to. On seeing its superiority, it was afterwards adopted by the Rev. Doctor, and termed the Local System. 21

Fraser devoted three pages22to arguing the case that Stow was the originator of the Local Plan. He describes Stow’s early work in the Saltmarket, the development of what Stow ‘quaintly called deep-sea fishing’, how ‘it caught the quick eye of Dr. Chalmers’, and how ‘he was instantly satisfied that the local plan was the most effective, and set about its immediate establishment’.23

Fraser contends that initially ‘another’ brought the idea to Chalmers’ notice and, unwittingly, was given the credit. Thus, in his role of researcher, he wrote to Mr Heggie, one of those involved at the time, to ask for clarification and quoted, verbatim, his response:

GLASGOW, January, 1867
REV sir – I received your note regarding Mr. Stow, and in reply, beg to state that it was he who originated the system of local Sabbath schools in Glasgow. It was afterwards put in practice by Dr. Chalmers, by establishing a Sabbath-School under one of his elders, Mr. Ramsay, I was the second whose school was established in that way by Dr. Chalmers. I taught a school before this, but like the others, in those days, it was upon the general plan, that is, taking scholars from wherever we could find them.
24Chalmers and Heggie knew each other: a letter from Chalmers to Stow states ‘I had great comfort, yesternight, in examining Mr. Heggie’s school in the Saltmarket’25so Heggie’s evidence would seem conclusive.

Thirdly, the experience shaped Stow’s ideas of social morality. There is ample evidence that Stow was heavily involved in the second of Chalmers’ approaches to the distribution of poor relief, that of evaluating the ‘deservedness’ of those in receipt of relief. He recommends permanent support for Angus Kennedy and his family because ‘they have maintained an excellent character as to honesty and sobriety for 30 years’.26He refuses Dalreny, on the other hand, because ‘it appears he has lost two situations from dishonesty and intemperance’.27

An interesting letter from Chalmers, dated 17th April 1817,28encloses a guinea for ‘the education of poor children in your district’ and adds:
‘You will oblige me very particularly by enquiring into the case of ————-, 30 Claythorn Street, provided that he calls on you. He has been very frequent in his applications to me, alleging the want of employment, and I have at length taken the liberty of referring him to you. …….. I want to harbour no suspicion, and you will oblige me by your kind, and, at the same time, diligent investigation of his character’Note that Claythorn Street formed part of the boundary of Stow’s Sabbath School ‘parish’. Thus, from an early period, Stow was encouraged to relate poverty with morality and to take account of character as well as need. This was later reflected in his classification of society and the establishment of priorities.

Furthermore, Chalmers believed that in village life, where families lived alongside their neighbours over many generations, people undertook responsibility both for each other’s behaviour and for their need. The lack of this collective concern in the city, with its large and transitory population, caused the breakdown in moral conduct and the failure to help each other when in difficulty. He therefore emphasised the concept of ‘community’ both at the parish and at national level, a view which shaped Stow’s ideas on the influence of the community (or, as he termed it, the ‘sympathy of numbers’) both in the classroom, as we have seen, and in state responsibility for a national system of education.

And, fourthly, the ‘St John’s Experiment’ illustrated that many of the problems facing the poorest section of society were the result of what came to be called ‘the industrial revolution’ to which we now turn our attention.

Stow and the industrial revolution

As a merchant, manufacturer and mill-owner at the beginning of the nineteenth century Stow, self-evidently, had first-hand experience of the ‘industrial revolution’. He personally witnessed the Paisley cottage loom, with the whole family engaged in the process whereby the children at six or seven were set to quill silk; at nine or ten years to pick silk; and at the age of twelve or thirteen (according to the size of the child) put to the loom to weave. Yet within half a century, following the inventions, in turn, of Cartwright,29Watt,30and particularly the ‘computerised’ system of Jacquard,31the cottage weaver was under threat. In the following twenty years Stow himself progressed from loom worker to factory manager.

