The Ragged School Museum
By Francesca Fenn, Mar 18 2019 05:04PM
Our second ‘Little Museum of London’ is the Ragged School Museum, which sits near the southern end of Mile End Park, on the Regent’s Canal. A stroll through the park from Mile End Station takes you to a 19th century building that looks like a warehouse, (and indeed that was its original purpose, serving the canal), set amongst modern flats. Across its façade is written ‘Ragged School Museum’. Inside is the museum itself, which tells the story of the poor of London’s East End in the late 19th and early 20th century, and of this Ragged School in particular. Upstairs there are Victorian classrooms, and when we visited they were full of children busy writing on slates as they experienced a Victorian lesson. Downstairs there are desks, dressing up opportunities, information boards and artefacts, and fascinating photographs of London’s East End at this time. In the basement there is a Victorian kitchen. The museum is small, but fascinating, and there are always volunteers on hand to tell you pretty much anything you want to know, and to answer any questions.
So, what was a ragged school? In the East End of London in the 1860s, very poor families were often unable to find the penny per child per week that local schools charged. Thomas Barnardo arrived in London from Ireland in 1866 as a medical student, training for Christian missionary work. But he quickly realised his work should be in London amongst the poor. He founded this and other local schools to feed and clothe poor children, and to teach and train them for suitable trades and positions as they grew up. This particular school was opened in 1877.
After the school closed in 1908 the buildings were used, and abused, and were threatened with demolition. In response to this threat, some local heroes set up the Ragged School Museum Trust to save the building and create the museum, which opened in 1990.
Ragged School is a delightful and interesting spot, manned by helpful volunteers. It is open on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 2.00 & 5.00pm, and on the first Sunday of each month you can experience a Victorian lesson for yourself. Entrance is free and donations are welcome.