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Education   Social Change   Innovation

in Deptford since 1844


Deptford Ragged School Archive

The Deptford Ragged School Archive is a heritage outreach project with a collection of objects which tell the history of the Deptford Ragged School and the part it played in the community of Deptford since 1844. 

Who we are and what we do

The Archive is based in the Bear Church, Deptford, and is being run on a voluntary basis by Dr Katharine Alston, who works in public engagement and learning in museums, with a particular interest in family learning. 

With such an amazing story to tell, The Deptford Ragged School Archive collection is being used to inspire and inform community arts projects in Deptford with schools and local residents - check out our project pages and social media. 

We have created teaching resources for Key Stage 2, to learn about the local history of Deptford in Victorian times. Children explore the collection and learn what life was like for children who attended the Deptford Ragged School. Check out the School Resources pages for free downloadable teaching resources.

We are gradually making the collection publicly available. At the beginning of 2019 a group of volunteers began to meet regularly to catalogue the collection and make a record of all the objects on our eHive page - that’s when we’re not completely distracted by the stories we’re finding! 


In partnership with Bear Cubs toddler group, The Bear Church, we were able to run a project providing for children in Lewisham Borough who did not have the resources to learn at home in lockdown in 2020. We provided learning resource packs and reading books for 1,394 children via Lewisham schools.   

Aims and Values

Our aims and values are informed by the history of the Deptford Ragged School which provided and championed education, social change and innovation in Deptford since 1844. We: 

  • Use the archive and the stories from the Deptford Ragged School to inspire community arts projects in Deptford

  • Advocate for children whose education is impacted by poverty.

The Deptford Ragged School?
The Deptford Ragged School was founded in 1844, twenty-seven years before the State began providing education for all children. It was started in a loft over a cowshed by eight Christian men and women as a Day School and Sunday School. As many children as possible were crammed into the rented room to learn how to read and write, and very often to be fed too. It was one of the first twenty ragged schools exclusively run for ‘ragged children’, so called because they were ‘dressed in rags’ with bare feet in all weathers.

In 1851 the school expanded to teach adults as well as children. In 1855 it got its first building after a running from a few different locations. From it’s beginnings in a loft over the cowshed to a stable and another over a skittle alley, the Deptford Ragged School finally settled in a disused chapel on Giffin Street. By 1862 attendance averaged 160 at the day school, 64 at the night school and 140 each Sunday.  

In 1886 the ‘New’ Deptford Ragged School was opened on Giffin Street, and the then Earl of Shaftesbury wrote “there is no institution in England more worthy of support than the Deptford Ragged School”.   

By 1914 H.R.H. Princess Louise had become a patron and, as part of the opening of a building on Hales Street, The Deptford Ragged School was renamed ‘The Princess Louise Institute’.  Following her death in 1939 Princess Louise bequeathed £1000 towards another building:  the ‘new hall’ which was to be built next door, facing Frankham Street. This hall was completed in 1953 and is still in use today.

The Hales Street building was sold to developers in 2004 but the ‘new hall’ is still occupied by The Deptford Ragged Trust and home to The Bear Church whose aim is to see it kept and used for the people of Deptford.

Want to know more? Listen to year 5 at Tidemill Academy tell the story of the Deptford Ragged School in their own words and pictures, in this film:

The Deptford Ragged School in Victorian Timesby Year 5 at Tidemill Academy with the DRSA

Can I View the Archive?

You can see what we’ve got and where we’re up to on eHiveHave a look at our gallery page for some previews!

Connect With Us
If you have any connection to the Deptford Ragged School then please do contact us with the form at the bottom of the page. We would love to hear any stories, memories, and connections to help us preserve the legacy of this amazing institution.


Thank you for contacting The Deptford Ragged School Archive, DRSA. The DRSA is run on a part-time, voluntary we will get back to you as soon as we can.

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