Ancestry UK

Norwood School of Industry

The Norwood School of Industry was a privately operated residential school for pauper children located at the south side of Westow Hill in Norwood. The school was opened in 1821 and its proprietor/manager was Mr Frederick George Aubin. (Please note that Mr Aubin's school was a quite separate establishment to the similar-sounding workhouse school run by Lambeth parish which was situated on Elder Road in West Norwood. The Lambeth school is described on the separate Lambeth page.)

An 1836 report on "Metropolitan Houses for the Reception of Pauper Children" by Dr Neil Arnott noted that the average number of residents was around 650, of which he observed that a "not inconsiderable" portion looked "pale and weakly". This did not appear to be caused by an inadequate diet — "the breakfasts were stated to be bread and butter, with warm milk and water, and twice a week, in very cold weather, milk porridge. The dinners, roast or boiled beef or mutton with potatoes three times a week, pease-soup twice a week, suet or rice puddings once a week, bread and cheese once a week; good table-beer five times a week; the supper always bread and butter with warm milk and water." However, when he "entered the great school-room, containing from 300 to 400 boys" he was "instantly struck by a strong odour, namely the concentrated breath and exhalations of the crowd of human beings." The school's ventilation was something, he suggested, that should be seriously improved. The heating was also inadequate — the boys' school-room. which was about 170 feet long, but narrow, was heated an open fire at each end, with a close stove near it, to be lit in very cold weather.

By 1838, the school had apparently expanded substantially accommodated around 1,100 children aged under 15 who were placed there by parishes and poor law unions from all across London. The school was now the subject of a report by James Phillips Kay (later better known as Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth) who was an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, and Secretary to the Committee of Council on Education. Kay was a vocal campaigner for improvements in the provision of education and industrial training of pauper children, and was a particular proponent of large district schools where the children from a number of workhouses could be educated most effectively. His report held up Mr Aubin's school as an example of what could be achieved in such an establishment, given the right direction. When Kay first visited the School he noted that the children were:

Chiefly orphans, deserted, illegitimate, or the offspring of persons undergoing punishment of crime, they are, in fact, children of the dregs of the pauper population of London, and have consequently been, for the most part, reared in scenes of misery, vice, and villany. Their physical conformation and physiognomy betray that they have inherited from their parents physical and moral constitutions requiring the most vigorous and careful training to render them useful members of society. They arrive at the school in various stages of squalor and disease; some are the incurable victims of scrofula; others are constantly liable to a recurrence of its symptoms; almost all exhibit the consequences of the vicious habits, neglect, and misery of their parents. Visitors invariably remark the prevalence of a singular formation of their heads; that the boys have almost universally coarse features, and that the girls are almost all plain.... and to the physical coarseness were added traces of suspicion, obstinacy, and gloom.

As to the school itself, Kay found little to commend it — the buildings were of a "very defective character", the teaching was carried out using an approach known as the method of "mutual instruction", and that:

The industrial instruction of the boys was confined to the sorting of bristles, and the making of hooks and eyes; occupations of the most cheerless description, incapable of exercising the ingenuity of the children, useless in preparing them for any future duties, and pernicious because they disgusted them with labour. The girls were taught to sort bristles, to thread the hooks and eyes upon cards, and were instructed in needlework; they also were partially employed in making the beds and cleaning the rooms. The recreation of the children was not encouraged by any systematic arrangements...
The schools contained only a meagre supply of the implements of instruction used in the National, and British and Foreign Schools. In these arrangements Mr. Aubin was guided less by his own judgment than by an estimate of what he conceived would be satisfactory to the various Boards of Guardians.

After instituting a number of changes in the school's operation, including the employment of a chaplain and the introduction of the "simultaneous" and "synthetical" methods of teaching, Kay noted many improvements. Abridged extracts from his report are given below.