That he was overwhelmed by examples of the human cost of industrial advance we have already noted from some of his personal observations. ‘Poor M’L——-, of Marshall’s Lane, complains sorely of being out of work. Do you think that nothing can be done for him?’ enquires his minister.32

‘He ought not to be worse off at present than hundreds of his brother weavers (which certainly are poor enough)’ says Stow of yet another weaver (again Dalreny) to Chalmers.33

Stow’s own father died in some distress – unable to provide sufficiently for his daughters – as a result of the slump in trade and subsequent devaluation of property.34

His son, a curate at Dilton Marsh, must have kept him informed of the ‘Early signs of the distress caused by the mechanisation of the industry (which) had occurred in 1817 when weavers gathered at Dilton Marsh, collected all woven cloth, and marched to Warminster to protest at the low prices of woven cloth. By 1840 weekly earnings on one loom were only eight shillings with the husband working all day and the wife all night’.35

Stow also visited Spitalfields, the centre of the British silk industry, on numerous occasions. He could not fail to be aware that ‘two-thirds of them were without employment and without the means of support, that some had deserted their houses in despair unable to endure the sight of their starving families, and many pined under languishing diseases brought on by the want of food and clothing’.36

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But industrialisation did more than put the weavers out of work – it changed the process of work; its location; and the character of the worker. As Adam Smith famously pointed out, the advancing technologies of the industrial revolution enabled ten men to undertake the eighteen sub-tasks required for the making of a pin, each doing the same thing repeatedly. The team could thus produce 48,000 pins in one day whereas one man working entirely by himself might scarcely muster one. However, not only did this approach have the potential to put 47,990 men out of work, the process for the ten men who remained in employment was numbingly dull, repetitive, unimaginative and unsatisfying. Even Adam Smith spoke of the workers as each engaged in a task ‘so simple and uniform as to give little exercise to the understanding; while, at the same time their labour is so constant and so severe, that it leaves them little leisure and less inclination to apply to, or even think of, anything else’. This consequence of the division of labour destroys the worker: ‘the torpor of his mind renders him, not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgement concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life’.37

Furthermore, a division of labour required the workers to come together – hence the rush to the towns and the industrial revolution’s associate development – urbanisation. Stow’s understanding of the impact of urbanisation is illustrated by a telling piece of early research. In January 1845, ‘the rector and principal masters of the Normal seminary, assisted by a few of the older students and the foremen of each of the factories – in all eighteen persons’ visited ‘four factories situated in separate parts of the city and its suburbs, and in directions, north, south, east, and west of the Cross…… They were selected from others, simply because we knew that the proprietors took an interest in their work-people, and were willing to ascertain their real condition, both as to their capability of reading and their amount of knowledge…. The examination was conducted by causing each young person, apart from the rest, to read a few verses of scripture narrative, after which they were questioned in the plainest and simplest manner possible’.38As Fraser comments, ‘No greater service can the students of social science render their country than by bringing to definite tests and issues those social and moral changes in our largest manufacturing towns, which have become painfully visible during the last sixty years’.39

These ‘social and moral changes’ not only affected educational standards. Life in the city was qualitatively different from that of the country estate or parish. There were more numerous and a greater variety of enticements; anonymity concealed both the behaviour and the perpetrator; and the consequences of peer pressure were likely to be far more serious. We have already noted the impact of the ‘sympathy of numbers’ on the development of personal morality. Stow also proposed a theory of urban socialisation whereby people adapted their personal behaviour to the social mores of the city. While enthusiastic assemblies in religious, political, civil and domestic life, could inspire and encourage, conversely ‘A number of persons, young or old, together, will sometimes do a thing which would cause any one of them individually to shudder’.40

