A Taste of the Past: British Schools Museum, Hitchin

The Lancasterian Schoolroom

They say that schooldays are the best days of your life. Of course, that may be true for some, but I daresay for others the idea of going back to school is not a prospect to delight the heart. But there is one place that could just change your mind.

The British Schools Museum in Hitchin offers a unique insight into life at school in Victorian times. This gem of a museum is housed within historic school buildings dating back to 1837, and includes the only surviving school room built to the specifications of Joseph Lancaster. This forward-thinking educational philanthropist set himself the challenge of providing much-needed education for the poor children of the area, at a time when such ideas were almost unheard of. His solution to managing the difficulties of teaching 200 children in one room is a masterpiece of innovation, and you can get a taste of how it all worked (even down to practising your copperplate handwriting), as you tour the museum.

A chance to practise your handwriting

A chance to practise your handwriting

A space for small group teaching - all toes must touch the line

A space for small group teaching – all toes must touch the line!

If your work or behaviour was good, you could win a prize...

If your work or behaviour was good, you could win a prize…

The history of schools and education for over 200 years is covered within the various rooms, which include a galleried Victorian schoolroom, an Edwardian schoolroom and their more modern counterparts.

The teacher's desk in the Edwardian Classroom

The teacher’s desk in the Edwardian Classroom

Old-fashioned desks

Old-fashioned desks

There are many interactive exhibits and fascinating information to browse, and for those of you who have reached a certain age, some will bring the memories flooding back.

Check out these classroom resources

Check out these classroom resources

You can also take a look at the schoolmaster’s house, which has been restored to its former glory with period artefacts, and even boasts an underground cellar that linked to the schoolmistress’s house next door!

The museum is run by enthusiastic volunteers; on the day of our visit, we saw one elderly gentlemen on his knees in the rain, weeding with one hand and holding an umbrella in the other – true commitment. Our guide was a mine of information, and kept both adults and children captivated by his wealth of knowledge.

We browsed some stunning examples of needlework created by former pupils, bought souvenirs in the small gift shop, and topped our visit off with tea and a delicious slice of cake in the period cafe.

The museum also runs a wide variety of special activities for children and adults alike. Workshops will transport you back in time, complete with period costumes and activities, or you can simply enjoy a talk or concert in atmospheric surroundings. School visits can give children a chance to experience the life of a Victorian school child or a WWII evacuee. Group visits can be organised with prior arrangement.

Admission charges are £4.50 for adults and £2.00 for children, with a family ticket available for £12.00. Opening times and days vary, so check the website for details before setting off. Pay and Display parking is available at the nearby St Mary’s Church car park, and the nearest bus stop is within three minutes walk, with Hitchin Station only 15 minutes away.

This lovely family-friendly museum gave us a great feeling for what life was like as a Victorian schoolchild, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

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