John Pounds was born in Portsmouth on 17th June 1766. His father was a sawyer in the royal dockyard and when was twelve years old, his father arranged for him to be apprenticed as a shipwright. Three years later John fell into a dry dock and was crippled for life.
Unable to work as a shipwright, John became a shoemaker and by 1803 had his own shop in St. Mary Street, Portsmouth. While working in the shop, John began teaching local children how to read. His reputation as a teacher grew and he soon had over 40 pupils attending his lessons. Unlike other schools, John did not charge a fee for teaching the poor of Portsmouth. As well as reading and arithmetic, John gave lessons in cooking, carpentry and shoemaking. John Pounds died in 1839.
After his death, Thomas Guthrie wrote Plea for Ragged Schools and proclaimed John Pounds as the originator of this idea. Guthrie started a ragged school in Edinburgh and Sheriff Watson established another in Aberdeen. Lord Shaftesbury formed the Ragged School Union in 1844 and over the next eight years over 200 free schools for poor children were established in Britain.