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At The Ragged School Museum

May 7, 2014
by the gentle author

The Ragged School Museum in Bow is a long tall building occupying the narrowest triangular site between the canal and the road, and it is as thin as a meagre slice of cake. In 1876, Dr Thomas Barnardo purchased these premises, originally constructed for warehouses, from a Scottish provisions company and opened a ragged school as one of forty establishments under his supervision in the East End. Within a couple of years, there were three hundred and seventy pupils daily and two thousand five hundred for Sunday school each week.

As well as providing education, children were given food and offered care and support to ameliorate the deprivation they suffered. Reverting to light industrial use after the death of Dr Barnardo at the beginning of the last century, the complex was blighted by a demolition order until the formation of the Ragged School Trust who purchased the building in 1986. An atmospheric structure where the melancholy presence of history still lingers, it is now a museum where school children come to experience Victorian education and learn of the realities of life for the poor in nineteenth century London.

Dr Barnardo’s Ragged School, 1879

Copperfield Rd today

“a long building occupying the narrowest triangular site between the canal and the road, and it is as thin as a meagre slice of cake”

Stairs up to the classrooms

The Boys’ staircase

Behind these screens was the Headmaster’s Office

Bridge over Regent’s Canal

Stairs down to the Regent’s Canal towpath

Ragged School Museum, 46-50 Copperfield Rd, London, E3 4RR

14 Responses leave one →
  1. May 7, 2014

    Very interesting to see the school and its classrooms. I started school in 1951 and some of our classroom furniture was very similar; replacements only came slowly! Valerie

  2. Nina permalink
    May 7, 2014

    ‘…… as thin as a meagre slice of cake’ – love it ! …. a phrase to remember and savour, thank you Gentle Author …

  3. May 7, 2014

    Even if austerity prevailed: So they helped poor children of the Victorian Age.

    Love & Peace

  4. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    May 7, 2014

    As a regular visitor to the Ragged School Museum I often find myself thinking the atmosphere within the building, although austere, is more conducive to learning than many a modern educational establishment.

  5. armier permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Yet again the gentle author leaves me speechless with another previously unknown secret, now brought out into the sunlight.

    I am grateful.

  6. Peter Holford permalink
    May 7, 2014

    Oh dear – a lot of familiar images from my childhood. Must be getting old or did nothing much change between 1884 and the 1950s. Another place to add to the list of ‘must visits’. Thank you.

  7. May 8, 2014

    Please do not think me insulting but is that teacher the Viscountess Boudica in dress-up?

  8. May 8, 2014

    Valerie-Jael comments that she remembers school furniture like this in the 1950s. The primary school in the small town in France where I lived till very recently still has desks like those in daily use. In fact I thought you must have paid it a visit!

  9. May 8, 2014

    I sat at school desks from 1938 to 50 in Barking/Dagenham that were dead ringers of those pictured. But my memory of the teachers cane tells me that the cane pictured is a ring in. The canes used on me were lethal and very thin and stung like crazy; ah happy days 🙂

  10. annie permalink
    May 8, 2014

    Like others who have responded to the very interesting article, I went to a Victorian built junior school in the mid/late 50’s where we still had those types of desks and classroom furniture. Happy days!

    I must get round to visiting the museum sometime.

  11. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    May 9, 2014

    I remember school desks like the ones pictured!Also the joy of being promoted from writng with a pencil to a dip pen & becoming ink monitor!The basic education that children got in these schools was probably better than the basic education that children get mowadays!

  12. Romany Rose permalink
    May 18, 2014

    A huge thank you to the Author
    My father was in 1915 placed in Barnardos at Stepney, East London,where he remained for the next 10 years,he was placed there with his younger brother and elder sister,the sister being 15 was placed in service and the 2 brothers were seperated with the belief that the younger one would be adopted,he never was and the two brothers remained seperated upon my fathers release 2days before his 15th birthday he had no where to live so joined up in the army,he lost all touch with his siblings and was only reunited with his younger brother 6 months before my father died

  13. Romany Rose permalink
    May 18, 2014

    Can someone,tell me if the boys home at Stepney,East London is still standing and if so what is the building used for now

  14. Phillip Baumber permalink
    February 15, 2018

    What an excellent strict schoolmistress! She really looks the part.

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