In city life, without any moderating influences, the impact of peer pressure ‘uniformly tended to evil’.
‘Thus, therefore, there is found in the same kingdom possessing the same amount of religious and secular instruction, one town, which may be noted for its high sense of integrity – whilst another is found low and grovelling. One is of sober, and what are called moral habits, and another proverbial for drunkenness and dissipation. One place is renowned for the kindness, hospitality, courteousness, and even generosity of its inhabitants – whilst another in the immediate vicinity is noted for evil speaking, rudeness, and even hard heartedness. Individuals in each locality no doubt are to be found whose conduct is the reverse of the general tone of the place in which they live; but it is wonderful how sympathy influences many even of principle, and carries them marvellously along the tide with those with whom they associate’.41

But the size of the city also encouraged the classes to live in separate areas. No longer would the son of the laird, the factor, the farmer and the labourer attend the same village school for their elementary education. Schools had to be built where the children lived or they would not attend, and inevitably this separated the rich and powerful from the poor and powerless.

So far, the consequences of the industrial revolution have been enumerated as unemployment and poverty; the dull, repetitive process of the work; and urbanisation. One further aspect remains: the impact on the character of the worker. Concentration on one part of a process, at the expense of the excitement and satisfaction of completing a whole article, separates the mechanical or physical aspect of the worker from other aspects of his character – understanding, appreciation, fulfilment, socialisation and responsibility for oneself and one’s family. ‘Separation of the arts of the clothier and the tanner means that we are better supplied with shoes and clothes’, wrote Adam Ferguson, ‘but to separate the arts which formed the citizen and the statesman, the arts of policy and war, is to attempt to dismember the human character, and to destroy those very arts we mean to improve’.42The solution, for all those who recognised the problem, was education.

Stow’s division of society into classes

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It had long been recognised, of course, that the people who make up any community can be categorised by factors such as wealth, ownership (particularly of land), housing, education, skill or talent and the nature of their work – and sometimes by a subtle combination of several. In eighteenth century Scotland there was less difference between the landowners and professionals and between professionals and craftsmen than might have been expected. However, ‘the development of class in its modern sense, with relatively fixed names for particular classes (lower class, middle class, upper middle class, working class and so on) belongs essentially to the period between 1770 and 1840, which is also the period of the Industrial Revolution and its decisive reorganisation of society’.43

Stow unremittingly used his own system of categorisation. Since the figures quoted in each edition of The Training System44rise with the increase of the population, the fractions he deploys are quoted here: ‘For the sake of classification’, he notes, ‘Our acquaintance with Glasgow would induce us to divide the grades of society into six parts. These six parts we shall term – first, ‘the Sunken class as one-sixth; second, the Sinking class as two-sixths; third, the Uprising class as two-sixths; and, fourth, the Wealthy class as one-sixth’.

Why Stow should select his own nomenclature is open to conjecture, but his purpose for classification was three-fold. The first, quite plainly, was to prioritise the deployment of limited resources. The provision and resourcing of an education system, particularly his ‘System’, was manifestly beyond the means of any individual or even group no matter how philanthropic or wealthy. And it would have seemed inconceivable to Stow that state provision, notwithstanding his fiercely fought arguments, could provide for all sections of society. Precedence had to be given, not necessarily to the most needy but to those who, in his estimation, could benefit most. Thus, he argued, the wealthy could be set aside: ‘they have the means, and ought to have the intelligence, to provide for themselves’.45

The great public (actually private and usually boarding) schools were available for the wealthy.