To facilitate the adoption of the simultaneous method, the boys' school was divided into five classes, of from 40 to 50 children each; the girls' school into four classes, each containing 40, besides other classes employed in the workshops. In each class the children are arranged in four grades of desks, each grade containing 10 or 11 children. Each grade rises four inches above the preceding, so that the last desk is a foot higher than the first. The desks are each 15 inches wide; and each desk, with the space for the form and passage behind it, occupies about three feet. The four grades, therefore, occupy 12 fret, and six feet, at least, ought to be left in the front of the desks for the teacher; but the limited extent of the rooms at Norwood did not afford us more than four feet in ally case. Each class is separated front those adjacent by curtains, which fall from the ceiling, and which are drawn up by ropes adjusted as in a Venetian blind.
   Each school is also furnished with a gallery similar to those commonly used in infant schools, in which 100 children may be assembled for simultaneous instruction in matters requiring less technical proficiency than those which form the subjects of instruction in classes. The gallery is also employed for religious instruction, for serious moral admonition on any occurrence in the school, and also for instruction in singing.
   For each class monitors have been selected, who are chiefly employed in superintending the mechanical daily routine; that is in assisting the teacher in assembling the class in order, in procuring and preserving silence and attention, in distributing the books, slates, pens, &c., in superintending lessons in which moral training forms no element, such as writing and ciphering.
   Each class contains 50 children, and is furnished with at least one pupil teacher and a monitor. Two classes of 50 children each have, besides their pupil teachers and monitors, one teacher and one candidate teacher attached to them; the teacher instructs each class alternately, or both classes together in the gallery ; the candidate teacher listens to the instruction given in the gallery; or, when he has attained sufficient proficiency, occasionally assists the teacher in giving these lessons. The candidate teacher also instructs one of the classes at the desks alternately with the teacher, so that they are both always receiving instruction either from the teacher or candidate teacher.
   Under this method nothing is learned by rote, and the attention and attainments of the children are tested, not merely by requiring answers from individuals during a simultaneous lesson and at its close, but by occasional interrogative lessons at the desks, in which the children are required to make written replies; and the lessons on objects especially are tested by requiring the children to write on their slates what they remember of the lesson, which, besides affording a proof of their attention and memory, is an excellent exercise in writing, spelling, grammar, and the art of composition. The first and second classes at Norwood already write out on the slate with ease and accuracy the chief elements of the lessons which they have received in the gallery, and other classes are undergoing constant practice in the same art.
   The children are not allowed to read any combinations of letters which are not real words, and are instructed in the meaning of every word, and exercised in attention to the sense of the sentences of which the words form a part. The lesson-books are so selected as to afford useful information, and as the children advance in the school they are entrusted with hooks adapted to the state of their attainments. The "Reading Disentangled," of the Home and Colonial Infant School Society, is followed by Mr. Wood's First and Second Books of Lessons, used in the Edinburgh Sessional School, by the Class Reading-book and History of England of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and by other books of a similar character. As the children rise in classes in the school they receive lessons on objects, by which they are made familiar with the metals, earths, wood, and various animal substances used in industry and commerce; they are taught whence and how they are obtained; in what state; by what processes they are prepared for use in other branches of industry, and ultimately for purposes of domestic or social utility. They are made acquainted with the seats of various manufactures; the nature of the labour required in the various processes; the wages and condition of the artisans employed in such manufactures, and the causes of their comparative well being. Such lessons afford good opportunities of impressing the children with a sense of the duties of their fixture station in life, and the teacher does not fail to draw their attention to the consequences of prudence and industry as contrasted with the results of improvidence and vice. A series of maps are in preparation, showing the districts in which each branch of industry flourishes in England, so that their acquaintance with geography chiefly consists of a knowledge of the distribution of labour. The books read by the children also describe various handicrafts; and in the girls' school, reading-books are employed treating of the duties of domestic servants, in their various situations in life, as maids-of-all-work, dairy-maids, ladies' maids, nurses, &c.;
   The children are beginning to keep accounts of the results of their labour, as an exercise illustrating the utility of their knowledge of writing and ciphering, and accustoming them to the practical application of those arts. They will acquire further facility in keeping such accounts, by being practised by the teacher in writing and summing up accounts of the expenses of a household, and of the application of his wages under various circumstances, and in various situations. The girls are accustomed to make inventories of clothes, to write out receipts for frugal cookery. to make out bills of articles sold from small shops, and to keep accounts of domestic expenditure. The attention of the oldest classes in the school is steadily directed to the dangers, advantages, duties, and responsibilities of the station they are about to occupy; they are carefully warned against the causes of failure, and instructed how prudence and industry may best secure them from being overborne by the accidents of life. Singing is already taught with considerable success. Divine service on the Sunday is thus conducted with much greater solemnity and propriety, and weariness and languor are constantly dispelled from the workshops and school by cheerful moral songs, which give an encouraging view of the duties and cares of a labourer's life. The children sing in three parts, are instructed in the notation of music, so as to enable them to retain and extend their acquaintance with vocal music in after-life. Two of the best singers are musical monitors, and are constantly employed in instructing the classes in succession in the elements of notation. One half only of the period assigned to instruction is devoted to the lessons in the school; the other half of this period is employed in the acquisition of skill in handicrafts in the workshops. At present, the children are engaged six hours daily, alternately in the workshops and in the school: thus the boys employed in the workshops on Monday are instructed in the school on Tuesday, and are succeeded in the workshops on the Tuesday by boys who were in the school on Monday. Classes of 50 tailors, of 40 shoe-makers, of 3 or 4 blacksmiths, of 8 tin-men, of 2 or 3 ostlers, of 4 or 5 carpenters, and of about 30 mariners, are constantly receiving instruction, the members of each class being changed on alternate days. Boys under eight years of age are taught straw-platting; and basket-making is about to be added to the rest of the employments; and a field has been hired for out-door labour. This field will be divided into separate plots, which will be cultivated chiefly during the hours of recreation by the most deserving boys, under the instruction of a competent master. The clothes, shoes, tinware, and iron-work of the establishment are made and mended by the boys ; the horses are groomed ; and important assistance is rendered to the carpenters. A mast has been erected in the exercise-ground, by a pensioner, sent for the purpose by Lieutenant Rivers, of Greenwich Hospital, on which the mariners' class is daily exercised in seamen's duties; as well as in the naval and military drill, by a seaman-gunner obtained from the "Excellent" at Portsmouth, and in the management of four six-pounders, which are manoeuvred on the deck. They are thus thoroughly prepared for the merchant service. Gymnastic apparatus has also been erected in the exercise-ground, where the boys are daily trained in exercises calculated to develop their physical strength and activity, and to introduce regularity into the movements of so large a body of children, to secure prompt obedience to the directions of the teacher, and to maintain personal cleanliness and propriety.
   The moral training pervades every hour of the day, from the period when the children are marched from their bed-rooms to the wash-house in the morning, to that when they march back to their bed-rooms at night.
   The girls are employed in the household duties, namely, in scouring the floors, making the beds, and waiting upon the teachers; in washing, ironing, and mangling the clothes of the establishment; in knitting; and in sewing and marking linen. The special instruction of their school renders them acquainted with the duties of a maid-of-all-work, a dairy-maid, a lady's. maid, a nurse, and with the household economy of a labourer's family. Their attention is directed to the duties and rewards of females generally in humble situations of life; they are warned of the destruction that lurks in the path of apparently venial errors; the caution and perseverance requisite to secure their permanent well-being.
   The instruction of the girls in household work will, it is hoped, in future be systematically conducted, so as to secure habits of neatness, order, and skilful management. The care of young children it is intended shall not be regarded only as a casual duty, but as a source of important instruction. The management of the sick is to be so conducted, wider the superintendence of careful nurses, as to become a prominent part of the education of the girls.
