The British Schools Museum


A Visit in August 2010

[For more information and details of currant events visit their web site.]

And an Update in July 2014


The British Schools Museum is sited in a school with a variety of buildings dated back to 1837 and is well worth a visit to see how the schools for the labouring classes were set up in the 19th century, and developed into the 20th century.

There is an excellent web site which describes the school building and their history, and there were some interesting books for sale in the Museum book shop (I purchased Schooldays 1810-1900, A History of the Buildings and Educating Our Own). For this reason I have kept the commentary short and simply urge you to visit it if you get the chance but don't forget to check which days it is open.

The Great Lancasterian Schoolroom


This room was built in 1837 to teach on the monitor system. The floor was originally sloping to give the teacher a better view of the 150 boys. The idea was that one teacher could teach a large number, with older boys (monitors) surviving and instructing the younger ones.


The room is the only example of such a classroom to survive anywhere in the world, and is currently in a partially restored state.

The Gallery Classroom


This was built in 1854 and desk are arranged on a slope to provide the boys with a good view of the teacher.


This room was well organised for handling a party of school children, with a "teacher" demonstrating various aspects for how teaching was carried out a hundred years ago.


The Edwardian Classroom


Two extra classrooms were added in 1905 and this one has been furnished in the style of the period, using desks with fixed seats. 



The 1940's Classroom


This classroom was built in 1905 but has been equipped to represent how it would have been furnished in about 1940, when the Second World War was on, and the school had expanded to accommodate evacuee children from London.


There were a number of features here which brought back memories of my own childhood.

The Girls School


In 1845 the original building that had housed the girls and infants burnt down and the replacement was deemed unsatisfactory and this more substantial building was erected in 1857.


The upper floors are not open to the public, and the ground floor was used as an activity room aimed at visiting children, a museum, a small refreshment room and a shop.

The Headmaster's House


A view from the boys' playground over the wall with the girls' playground at a lower level, and the headmaster's house beyond.

Inside the Headmaster's House


Part of the house was furnished as it would have been about one hundred years ago. I didn't have time to view the upstairs but the living room, kitchen and scullery had plenty to interest visiting schoolchildren (and adults).


The tiny backyard was also of the period - including the little necessary outside room (no longer functioning)

Update July 2014

And the First World War Exhibition

Lancasterian Classroom


In July 2014 I visited the school again, this time with the Genealogy Group of the Tring U3A, and I have added some more pictures which complemented those taken earlier.


We were all made to sit down at on the forms so that we could be told about the early teaching methods used in the school. This approach is used with visiting school parties to help them understand how educational methods have changed over the years.

Gallery Classroom

Our "Headmaster" took the class in the way his predecessor might have taken a class in Victorian Times with an emphasis on rote learning. We were taught to do arithmetic using pounds, shillings and pence using a slate and slate pencil to do the sums. Because we Oldies had grown up with the real thing we did much better than modern children do.  We wrote with pen and ink in a copy book - and when appropriate a dunce's cap was used - and the cane applied with vigour! The picture shows us all having our hands inspected to make sure we had washed properly before coming to school.


The party then went on to the Edwardian Classroom where the war memorial to former pupils had recently been unveiled.

The Edwardian Classroom now has a display panel relating to the First World War

and a memorial to the men who had been educated in the school and gave their lives in the war.

The Girls School - Main Room

This was used for the First World War Exhibition with four large show cases with interesting displays, relating to the war, the school in war time, and the people involved. In addition there was a small case including examples of trench art, and a number of informative display panels.

There were also a number of tables in the room that could be used by patrons who purchased a drink, etc., at the little cafe.


In the shop the latest addition was the book


Remembered with Pride

by Jean Handley


This is a carefully researched account of pupils form the school who lost their lives in the Great War. It includes biographical details, and accounts of the the battles where they lost their lives, or in some cases died in the 1918 flu epidemic while in the armed forces. Because of a personal interest I looked to see if any had died in the battle of Cambrai in December 1917.  I found that Charles Marcus Barker was in one of the tanks when he was killed while Edward Christopher Halsey died in fighting the following January.


Many people are currently researching the lives, and military service, of those who died from their school, works, villages and towns, and this book can be taken as a really good example of what can be achieved.

Discovery Room


The room beyond the shop is a room where children can find out much about school and everyday life in the past, and is an important part of the museum's educational role.


Like many such enterprises the museum is very dependent on volunteers, like the ones who showed us round, and fund raising is always a problem. If you are researching your ancestors they will, at least in part of the 19th century, and all of the 20th century, have gone to school. It really makes you think about how they were taught if you sit through a short lesson in the Lancasterian or Gallery classrooms. If you are going anywhere near Hitchin the Museum is well worth a visit (but check the opening times) - and if your ancestors grew up in Hitchin the Museum's archives may well have something about them.

Permanent Link   www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk/links/HITCHIN-SCHOOL.htm
November 2010   Page Created
July 2014   Later visit and First World War Exhibition.