Teaching practices in the early 1900s

Magic lantern slides

The Royal Pavilion and Museums has recently digitised a small collection of magic lantern slides that provide a glimpse of early twentieth century school life in Brighton. The slides appear to have been produced by the Municipal Training College in York Place, and probably date from shortly after the College’s foundation in 1909. The college specialised in the training of teachers, and these slides were presumably used to demonstrate teaching practices of the day.

Various schools

The slides are mostly taken from the York Place Elementary and Secondary Schools, and annexe sites such as the Pelham Street School for Infants. The images showing other schools are usually exterior shots, such as the playground drills in Ditchling Road School (now Downs School).

Disciplined environments

A lot has changed in schools in the last 100 years. These photographs all present the pupils in rigid, disciplined environments, and there is not a smile to be seen. While this has certainly been exaggerated for the camera, it probably represents the culture of the time.

Emphasis on practical skills

But what is surprising is that there is little emphasis in these photographs on the traditional skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. These slides show the teaching of practical skills, including art, physical education, cookery and manufacturing. It’s easy to think that early schools taught little other than the ‘three rs’, but these photographs suggest that this was not always the case.

Kevin Bacon is the Curator of Photographs at The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove. You can see the museum’s very extensive online collection of photographs here.

Comments about this page

  • Terrific page and I just love the photos. Always thought schools in these days were all about reading and writing – surprised to see them doing physical exercise – more than today’s kids maybe? Are these really from magic lantern slides? Would love to see more of them – what places or subjects does the museum have more slides about?

    By Susan Lloyd (23/12/2010)
  • Wow, what an amazing picture of the early 1900s: a hive of activity in a well equipped school workshop. With the manufacturing industry relying on a new influx of apprentices and practical skills being part and parcel of everyday life for most people, it’s what you would expect in those times. But notice the young boys working the machine tools – they do not have any safety glasses on and the drive belts are unguarded. This would have been a dangerous place to teach inexperienced boys metalworking skills. You can now understand why health and safety needed to be implemented in dangerous places like this. Another point about the workshop, and schooling in general, the discipline rightly or wrongly would have been very strict in those times, so it would have been easier to instil order in such a dangerous workshop environment.

    By Michael Brittain (23/12/2010)
  • This looks remarkably like the lower playground of the Downs County Primary School in Rugby Road/Ditchling Road, Brighton, which I attended in the late 1950s. Can anyone confirm? Alan Hobden

    By Alan Hobden (23/12/2010)
  • Thanks for the excellent page. I also was very surprised to see the amount of emphasis on subjects other than the three Rs. The images are extraordinarily good for the time. I hope there are going to be more contributions of this type from Kevin. I wonder what other little gems the Museum have in their archives?

    By Tony Mould (24/12/2010)
  • Glad you’ve enjoyed the page, Sue. We have only just started cataloguing and digitising the magic lantern slides, so we are only beginning to get to grips with this collection. They cover a wide range of subjects, from local views to exotic sites from throughout the world. As we digitise the slides, they will gradually be uploaded to our web pages. If you click on the link above and search for ‘magic lantern slide’ it will bring up a small number of other slides showing the Royal Pavilion during its use as a First World War Indian military hospital. There will be more to come in the New Year!

    By Kevin Bacon (24/12/2010)
  • Sure looks like the playground. I went to the school from ’71 to ’75 – my maiden name was Spears

    By lisa hobden (25/12/2010)
  • Yes, by looking at the picture – before reading the comments – I immediately recognised the area as the playground of the Downs School. I was there from 1951 until 1957, when I somehow passed the 11 plus and went to Varndean Girls School.

    By Averil Older (05/01/2011)
  • Great page looking forward to seeing more photos of that era.

    By Bonny Cother (06/01/2011)
  • Where’s my old school Elm Grove, Park Street? Both great schools - had a great time there - left at 15.

    By Louis Simkiss (12/01/2011)

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