This is one of the places that isn’t on the must-visit list of an average London tourist, it’s absolutely and 100% off the beaten path, and I suggest you come here.
It’s relatively near Central London, located about 10 minutes walk away from the Mile End tube station on the Central (red, for the uninitiated) line, which is an area that’s considered a bit rough by some people, however it does contain a lot of cultural and hugely important historic places, I mean the whole of East London, of course, and it should not be dismissed as something that you shouldn’t visit. Yes, it is not Chelsea or Kensington, you can see it when you get off the train (about 10 minutes from Oxford Circus), but, the Ragged School Museum is here.
The museum recreates the experience that the children had when taught in the late 19th century. The place is run by volunteers, it is free to go in, but as long as I remember, the donations are welcome. The visitors can feel what it was like to be at school about 150 years ago. The term “ragged school” means that the schools provided free education for poor children. To get an idea, think of Charles Dickens who went to one of such places, only in London Field’s Lane Ragged School, as this source on the British Library website tells us. Potentially, or rather, absolutely, the time he spent in the walls of the educational space, influenced his writing Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, which I did not know before. You haven’t the foggiest either, have you?
The main subjects taught at school those days were reading, writing, counting and the Bible. Sometimes ragged schools provided the night refuge, lessons on parenting for mothers, as well as lessons on how to be proper fathers to your children, and lessons for children on how to be proper kids (same source). These institutions were believed to be unsuccessful, I guess due to the fact that only poor children went there, and nobody ever cared about poor people back in the 19th century, the situation has gotten better these days, but as you know, underprivileged and moneyless citizens aren’t exactly swimming in gold nowadays either.
It was only in 1870 when Parliament agreed that complusory education for everyone should be introduced, exactly what Dickens had wanted many years ago (from Charles Dickens’ letter, British Library webpage)
The Mile End ragged school is housed in canalside warehouses, and was opened in 1877, the museum itself opened in 1990. It’s got a reconstructed Victorian kitchen (pictured below), and a classroom, as well as some displays showing the life of youngsters in the 19th century.
The museum isn’t open every day, so please check their website for the opening times.
I was here on a day, when there was a big group of school kids, having their own Victorian experience. I honestly wanted to join them, but was too afraid to ask someone, plus I was about twenty years older than an average child in this particular vintage lesson. I do regret not joining them, I must say. Do come here, if you want to step back in time.
Thank you for reading.