The Blue Coat School

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  • Moments in Cork City History

A Hard Life

In the 1700s, if you were an orphan or from a poor family, you could be sent to a boarding school for destitute children to live until the age of 14. Various schools were set up and maintained by charity foundations to educate and accommodate poor children, who otherwise might have starved or taken to the streets.

One such school existed in Cork city at that time. It was St. Stephen's Hospital, or the 'Blue Coat School', as it later became known. Founded by Dr Edward Worth in 1700, it was called the 'Blue Coat School' because the boys had to wear blue uniforms and caps.

Life in the Blue Coat School was harsh by today's standards. Children were brought in as young as 4-years-old. When they reached 14, they were given trade apprenticeships or sent to work on ships at sea.

Cramped beds, lack of heating and poor food led to many children getting sick from poor diet and low hygiene standards.

Below is a typical weekly diet of a child in a school for destitute children:

  • Breakfast: bread, butter and beer; or hot broth and bread.
  • Dinner: meat (according to the season), broth and bread and butter; or milk pottage, peas pottage, and green peas with bread and butter.
  • Supper: bread, cheese and beer; or bread, milk and potatoes.

The education in these schools consisted of reading, writing and arithmetic for boys and sewing, knitting, reading and spinning for girls.