A trip back in time to Victorian London

ASL’s founder and first head of school, Stephen L. Eckard (ASL 1951–71), famously decreed that all ASL students should take a field trip at least once a week. And every venue that has housed the School since its founding in 1951 has been perfectly placed to allow our students to explore the UK’s capital, taking in all the culture and diversity that London has to offer. Mr. Eckard was also known to drive the bus himself!

Today’s students are not so far removed from their peers back in the 1950s, when the School was growing swiftly from a single classroom in our founder’s flat. Thanks to support from ASL’s Annual Fund, students in 2018 in all divisions are still making the most of the school’s proximity to the rich history that surrounds us at every turn.

Grade 3 students at ASL are learning about Victorian London as part of their social studies classes, and took part in a number of activities outside the classroom to supplement their studies.

On Tuesday-Wednesday, 6-7 March, all four classes took turns traveling down to Southwark to take part in a special Victorian walking tour field trip.

Guided by Kim Dewdney, a Blue Badge Guide from the Institute of Tourist Guiding, students visited places of interest from the Victorian era.

The tour began outside the ruins of the Marshalsea Prison walls. Students discussed some of the Victorian era’s most famous figures—"Charlotte Bronte! Anthony Ashley Cooper! Joseph Swan!"—until they got to Charles Dickens. They learned that Charles’ father, John Dickens, was incarcerated in that very prison for debt in 1824; a story that became the inspiration for Charles' novel, Little Dorrit. “I felt angry when Kim told us that if you owed money, you went to prison!” exclaimed Elise ’27.

The walk continued on to the Red Cross Garden, an award-winning park honoring the original Victorian layout of the surrounding cottages. It was on this very spot, students were told, that social reformer Octavia Hill built the properties and garden in 1886 to demonstrate the importance of improving housing for the poor, and the need for meaningful occupation for poor workers.

The next topic on the agenda was education. Kim led the group to the Mint & Gospel Lighthouse Mission, known as ‘the ragged school’ to locals, to share the story of Lord Shaftesbury.

Students squealed and squirmed as they learned how children their age would be sent to work in factories in dangerous conditions, until Shaftesbury, president of the Ragged School Union, pursued changes in legislation to take children out of the factories and into education instead.

Next stop was a railway bridge, to learn about steam trains; the River Thames, to learn how Joseph Bazalgette revolutionized the London sewage network; and an old Victorian property, to discuss the life of Charles Booth and his pioneering investigation into the living and working conditions of residents of London.

When asked how they felt about what they’d learned about Londoners during the Victorian era, Kyrah ’27 explained, “I felt sad for them, I wish I could have helped them. I couldn’t help but notice the horrible conditions people lived in.” Devin ’27 commented, “I felt bad for people who got cholera from the water in the Thames, and for the poor children who had dangerous jobs. I’m glad I don’t live in the Victorian times and that I live in the modern age!”

Talia ’27 agreed, “I’m so happy that I was born in 2009 and not in Victorian times!"

Ariana ’27 summed up the day by saying “I felt sad because all of these children had hard lives, but I also felt grateful that there were people who helped a lot. It was good that Kim could tell us about all of this, and that we could learn lots!"

“The walking tour is a great way to complement the students’ learning,” explained Grade 3 teacher Nancy Lau. “They began by studying British history, then focused on London, and now the focus is on the Victorian time period—we’re currently discussing whose stories are (and aren’t) told from this era. We find that, historically, the rich have always been the ones writing the history books, and perhaps not everyone’s stories are being told, so it’s important to seek those out.”

On Thursday, 8 March, there was a special treat in store for Grade 3 students and teachers. LS Technology Coordinator Peter Cassidy, supported by faculty members from the art and music teams, put on a special ‘Victorian Hour’ presentation with students, to share how their Victorian studies have traversed departments.

Supported by K-12 Visual Arts Department Head Luchy Harrold, a group of students proudly displayed some Victorian optical illusion artwork to their peers, while others led the way into a group singalong of ‘Daisy Bell’ and ‘I’m Called Little Buttercup’ with performing arts teacher Bronagh Coakley.

Students were also treated to a piano performance from high school math teacher Doug Poggioli, who played his favorite piece of Victorian music.

The icing on the cake, however, was a special visit from Jack Fawdry, from Pollock’s Toy Museum.

Founded by his grandmother, Marguerite Fawdry, during the 1950s, the Fitzrovia-based museum displays a broad collection of Victorian toys, including dolls, teddy bears, puppets and soldiers.

Jack brought in a selection of toys to share with Grade 3, and the students took great delight in asking questions about the age, name and history of each one.

A huge thank you to the Grade 3 students, faculty and staff for the wonderful history lesson!