Perfect rainy day place: The British Schools Museum
I’m a big fan of a little museum. The British Schools Museum in Hitchin is one of the ones I’ve driven past loads of times, but never managed to stop and have a look round. So when it was raining the other day — hello, August! — me and my youngest met some friends there for a good old nosey.
It was great watching all three kids — 10, 7 and 6 — getting stuck in with old-school wooden games. Trying to get the ball in the cup. Playing shove-ha’penny. That sort of thing. Not a screen in sight (except me checking my phone…) but plenty of concentration and enjoyment. We had trouble dragging them away from the games, but there was plenty more to see.
The monitorial classroom — which is massive — was great. We were taken through what life would have been like in there, and the children were put through their rote-learning paces. I ended up with a ‘be silent in school’ notice hanging round my neck (I swear it was my friend talking, honest) and my youngest got in trouble for the state of her fingernails (so proud).
There’s also a ‘gallery classroom’ where you can try out writing with pen and ink — which was great. My youngest and her friends were happily absorbed for ages, and it was great chatting to the volunteer there — who had attended the same local school as her grandfather and her grandchildren, as well as teaching there herself. To be honest, she was more like an exhibit herself — living history — than a regular volunteer.
There’s also the headmaster’s house on site, which a very friendly volunteer took us round. It’s been furnished as it would have been in the 1880s — including a copper in the scullery which apparently was used for washing clothes and boiling puddings. Again, a really knowledgeable, very friendly volunteer. Love it.
In fact, all the volunteers we met were all helpful and welcoming. In fact, my youngest — as we sat scoffing crisps in the little cafe — turned to me and exclaimed, “everyone is so very lovely here.” High praise, indeed.
The kids seemed to get loads out of it. They’d all done Victorians at school, at various stages, so there was plenty for them to recognise and talk about. And *ahem* there were quite a few things there I remember from my own childhood — the desks with the lids that you lift, those woodern primary school chairs, that sort of thing.
There’s a small exhibition just opened there, too, about the perils of the Victorian home — with the glorious name, “Don’t Lick the Wallpaper!” It’s small, just one room, but there’s loads of interesting stuff in there about the horrid chemicals that the Victorians used to make just about everything — arsenic in the wallpaper — and the ‘cures’ they used if you got poorly. Frankly, I’d rather have stayed sick…
It was a great place to wile away a rainy afternoon. In fact, we lost track of the time a bit and were there the best part of 3 hours — which felt like a bit of a surprise as it seems quite small, deceptively so, when you first go in. Good stuff all round, I’d say.