In 1786, inspired by the work of Robert Raikes, the Evangelical pioneer of Sunday Schools, Trimmer began her own Sunday School in Brentford. Within a few years the school had hundreds of pupils in attendance. It also attracted the attention of many distinguished people, including Queen Charlotte who became a subscriber. Trimmer writes in her journal of an interview she had with the Queen, who “had heard of the success of the Schools under my inspection; and being very anxious for their establishment at Windsor, desired to have information from me on the subject.” (1) In 1787, Trimmer began her weekday Schools of Industry, where boys and girls received training in practical skills directed towards employment.
In addition to her children’s literature, Trimmer also wrote several books on education, including textbooks designed for use in the schools that she had founded. Other works such as The Economy of Charity (1787), written following her meeting with the Queen, for whom she dedicated the work, were influential statements on children’s education and showed readers, specifically women, how they could establish Sunday Schools in their own communities.
Trimmer also founded and edited two journals The Family Magazine (1788-89) and The Guardian of Education (1802-06). In the influential Guardian of Education Trimmer reviewed new children’s literature, forming the first serious criticism of the genre. Her purpose, she said, was “to contribute to the preservation of the young and innocent from the dangers which threaten them in the form of infantine and juvenile literature.” (2) As such, she was often very critical of other writers, particularly those that did not meet her moral and religious standards. “In all her endeavours, Trimmer’s main concern was that education should always be religious in nature.” (3)
In 1814, Trimmer’s family released Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer, a collection of her journals and private correspondences. They provide a compelling study of life in late eighteenth century Brentford. In addition to her writing and work in education, Trimmer was also involved in pastoral care, visiting the poor and sick. In her accounts, Trimmer records how she personally intervened in a number of cases, writing letters, raising funds and finding accommodation and employment for those in impoverished circumstances. Trimmer also shares her opinions on contemporary events, such as the French Revolution. For example, in August 1795 she writes, “What an awful event has happened lately on the coast of France! thousands of poor Frenchmen, fighting for their king and their religion, have been unhappily slaughtered by their infatuated countrymen”. (4) Trimmer’s diaries also reveal an intimate portrait of her family life, including her personal tragedies. During her lifetime Trimmer would suffer the loss of three of her children and her husband. However, throughout her journals, letters and meditations, Trimmer continuously affirms her confidence in her Christian faith. Writing to her son William she says, “Religion is the best source of courage in the world.” (5)
Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer provides a fascinating insight into the life and work of an eighteenth century writer, educational reformer and devout Anglican Christian. It is also a wonderful resource revealing the culture and attitudes of eighteenth century society, particularly in regards to religion, class, charity and the treatment of the poor.
In addition to bookplates from a previous owner, Joseph Dobinson, the two volumes of Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer in the Layton Collection also contain special bookplates, they record that the Brentford and Chiswick District of Soroptimist International have generously sponsored them. This has paid for their repair and conservation. For more information on sponsoring a book from the collection visit: https://thomaslayton.org.uk/the-layton-collection-2/books-and-manuscripts/how-to-sponsor-a-book/
(1) Sarah Trimmer (1816) Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer, with Original Letters and Meditations and Prayers, Selected from her Journal, Vol 1, p.155
(2) Frederick Joseph Harvey Darton (2011) Children’s Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life, Cambridge University Press, p.96
(3) Robert M. Andrews (2015) Lay Activism and the High Church Movement of the Late Eighteenth Century: The Life and Thought of William Stevens, 1732-1807, BRILL, p.66
(4) Sarah Trimmer (1816) Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer, with Original Letters and Meditations and Prayers, Selected from her Journal, Vol 2, p.289
(5) Sarah Trimmer (1816) Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs Trimmer, with Original Letters and Meditations and Prayers, Selected from her Journal, Vol 2, p.279
Val Bott and James Wisdom (2015) “Sarah Trimmer’s Brentford Industrial School”, Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society, https://brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk/local-history/education/sarah-trimmers-brentford-industrial-school/
D. M. Yarde (1971) The Life and Works of Sarah Trimmer, a Lady of Brentford, Hounslow History Society