The First Sunday School in London
In 1785 William Fox established the ‘Society for the Establishment and Support of Sunday Schools’. William Fox was a London draper in Cheapside and a member of the Particular Baptist Church in Prescot Street, built on this site in 1730 under the pastorate of Abraham Booth, a prominent abolitionist and Calvinist.
Particular Baptists taught that Christ died for individuals in particular whereas General Baptists said that Christ died for humanity in general, leaving it to individuals to opt into such a salvation.
For some years Fox had been considering ways of providing for free education for the poor. Sunday Schools seemed to be the answer and so with the help of Christian friends in the City of London he promoted his plans. He was able to unite Churchmen and Dissenters in a society which eventually became the Sunday School Union. Fox encouraged every church to establish a Sunday School and within a short space of time hundreds of Sunday Schools came into existence.
It was a few years before his own church responded to his proposal. This may have been because some years earlier the Prescot Street Church had discussed the establishment of a catechism class, and may have been considered the best way to meet the need. Finally in 1798 the Prescot Street Church set up a Sunday School in Goodman’s Fields. The early records of this school provide a picture of the way in which one Particular Baptist church proceeded. The children who attended this Sunday School were expected to attend services at the Prescot Street Meeting. The school was provided with one hundred spelling books, copies of Watts’s Songs for Children and his Catechism as well as ink and slates. In addition funds were collected to provide clothing for poor children. Later a writing class for boys was added on a Monday evening. Some schools were unsure of the propriety of teaching writing on the Lord’s Day. It may be that the Prescot Street Church shared this reservation and so set up the Monday class.