The ‘uprising class’, consisting of one third of the population, were already making use of the few facilities available. They ‘will and do provide instruction for their offspring, to a certain extent, and of the best they can afford – according to their means, and thus so far endeavour to bring up their children ‘in the way they should go’. They are the most forward to send them to a moral training school, if within their reach’.46

Alternatively, children were sent across the city to private academies such as the very popular academy in Buchanan Street opened by William Munsie in 1824. ‘To this school’, recalls MacLehose, ‘most of the ‘genteel’ people sent their children and for very many years it held undisputed sway’.47

Of the ‘sunken class’ – about one sixth of the population – Stow despairs. It consisted of the ‘openly vicious, the wandering, the neglected, also beggars, thieves and the abandoned’. So far, he ironically pointed out, the greatest provision was made for this class – in the form of prisons, penitentiaries, a bridewell, an asylum, two houses of refuge and a ragged school’.48

He recognised that some of the youth of this class had either wandered into charity schools or been ‘excavated’ (a most apt phrase) by the ‘unremitting exertions of Sabbath School teachers’49such as, it might be noted, himself. He speaks from experience. It was hard enough to find teachers for the Sabbath Schools: when the children were not only ungrateful but actively antagonistic it became a hopeless undertaking. ‘One of the schools in ‘St. Enoch’s Boys’, he wrote, ‘was so beset by Blackguard boys as for two nights actually to experience a bombardment with stones & rendered it necessary for the Police to interfere & the Teacher was so disconcerted as to give up the School’.50

This ‘sunken class’ was increasing ‘at an alarming ratio’ in both numbers and lawlessness. ‘The condition of the masses has been, and still is, truly deplorable: filth, vice, dissipation, ungodliness, and crime, abound; and the whole combination of healing influences is so extremely trifling and inefficient, compared with the evils to be cured, that this class of human beings appears as degraded as ever. ……. (and) there is such an annual accession of numbers descending from the Sinking to the lowest class, that the numbers of the Sunken class are increasing in an alarming ratio’.51

Whatever the considerations of compassion, and Stow was to contend avidly that prevention was better than the dubious ‘cures’ of prisons and bridewells, and limited resources, which included teachers, were better expended on those who could most benefit.52

It was this abandonment of the ‘sunken class’, and particularly the children, that perhaps caused Owen to compare his own attempt to reform character with Stow’s less challenging undertaking to form character:
‘To effect this, however, (i.e. the reformation of character) was a far more difficult task than to train up a child from infancy in the way he should go; for that is the most easy process for the formation of character; while to unlearn and to change long acquired habits is a proceeding directly opposed to the most tenacious feelings of human nature’.53

However, it was to the ‘sinking class’ that Stow turned his attention. With positive ‘interference’ surely some could be enabled to ascend to the ‘uprising class’, or at least resist the decline to the ‘sunken’?
‘The sinking class ought to be the objects of our most intense interest. There is more hope of their yielding to means than of the abandoned or Sunken class. They are, however, careless, and their carelessness renders them helpless. They will not, and do not help themselves or their offspring in any step towards religious, moral, or even intellectual improvement. This class is the grand platform for the aggressive influence of Christian philanthropy. They are fast sinking, being left alone; but, by God’s blessing on the use of right means; they might be elevated to the condition of the UPRISING. To leave them to themselves, as has hitherto been done, is too generally to leave them to perish’.54

Which brings us neatly to the second purpose for Stow’s classification of society – the issue of poverty. Obviously, the affluent ‘wealthy’ and ‘uprising classes’ had sufficient income to lead prosperous and privileged lives in every sense. Not only were they better fed, clothed and housed, they could and did take full advantage of the benefits of the industrial revolution with its increasing variety of cheap and available goods (particularly technological), the accessibility of the arts (crafts, art, music and literature), and the expansion of the railways55which increased the amount and distance of travel for holidays and a variety of other leisure pursuits.56 By Stow’s numerical reckoning, half the inhabitants of Glasgow were increasingly benefitting from the industrial revolution.

