In The Mud Rose, my young time travellers connect to their Victorian mudlarks through a visit to London’s Ragged School Museum. This museum was once the Barnardo-run Copperfield Ragged School, the largest of the schools supplying free education to the children of the poor. Now, however, it supplies not-so poor modern children with information on what life was like for those young scholars, with volunteer staff members offering a hands-on Victorian experience to about 16,000 children a year.
Victorians weren’t into behaviour modification or child psychology. Schools imparted the Three R’s (reading ’riting, & ’rithmetic) by means of repetitious chants, mental and physical drills, and the extensive use of canes. The actress portraying “Miss Perkins” does not wield the latter, but does rule the museum’s re-created Victorian classroom with an iron hand as she takes children through a typical Victorian school day, calling upon some to demonstrate such Victorian disciplinary tools such as the backboard and finger stocks pictured above. * Slouchers had to hook their arms over the backboard and sit with their backs forced into correct posture, while fidgety fingers were imprisoned in the stocks and tied behind the fidgeter’s back for up to half an hour. There is also a dunce cap. (Victorians weren’t big on self-esteem, either.)
In addition to the schoolroom, there is a re-created Victorian kitchen with various utensils and artefacts that young visitors are allowed to handle.
School groups visit the museum Monday through Friday, but if you live near London, or are planning a trip there, it’s open to the general public between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Wednesdays & Thursdays, although the schoolroom might not be accessible if a school group is using it. General visitors can also stop by between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, and family days are offered during holidays.
Though there is a charge for school and group talks, general admission and holiday activities are free. The museum is, however, a registered charity, and donations are most welcome. Anyone interested in arranging a group visit should contact: erica@raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk.
The museum is located next to Mile End Park on the Regent’s Canal towpath, with the nearest Underground station being Mile End.
For more information, visit: http://www.raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk/.
* Two or three years ago, I tried the backboard & fingerstocks out on some 5-12-year-olds I work with. Most were squirming in under three minutes. There was, however, one backboard stalwart – a kindergartener determined to outlast his older brother and sister. He did, too!


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