Most of the time the Ragged School is open only to organised school parties, but on the first Sunday afternoon of the month anyone can turn up - even novelists in search of some background colour. There are limited places available to participate in the recreation of a Victorian lesson. The only requirement is that you are prepared to do a bit of time travelling and submit to the rule of the teacher. Dressing up is fortunately optional!
The first thing that struck me was that the desks were tiny with a really narrow gap between bench and desk. I could barely squeeze my bum into the seat and, once in, was wedged there barely able to breathe - praying the teacher wouldn’t ask me to stand up again. As she’d shown us the dunce’s cap, the cane, the shoulder board and the finger stocks I was in no hurry to be picked upon and made an example of!
Some of the elements of the Victorian school were relatively close to my own experiences as a seven year old in a two-classroom school in Yorkshire. The elderly headteacher who taught me there would probably have been taught herself by a Victorian schoolmistress. There was lots of rote learning - and no encouragement to move beyond the limited confines of the lessons. I was reprimanded when she found me happily absorbed in a history book sent to me by an aunt - “Put that away it’s too advanced for a child of your age.”
The Ragged School is worth a visit – there’s also a small museum to throw light on the plight of the ragged children and the local history of the area, including a recreation of a 1900 kitchen.