The Ragged School Museum

The Ragged School Museum

The Ragged School Museum is located in Mile End, close to Mile End Park. The building was originally the largest of London’s free schools for poor children, known as the Copperfield Road Free School. It is a museum that is a great visit with kids (you can show them how lucky they really are!) but is also fascinating for adults as it really brings social history and the conditions of the East End’s poor families to life.

East London Victorian Education

It is easy for us to forget that education was once reserved for the privileged few and it was institutions such as Ragged Schools that brought education to people who could not afford to pay for it and who lived in dire conditions.

The history of Copperfield Road Free School

The school was established by the London philanthropist, Thomas Barnardo, in 1876. Barnardo had come over to London from Ireland to train as a doctor. His original career goal was then to work as a missionary abroad. He was, however, greatly affected by the poor living conditions in the East End and, having seen the effects of a cholera epidemic that left over 3,000 people dead, he decided to do good works in London instead and started his involvement with the Ragged School movement.

His Ragged Schools basically offered local children a basic education at no cost. The school at Copperfield Road was the largest of his free schools, being composed of three buildings. It educated the East End for over thirty years; helping many families improve their prospects in difficult conditions. The school finally closed in 1908 and was used in different ways over the years before being turned into a museum.

The Ragged School Museum

Although the Ragged School Museum is housed in the original buildings of the Copperfield Road School, it is not just about the site. It covers the entire history of Ragged Schools and also highlights social conditions and the history of Victorian life in the East End. Ragged Schools got their name from the fact that they educated poor children, most of whom wore ragged clothes.

The Victorian Classroom

One of the best sights to see in the Ragged School Museum is the Victorian classroom. This has been set up to look exactly like a classroom of that period and is located in one of the school’s original classes. You, and your children, can see Victorian desks, writing slates, ink wells, chalks and blackboards. You can even have a go with a dunce’s hat! Once a month, you can even sit in the class and be taught by a Victorian teacher who will make you learn all about the three Rs. Be warned, you will be tested on your slate handwriting techniques and these teachers are strict!

The Victorian Kitchen

The Ragged School Museum has also recreated an authentic Victorian kitchen, complete with a tin bath. This is based on local East End kitchens of the time – you can handle objects on certain days as well as take a look around. The kitchen is set at around the 1900s.

Ragged School Museum Exhibitions

The museum also has some interesting exhibitions. There is a display covering Thomas Barnardo and his life and work with an emphasis on the Copperfield Road site and his Ragged Schools in the East End. The museum also has displays on the local area, Tower Hamlets. This is an area rich in history, so this display is worth a look.

Sunday Open House

The best time to visit the Ragged School Museum may be on a Sunday afternoon on the first Sunday of the month. This is when you can take a Victorian lesson. Bear in mind that you’ll need to book one in advance when you get there as the classroom can only hold so many people at once and each lesson lasts for 45 minutes. Lessons usually take place at 2.15 and 3.30pm. The museum also runs a range of themed Victorian activities during school holidays.

Opening Times and Location

The Ragged School Museum is open on Wednesdays and Thursday every week from 10am to 5pm. Apart from that it only also opens to the public on the first Sunday of the month from 2pm to 5pm. The museum does run history talks for groups in the afternoons during the week, although these are charged at £4 a head.

The museum is extremely popular with school trips, so if you go during the week, you may not be able to access areas immediately if schools are being shown round.

Entrance to the museum is free, although you are encouraged to make a small donation, especially if you take the Victorian classroom experience.  The Ragged School Museum is close to Mile End tube or Limehouse station on the Docklands Light Railway. It is also close to various bus routes.

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1 thought on “The Ragged School Museum”

  1. Great site Malcolm! I’m currently conducting research on a new historical project at the University of Birmingham’s Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) looking at the role of voluntary organisations based in Bethnal Green. For the project, we are examining how the local voluntary sector adapted to changes in social policy from 1945 to the present day, using the four areas as key case studies. We are looking at archival sources as well as conducting oral interviews so I’m keen to get a sense from locals about any organisations I might be missing from current archival holdings. Would love to meet with some locals and/or east historians who have a particular interest in this area. Thank you in advance for any help or advice!

    Liz Bailey

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