England’s Schools: History, architecture and adaptation (book #144)

Elain Harwood, 2010.

Short but nicely written and illustrated book published by English Heritage about schools’ archicture. The whole book, with pictures, is now available online as a PDF from English Heritage – worth having a look at if you are interested in social history.

This is a good image of Aynhoe School (Northampstonshire) in about 1845.


You probably can’t see the detail all that well but I was struck by the number of texts. One knows of course that Christianity would have been a huge part of education but to see so much of the space covered with religious exortations emphasises it. A few I can read: “The Lord you must always obey” on the left under the black and red GIRLS sign; “Remain faithful to The Commandments” in the corresponding place on the right; “FEAR YE GOD” on extreme right; “GOD IS A SHIELD TO US” on blackboard.

I particularly like the colourful duffel bags hanging on the cupboard. There is another image of what looks like the same school (other end of the same room?) on Dawn Griffis’s website. Both show the galleried seating clearly. I like the animal pictures below the GIRLS and BOYs sign on that one – elephant to the right, ?lion to the left.

The painter, Maria Elisabeth Augusta Cartwright, née von Sandizell (1805-1902), has had her watercolours of Aynhoe House published, with some extracts from her diaries, which I would be interested to see. (Lili at Aynhoe: Victorian Life in an English Country House). There’s some discussion of it here, though the blogger’s focus is on another family. A Google images search will show you some of the watercolours of the interior of the house. There is a portrait of the artist in the NPG, but not online.

I had not realised that some London schools had roof-top playgrounds. Makes sense, of course, even though one’s modern health and safety sense tingles. Here is Catherine Street School in Hackney, 1887.

Catherine Street School

That can’t be the whole school gathered there – too few, and too many girls. I like the man with his hand on the gate. (My image has come out rather greener than the original; that is not grass.)

This picture of a reading class at an open-air LCC school in 1907 (at Bostall Wood in Woolwich) is interesting. Several of the children look pretty slumped in their desckchairs.


Bostall Wood School was the first open-air school in the UK, and was only open as an experiment for a few months in 1907. It was successful and further permanent schools were opened. This site has more detail, including that many of the children were malnourished when they arrived, and, on average, gained nearly a stone each over the few months the school was operating. This site is good on another open-air school, or series of schools, in Regent’s Park. The clerk, trying to recruit a teacher for it in the 1930s, said “all backward children, throw-outs. No one will touch it”. Not come across throw-outs in this context before – OED has “anything discarded or rejected”. The Muncipal Dreams blog has an interesting post on Aspen House Open-Air School in Lambeth in the 1930s, with pictures of the architecture. There is also a post here about Thackley Open-Air School, also of the 1930s, with good detail about routines, food etc.

And finally, a quotation from George Widdows, architect to Derbyshire Education Committee from 1902, who was committed to school buildings that improved the health of both children and teachers: “secondary buildings require just as much revolutionising as elementary. “All one can say is there are not so many children in each class and their clothes do not stink” – an insight into what it might have smelt like in some of these schools. Elain Harwood uses the quote again in a separate article on Widdows – apparently he “collapsed from overwork in 1911, and went on a cruise round the Mediterranean”. He did return to work, however, until his retirement in 1936.


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