Education Centre (School Visits)
Time Trails Victorian
the Victorian Classroom
(with thanks to the children and staff of
The Boucher CE School, Bermondsey)
Shoulders back, head up...
...down to the classroom.
"I hope Miss isn't too strict."
Start the day with a prayer.
"Please let me get the right answers."
"Thank goodness. I know this one!"
Ready for the drill...
one, two, three, stre-t-ch.
Then down to some multiplication.
Writing on slates can be as tricky as the three times table!
Handwriting practice in our copy books to finish a busy day, but you know ' the Devil makes work for idle hands'.
A story from our literacy pack...
A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath
"Three sixes are eighteen, four sixes are twenty-four..."
Timothy felt his eyes closing as the recitation of the times tables continued around him.
"...seven sixes are -"
Suddenly he found himself plucked from the bench he was sharing with five other boys and swung in the air by his braces. He was released none too gently and staggered to stop himself from falling.
"Stand up straight and don't slouch, boy. You may stay there at the front of the class for the remainder of the lesson as an example to the others of what will happen if you do not pay attention!"
Timothy felt the eyes of the class on him and stared at a point on the floor beyond his scuffed shoes. His cheeks burned scarlet and he prayed that the tears that burnt his eyes would not overflow.
The morning mathematics lesson continued. The children's voices droned on but if they started to slow too much the whizz of the cane on a desk increased the pace again. The teacher paced the floor in time like a caged lion. She was a tall, strong woman in her early thirties. Energy seemed to be imprisoned by a cameo brooch at the neck of a severe, starched white blouse and it was only the thick folds of her ankle-length black skirt and numerous petticoats that hampered her stride. In another age she could have been an athlete or a round-the-world yachtswoman, but being born into the Victorian era she was constrained by the traditions of her age and her whalebone corset. Like other teachers of the time she kept strict discipline in her classroom favouring humiliation as a weapon and the cane as a last resort. In addition, and more unusually, she employed the tactic of scooping an unfortunate child up by its clothes to be made an example of before the class when behaviour offended.
Lunch-break came at last Class was dismissed, but instead of filing outside with the rest of the children, Timothy remembered the note he had not had time to give his teacher that morning. He drew it slowly from his pocket.
"Please, Miss," he began nervously.
"Yes, what is it boy?"
"My father, Miss. He told me to give you this."
She took the envelope and frowned. Her name was written in beautifully regular italics, clear and firm, which surprised her at first, as few parents of her pupils could even write at all. Then she remembered hearing that Timothy's father was a shipping clerk, and that a clear neat script would be essential for this work.
"Dear Miss Davenport, " she read. "While I am sure that Timothy fully merits punishment upon due cause, I would earnestly request that, for the sake of his poor mother who is hard put to find new buttons, let alone the time to sew them to his trousers, you refrain from picking him up by his braces. Your agreement in this matter would be more appreciated than you could imagine.
Yours sincerely... "
The teacher looked at Timothy, for the first time seeing not just another child of an uneducated Irish immigrant family. He held his breath, his eyes wide and anxious. He could not be certain, but he thought her expression softened, and there was the merest hint of a smile.
"Please thank your father and tell him I shall see what I can do. Now go into the yard and get some fresh air. Come to afternoon class refreshed and wide awake."
"Yes, Miss. Thank you, Miss."
That afternoon the children were to practise their handwriting.
"Now children," commanded the teacher. "In your copy books I would like you to write out the proverb for the day. Timothy, will you kindly read it out for us?"
Timothy looked at the blackboard and the clear copperplate writing. He cleared his throat.
"A soft answer turneth away wrath," he read slowly.