A Tale of Two Classes: Education of canal boat children

Life Afloat: NarrowBoat, Summer 2008

Wendy Freer

Wendy Freer looks at the education of canal boat children at two London schools – Paddington and West Drayton

“Idon’t go to school,” explained 11-year-old Hannah Webb to the School Attendance Inspector in 1920, “because our boat only goes into town on Saturdays.” When she was told that this was not true, she added, “Well I’m in bed in day time. My mother and me work the boat at night.” The Canal Boat Inspector confirmed that this was so, and various sources testify that such was the case with hundreds of other children living on canal boats throughout the land. With their boats constantly moving about from town to town and wharf to wharf, they had little chance to pick up any learning and many never went to school. The Canal Boats Act of 1877 attempted to bring these children under the jurisdiction of the Education Acts by deeming them to be subject to any by-laws passed by the local authority in which the boat was registered. However, canal boats were usually registered only once, when they were built, and most of them returned to that place i…

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