We have already noted that a further sixth, the sunken class, were unambiguously poor. In an absolute sense, they did not have enough money to live on. But beyond the absolutely poor, Stow maintained, were the relatively poor. They could be described as ‘poor’ only in relation to those who were more wealthy. This ‘sinking class’, one third of the population, had enough money to live on – and indeed could afford to pay the weekly fees charged by the model schools and to equip their children with the clean clothes, adequate food and cleanliness which were a requirement. It is interesting that in ‘Granny and Leezy’, the children’s father, Sandy, is a weaver: he is busy at the looms all day and Leezy, his wife ‘hae his pirns to wind’. Thus neither is able to provide education for their three children and they therefore decide to send them to the model infant school:
‘And our Sandy, who has mair sense than me, speired (questioned) about things the other day for twa minutes, and he finds they learn heaps o’ things about perpcericulars and horzontalls, which the weans sing, and point wi’ the fingers, first straught up, syne straught afore them. Sandy found out as weel that there was nae leein’ nor swearin’ in a’ the schule, and that the true religion was learned there. At first, when he looked at them, he thought it was a ‘gentle’ schule’; but the maister said, Wait a wee, and ye’ll may-be see your ain just like the ithers. Syne the maister said, (and Sandy thought it wasna far wrang,) that cleanliness was neest to godliness.’57

Sandy has a good deal more to say about the importance of avoiding bad company, of telling the truth, of not swearing or stealing, of keeping quiet, of looking after his mother, of working hard, and of learning the ‘carritches’ (the Westminster Shorter Catechism). He values learning (‘He’s been hearing hale three lectures in the Mechanic’s Ha’; – he tells me they’re about Pneumatincs and Hyderstotics’ says his proud mother)58and he pays for the children to progress to the Juvenile and Industrial schools. He understands the concept of ‘delayed satisfaction’ – that money spent in the short-term (the school fees) will have long-term advantage (a better life). Sandy is relatively poor in comparison with the wealthy and uprising – but takes a moral decision about how to use what little money he has. Relative poverty (actually, relative prosperity) allows people to make moral decisions.

Hence Stow’s insistence that morality is at the heart of the alleviation of poverty. The rich, individuals and society, are morally bound to ‘interfere’ on behalf of the absolute poor to ensure that they have the basic necessities of life. But since the relatively poor have a choice – but do not always choose wisely – society must also ‘interfere’ to give them the desire as well as the means to be prudent. Without interference in the choices of the relatively poor, the gap between the rich and poor will always be with us. Referring to the 2007 Report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Phillips (2007) comments ‘Unlike the great social reformers of the Victorian era for whom the alleviation of poverty was a religious and moral crusade, today’s equivalent activists have systematically refused to acknowledge that holding people responsible for the consequences of their own actions lies at the heart of any effective anti-poverty programme’.59

The difference between the Thatcher and Phillips argument – that this is a matter for the individuals concerned – and that of Stow, is that he considered that people required support from society to become morally responsible. Not only should education be directed towards the ‘sinking classes’, that is the relatively poor, because of the need to prioritise – it is this class for whom moral decisions are most pertinent to their state of poverty.

There was a third, and from a modern perspective, more questionable reason for concentrating on one class of society, however. Stow believed that educational provision should be tailored to the different needs of each class. While emphasising that all classes were subject to the same moral obligations, he argued that the variety and extent of the curriculum should be commensurate with the child’s station in life. Such a curriculum ought to be ‘equally intellectual and well understood or pictured out to all’, but the ‘variety of knowledge ought to be more extensive in regard to the one class than the other, and adapted in some measure to the condition of life in which they are expected to move.60

This rationale was based, at least partly, on the reality of working life which began by thirteen at the latest. Somewhat naively, he also suggested that education would simultaneously elevate each class thus ‘preserving the balance of all ranks and conditions of society’. This inflexible maintenance of social divisions was modified only by an aside that genius should be permitted ‘to take its proper place in the scale’.61One advantage of the combination of industrialisation and urbanisation was the ‘dizzying sense of opportunity’.62

Thus he could argue that if three schools were provided for a locality, the first attracting the uprising classes, the second the sinking classes, and the third built last and therefore filled with the dregs of society and all three schools were ‘level as to the status of fees and school trainers, then the children will become so amalgamated that it will be impossible to discover which at first were of the sunken, sinking or uprising classes’.63

But even leaving the wealthy and uprising classes to attend to their own needs, educational provision for the remaining sinking or sunken classes, – half the population, – could be not achieved by individuals or even the local community. The size of the task demanded a state solution to a nation-wide problem.


