SUNDAY SCHOOL PRIZE DISTRIBUTION AT SOUTH MOLTON - 1915
Few young people today can realise the extent of interest in the Sunday School that our ancestors had. It wasn't just a matter of more religious education for children, of *keeping them out of mischief" on a Sunday afternoon - it was the key to many opportunities in later life and reflected credit on the children for attending and credit on the parents for sending them.
But its real importance was that a successful childhood record in this area opened so many doors in later life - it paved the way to membership of those uniformed groups sponsored by churches of all denominations which provided a a stepped progression to adult life in which spare time was passed in what were considered wholesome activities which built moral values that would last throughout life. Taking part in these activities brought friendships, taught self-discipline and kept teenagers on the straight and narrow - it all started in the Sunday School because, for instance, you couldn't join a Church Scout Group unless you were in the Sunday School. And if you were poor, you might need help from the Sunday School to purchase the uniform that you must have to be in the Scouts. Key groups, usually affiliated to Anglican churches were
The Boy Scouts - founded 1907
(and Cub Scouts)
The Girl Guides - founded 1909
The Church Lads' Brigade - founded 1883
The Church Girls' Brigade - founded 1901
"Britain's Queen" by John Shaw was typical of its kind. Published to mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it is a well-illustrated history of the Queen's reign .Other examples of Sunday School prizes on sale at the same time included "Short Stories for Short People" or "A Life on the Ocean Wave" or "Lottie's visit to Grandmama" and at least 200 similar titles. Inside a rather battered cover, the volume is in mint condition and appears never to have been read.
© Richard J. Brine
That's what the Sunday School prizes were all about - they were public manifestations of a child's commitment because they were attendance prizes. The prizes brought to the children who received them a sense of worth, a feeling that this was what Society expected from the model citizen and that you were someone who could be relied upon to uphold values and show self discipline - no wonder so many first references for employment were from Sunday School teachers. If you could add membership of any of those other church-sponsored organisations, so much the better. It gave parents a talking point about "my son" or "my daughter" and to some extent reflected credit on them - they were doing their best to give their children high moral values by sending them along on Sunday afternoons, or weekday evenings, week in, week out - what more could they do? And remember, this was a time when no one came of age until they were 21, when parents expected to have absolute control of the leisure activities of their children at least until that point.
A Book Fair is still a good place to find old Sunday School prizes which invariably were books. Probably never read, many have survived as cherished possessions over many years. Inside the cover will be a label with the recipient's name to be followed by contents then considered suitable for the young - a story about the Empire (in language which today would be considered from beginning to end politically incorrect, about a brave deed, a reprint of a sermon preached long ago that contained an apt moral message, the tale of a successful fight against temptation faced - and overcome - by a young person and so on - all written specially for the market and published by an organisation called the Sunday School Union (which still exists). The creation of the Sunday School concept was an answer to the need to educate poor children and the Union was founded in the latter part of the 18th century by Robert Raikes and Hannah Moore who did so much for the children of the poor.
This beautiful little Boy Scout memorial is in the Churchyard at Denbury, near Newton Abbot. It commemorates Thomas Butler who was the Assistant Scoutmaster of St Mary's Boy Scout Troop until he died aged 24 in 1932 and records the mement that a scout takes his oath.
© Richard J. Brine
The account below of an annual Sunday School prize giving comes from a local newspaper serving South Molton . These proceedings relate to just one church (Anglican) -the Baptists and Methodists had similar set-ups and similar attendance figures - this report lists over 130 children whose parents would have been regular worshippers at the same church, and who took part in this event. Everyone would have waited breathlessly for the newspaper to arrive that week, to see their name in print!
"The Prize Distribution in connection with the Church Sunday School at South Molton was held at the Church Hall on Wednesday evening March 24th 1915. The prizes were given away by Miss Ida Kingdon, Superintendent of the Girl's Sunday School, as follows: