Henry Hawkes was born in Dukinfield, Cheshire in 1805. He was born into a family of Unitarians, several members of which became ministers in the church. Little is known of his early life other than that he attended Glasgow University where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 1833 he was appointed minister at the Unitarian Chapel on High Street, Portsmouth, a position of some importance given that a substantial number of the town's mayors had worshipped at the church.
The congregation came to regard Hawkes with respect whilst in return he worked diligently for them. Never marrying, he had the time to devote himself entirely to his mission which he based on a sound scriptural knowledge. He took a particular interest in the education of children from deprived families and founded a Sunday School for them in 1835. His inspiration for doing so came from two sources, Joseph Lancaster's schools in London and the presence of an old cobbler by the name of John Pounds.
Although Hawkes would prove to be an able minister his legacy would not be very rich were it not for the fact that his interest in the work of John Pounds led him to write the book that secured his reputation for ever - "Recollections of John Pounds". Although written in a flowery, sentimental style, typical of much Victorian literature, Hawkes recorded the birth of what was to become the Ragged Schools movement. In the book Hawkes recounts his first meeting with Pounds who he described as "...rough and self-neglected. He had no hat or coat on. His shirt, very dingy, was open at the collar and chest; the sleeves were rolled back above the elbows. His face, neck, chest, arms and hands; all were dark, as if seldom washed. There was a repulsive coarseness about his features."
Hawkes became, in the course of time, a firm believer in the methods used by John Pounds to teach children though he often "...wished he would wash more often". In practice Pounds did wash, but only for his weekly visit to the church on Sundays when he would turn out in collar, waistcoat and frocked coat to sit on the southern balcony as close to the preacher as possible.
Much of the 'Recollections' was devoted to descriptions of Portsmouth town itself, especially the poorest areas frequented by John Pounds. Graphic portrayals of St. Mary's Street, Warblington Street and Crown Street are amongst the most detailed available to historical scholars, as were accounts of the journeys undertaken by Pounds, together with some of the children, on rambles as far away as the north side of Portsdown Hill, some seven miles distant.
On New Years Day 1839, John Pounds died at the home of Edward Carter, former mayor. Henry Hawkes recorded the event in some detail. He told how Dr. Martell, a second cousin to John Pounds, and one of his pupils put the body into a fly and took it back to Pounds' workshop in St. Mary's Street to the severe distress of the children there. Hawkes took much of the responsibilty for making the funeral arrangements and assigning a grave site within the grounds of the Unitarian Church. He also wrote and delivered a eulogy at the next Sunday evening service and began to collect donations for a substantial, though modest, memorial stone which still exists today.
The "Recollections of John Pounds" was not published until 1884, some 45 years after the death of the old cobbler. It contained not only the memories of Hawkes himself but also related a number of reminiscences by townspeople who had known John Pounds. It was one of the last acts of Henry Hawkes, who gave all of his books to Portsmouth Library in 1885 before departing for Liverpool, where he died in 1886.
"Recollections of John Pounds" by Henry Hawkes
"Unitarianism in Portsmouth" Monograph produced by Portsmouth Grammar School