  1. Stow. (1839) Supplement to Moral Training and the Training System, Glasgow: McPhun, on the requirement for £20,000.
  2. Smout, T. C. (1985) A history of the Scottish people 1560-1830. London: Fontana Press, p. 418.
  3. Chalmers, T. ‘The Advantages of Christian Knowledge to the Lower Orders of Society Works’ VI, p. 253-5. Quoted Drummond and Bulloch. (1973) p. 164.
  4. Remarkably, Chalmers would also preach, and take a collection, on behalf of the ‘Society for Educating Roman Catholic Children in Glasgow’, cf. a poster dated 4th April, 1819.
  5. The other ‘new’ parish was St. James founded a year later.
  6. Of the original roads only Duke Street, Gallowgate, Barrack Street and Armour Street (denoting the nearby barracks) remain.
  7. Letter from Chalmers to Stow dated 7th February, 1821 ‘With the approbation of our session, I have to propose to you to become a member of it, and have now to request that you will not come to an immediate decision on the subject.’
  8. They were Dr John Wilson, John Brown, Patrick Falconer, Allan Buchanan, William Collins and James Robertson. Mrs John McCulloch and Mrs John Smith were on the Ladies Committee. St John’s Renfield Church 1819-1969, Glasgow, Pillans and Wilson, 1969. p. 5 (No author given.)
  9. Letter from Chalmers to Stow: 17th April, 1817.
  10. Treasurer’s accounts of receipts and disbursements of the Funds of St John’s Parish, Glasgow, as applicable to the Maintenance of the Poor, Educational Purposes etc. from 26th September, 1819, till 31st December, 1835. Glasgow University Library Eph. L/3.
  11. Letter from Stow to Chalmers, 1st December 1823.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine. Vol. I, January 1845. Edinburgh: James Gall and Son, p, 145. Stow had an article on ‘Explanation of the principle: Picturing Out in Word’ in the same volume, p. 116.
  14. ‘My residence was, for some years previous to 1816, on the south side of the river, the most direct way to which lay through the Saltmarket.’ Stow, (1854) op cit. The Training System 10th ed., p. 48.
  15. Possibly 2, Wellington Place where his sister and bother-in-law lived, which fronted the Clyde and looked across to Glasgow Green.
  16. The designated area of his Sabbath School roughly matches the current Glasgow ‘Barras’ one of the poorer districts of the East End.
  17. Stow. (1854) The Training System, 10th ed., p. 49.
  18. Letter from Stow to Chalmers: 1st December, 1823.
  19. Letter from Stow to Chalmers: 26th April, 1836.
  20. Stow (1854) The Training System, 10th ed., p. 49 footnote.
  21. Fraser, (1868) op cit, pps. 24-27.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Fraser, (1868) op cit, p. 27.
  24. Letter from Chalmers to Stow, dated 21st March 1819
  25. Letter from Stow to Chalmers, undated c. 1816-1823.
  26. Letter from Stow to Chalmers, 22nd April, 1819.
  27. Letter from Chalmers to Stow, dated 17th April, 1817, quoted by Fraser, op cit. Interestingly, Mr Anderson, who was given Stow’s Sabbath School scholars from the adjacent district, provided full-time education for the poor at three shillings per quarter.
  28. In 1764, James Hargreaves invented the ‘spinning jenny’ which automated the preparation of weft threads for the loom.
  29. By 1775, James Watt had perfected the steam engine enabling Edmund Cartwright, ten years later, to patent the first power loom.
  30. By 1801, Joseph Jacquard, working at the centre of the luxury silk industry in Lyons had, in effect, ‘computerised’ the feeding of the patterned threads in the warp. This invention in itself reduced the number of necessary workers from three to one and, as the use of the power loom spread, by the 1830s two people could operate four looms simultaneously.
  31. Letter from Thomas Chalmers to Stow, dated 16th November, 1818.
