Clock turns back 150 years as Ragged School’s Victorian classroom tells story of Barnardo’s

Barnardo's classroom at Leopold House, Burdett Road, around 1890

Barnardo's classroom at Leopold House, Burdett Road, around 1890 - Credit: Barnardo's

Schoolchildren are being invited to learn first-hand about the tough life in the Victorian classroom of London’s East End.

Barnardo's classroom at Leopold House, Burdett Road, around 1890

Barnardo's classroom at Leopold House, Burdett Road, around 1890 - Credit: Barnardo's

The strict discipline of rote learning with the cane at hand is being recreated for an open day at the Ragged School Museum in Mile End on Saturday to mark the 150th anniversary of Barnardo’s children’s charity.

The museum next to the Regent’s Canal is on the site of one of the first Ragged schools of Victorian London that was set up by the Ragged School Union formed in 1844.

“Anyone interested in East End history will learn a great deal on Saturday,” Barnardo’s archive manager Martine King said.

“The museum does a fantastic job bringing the Victorian classroom to life and we’ll have old film footage and artefacts to give a real sense of how school life 150 years ago compares to today.”

Thomas Barnardo and ragged waifs of Whitechapel he rescued... image from 'Barnardo, Champion of Vict

Thomas Barnardo and ragged waifs of Whitechapel he rescued... image from 'Barnardo, Champion of Victorian Children' by Martin Levy [Amberley Books] - Credit: Amberley Books


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The museum in Copperfield Road stages Victorian-style lessons between 10am and 4pm.

Thomas Barnardo, born in Dublin in 1845, was studying medicine at the London Hospital in Whitechapel as a young student in the 1860s when he was horrified to find homeless urchins living on the streets of the capital, at the heart of the world’s biggest empire.

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Many he saw were to die of hunger. He devoted the rest of his life to their rescue and his work was to change Britain for ever, as much as any one man could.

His charitable nature led him to the doors of the Ernest Street Ragged School, where he flourished as a teacher and was soon promoted to superintendent.

His passion to help more children soon got him into trouble when he published an article describing the difficulties of teaching large numbers in a small classroom, which brought him into conflict with the trustees.

Barnardo resigned soon after and set up his own trust, securing two properties in Hope Place in 1868 where he began the work of the East End Juvenile Mission to educate children during the day and adults in the evening. All were provided with a hot meal.

His Ragged School continued to run long after he had opened his orphanages and in 1877 the Copperfield Road Mission opened.

By 1908 the government had set up enough free schools to meet the population needs.

The Copperfield Road school finally closed and was later turned into a warehouse. It was converted into a museum in the 1990s to tell the story of the Ragged School system.

The open day on Saturday at Copperfield Road, next to Mile End Park, includes displays, artefacts and historic film footage to illustrate the 150-year history of Barnardo’s charity and the work it does today.

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