   A kitchen has recently been prepared, in which the older girls are instructed in plain cooking, such as would be required for a family of the middle classes, and in such frugal cookery as would enable the wife of a labourer to apply his earnings in the most economical manner to secure the comfort of his household.
   A plain dinner is thus cooked by the girls for 15 teachers and candidate teachers, whose breakfast and tea are likewise served, and attended by the girls in this department.
   A frugal meal, consisting of cheaper but wholesome materials, such as could be afforded by a workman, is also daily prepared for the labourers and pupil teachers by the girls instructed in the kitchen. They thus become practically acquainted with many receipts of frugal dishes, which are made the subjects of special instruction in the classes in the girls' school, where they are practised in writing out these receipts, with the prices of the various ingredients, from memory.
   Mr. Aubin has six cows on his farm. These cows are hence-forth to be milked by the girls; and a dairy is about to be erected in his yard, in which they will be familiarized with duties almost equally useful to a domestic and to a farm-servant. The schools are provided with a library which, for the present, consists chiefly of the books published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and other similar publications. The books are eagerly perused by the most advanced children. A small cabinet of natural objects has been provided, to aid the teacher in giving object lessons. The apparatus of the school is meagre, being limited to what is absolutely indispensable.
   The children now at least display in their features evidence of happiness; they have confidence in the kindness of all by whom they are surrounded ; their days pass in a cheerful succession of instruction. recreation, work, and domestic and religious duties, in which it is not found necessary to employ coercion to ensure order. Punishment, in its ordinary sense, has been banished the school, and such slight distinctions as are necessary to mark the teacher's disapproval of what is wrong are found efficacious. Petty thieving, which was the daily and almost universal vice of the school, is at an end, excepting among boys recently introduced from such haunts of crime as Saffron-hill and St. Giles's. Nothing is now lost by any boy which is not soon found, and voluntarily restored to him through the medium of the teacher; whereas any toy or piece of money was irrecoverable formerly, when once lost sight of.
   A boy at 13 years of age, if trained at Norwood from the age of nine, would (besides the results of his religious and moral training, and of his instruction in knowledge suited to his station in life) be able to make and mend his own shoes and clothes ; he would be acquainted with the rigging of a vessel; with a seaman's duties generally ; be practised in the naval drill and gunnery, and in gymnastic exercises ; and would, therefore, be well qualified to go to sea, either in the merchant service or in that of Her Majesty's navy. Other boys would be able to make tin-ware, would be very useful assistants to blacksmiths, or to grooms ; and, ere long, it is intended to have a class of gardeners.
   A girl would, at the age of 13, know how to knit, to sew, to scour floors, make beds, and clean plain furniture, and she would have been accustomed to wash or iron clothes for six hours on alternate days. It is important that we should add to these qualifications some knowledge of cooking, nursing the sick, and of the management of a dairy.
   The habit of cheerfully prosecuting their daily labour, of whatever kind, would certainly have been acquired by every child at the age of 13.

Despite Kay's favourable impression of the improvements at Mr Aubin's school, he still retained fundamental objections to the use of private contractors and continued to support the use of publicly run district schools. In fact, the Norwood School continued in operation until 1849 when the new Central London School District was formed from the London Unions of City of London, East London and St Saviour, with West London and St Martin's in the Field joining a little later.

Initially, the School District's Board of Management acquired the Norwood site and after the making of alterations costing about £17,000, the school could accommodate 800 children. Mr Aubin was kept on as the school's superintendent, with his wife as matron, until his sudden death in November, 1860.

Norwood School site, c.1860

In 1850, the school was visited by Charles Dickens, who wrote an account of the establishment.

In 1854, the school managers debated both extending the existing school premises, or transferring it to a larger site elsewhere. They eventually decided on the latter course and a site was purchased at Hanwell.


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