  32. Letter by Stow to Thomas Chalmers, dated 22nd April, 1819.
  33. Codicil to William Stow’s will dated 1st January, 1827.
  34. (as at 16th April 2010).
  35. Reported at a public meeting held at the Mansion House on 26 November 1816, for the relief of the Spitalfields weavers, in ‘Industries: Silk-weaving’, A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2.
  36. Smith, Adam. (2007) The Wealth of Nations, pp. 785 and 782 in Broadie, Alexander. The Scottish Enlightenment. Edinburgh: Birlinn.
  37. Stow (1847) National Education op cit, p. 73; digitised version, p. 46. The results were that ‘Out of 224, or one-third of the whole number who could read pretty well, very few indeed understood the meaning of the words they had read; so that, for all the purposes of improvement, their reading could be of little service to them. In an ordinary statistical account of the extent of education, two-thirds of the whole number, at the least, would have been put down as educated, whereas, in actual fact, there was only a fractional part.’
  38. Fraser, (1868) op cit. p. 19.
  39. Stow (1847) National Education op cit. p. 17; digitised version, p. 10.
  40. Stow. (1847) National Education, op cit, p. 18; digitised version p. 11.
  41. Ferguson, Adam. Essay on the history of civil society. p. 218, in Broadie, Alexander. The Scottish Enlightenment, p. 90.
  42. Williams, Raymond. Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society. London: Fontana Press, 1988. p. 61.
  43. See, for example, Stow (1854) The Training System 10th ed., op cit. p. 88.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Stow, (1854) The Training System 10th ed., op cit. p. 89.
  46. MacLehose, James. (1886) Memoirs and portraits of 100 Glasgow men. No. 67 William Munsie. (Since, according to MacLehose, Munsie’s theology was conservative, and he joined the Free Church of Scotland at the Disruption, it is tempting to speculate that Stow sent his own children to Munsie’s Academy. It is vexing to add that on his death, in 1864 – the same year as Stow – a very imposing monument was erected to him in the Necropolis while Stow’s grave is now unknown.)
  47. Stow (1854) The Training System 10th ed. op cit, p. 90.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Letter from Stow to Chalmers 7th April, 1824.
  50. Stow. (1854) The Training System’ 10th ed. op cit. p. 90.
  51. Stow, having added up the cost of the Bridewell, the House of Refuge, the annual expense of the Glasgow and London Police, calculated that the total amounted to the interest on a capital of eight million which would have been better spent on prevention.
  52. Owen, Robert. (1813) A new view of society. p. 34.
  53. Stow. (1854) The Training System, op cit, 10th ed., p. 90.
  54. Track mileage in Britain had doubled in the five years before the Great Exhibition in 1851.
  55. In the Great Exhibition of 1851, four years before Stow’s 10th Edition of ‘The Training System’, over ‘13,000 exhibits were displayed including the Jacquard loom, an envelope machine, tools, kitchen appliances, steel-making displays and a reaping machine from the United States. The millions of visitors that journeyed to the Great Exhibition marvelled at the industrial revolution that was propelling Britain into the greatest power of the time’.
  56. Stow. (1860) Granny and Leezy: a Scottish dialogue. Grandmother’s visit to the first infant training School. London: Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, digitised version, pps.6. 7.
  57. Ibid, p. 32.
  58. Phillips, Melanie. ‘The poor’s chocolate cakes.’ In Daily Mail 21 July, 2007.
  59. Stow. The Training System, op cit. p. 86.
  60. Ibid.
  61. Smout. (1985), op cit. p. 340.
  62. Stow. (1854) The Training System, op cit. 10th ed., p. 96.