The development of literacy in Bristol and Gloucestershire 1755-1870.

  • M. J. Campbell

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The dissertation explores in detail the factors which operated to provide elementary education in Bristol 1800-1870 and analyses the effects of religious and political differences. It measures the growth of literacy by signature data in Bristol generally and SS. Philip and Jacob in particular, the latter being taken as a paradigm of a large urban parish. A significant correlation between the findings of a statistical survey of 1838 and signature data extracted from marriage records for this parish has been demonstrated. The study of Gloucestershire concentrates on analysis of signature data to give a profile of a rural county from 1755-1865. This includes comparison of female and male literacy, analysis of literacy by occupation and in relation to occupation of parent, and also the analysis of the occupational and locational distribution of couples making double marks. The study has extensive Gloucestershire prison records to establish correlations between their data and signature data, particularly in relation to the largest occupational groups. Other sources for evidence of literacy are considered, and beliefs relating to the alleged superiority in literacy of certain denominational groups challenged with new evidence. A hierarchy of literacy by occupation is described and evidence submitted to demonstrate that this was the most important factor in the discontinuity of patterns of literacy within a county. Evidence is adduced to suggest that children, particularly sons, of artisans were educated to a measurable standard even where educational agencies were deficient. Conversely, the study emphasises the depressed educational state of agricultural and other labourers throughout much of the period in question. Attempts are made to establish the relationship of the signature to skills of general literacy for a point in the middle of the l9th century. The dissertation pursues corroboration of occupational patterns of literacy by examining contemporary commentaries, library records, popular literature and some written remains, principally from Bristol and Gloucestershire. The results of an analysis of a range of 18th and 19th century printed materials by using readability tests is described. A tentative conclusion is that these various methodologies point to a spectrum of reading and writing skills which parallel the hierarchy of signature literacy.
Date of Award1980
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath

Cite this