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Brickfields Victorian Hackney
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All children go to school until they are sixteen in this country, and there is a free school place for every child in the country, but it was not always like that. When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 many children were not lucky enough to go to school. Schools charged fees and their families could not afford it. One in three London children did not go to school. Some because they were looking after younger brothers or sisters. Others were working themselves, if they went to school their parents would be without their wages.

Rich children were educated at home by tutors or were sent to private schools. Some churches provided schooling for a few poor children at reduced rates as did the Ragged Schools that were set up especially for very poor and beggar children. There is a Ragged School museum in London where you can see a classroom as it would have looked in Victorian times. They were called ragged schools because the children were so poor they wore ragged clothes.

In 1870 the government decided all children between the ages of 6 and 9 years had to go to school, but it was not until 20 years later that schooling became free, and nearly 30 years before the school leaving age was raised to 12 years!

All children were taught reading, writing, arithmetic and had to practice drill which was a form of exercise. Girls were taught subjects like needlework too and boys learnt things like woodwork. Children were taught rhymes and chants to help them remember things as they did not have exercise books. They sat in rows facing the blackboard and wrote on slates, which were wiped clean at the end of the day. Paper and pencils were expensive in Victorian times. Older pupils used pens dipped in ink wells and copied proverbs and sayings Into exercise books known as ‘copybooks’ as they had to practise their handwriting.

Discipline was considered a very important virtue by the Victorians and teachers were very strict. Punishments would today be seen as cruel and included being hit with a cane or a strap of leather.

Towards the end of Victoria’s reign education was much better and there were even Technical Colleges for older children to train as clerks, engineers and other skills that Britain needed for the new century ahead.

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Ragged School classroom
This is a classroom at the Ragged School Museum in London. The slates that the children wrote on can be seen in the fronts of the desks. A blackboard, a map of Britain and an abacus can also be seen.

Copy book and blotter
This photograph shows a copy book and blotter at the Ragged School Museum.

Government school
This photograph is of a government school built in 1895. It now houses the Building Exploratory exhibition.
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