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  Lesson 1 

Learning Objective: To understand historical vocabulary
Knowledge, skills and understanding covered in the lesson:
  • Know that the study of history is concerned with the past in relation to the present 

  • Know about the characteristic features of particular periods in the history of British society i.e. Victorian times in Deptford.

  • Know the historical terms associated with the Victorian era

  • Be able to ask and answer questions about the past  

  • Be able to select and record information relevant to a historical topic 

Explain to the children they will be learning about the historical experiences of children living in Deptford in the Victorian times.


Lesson Overview: An introduction to the Deptford Ragged School Archive (DRSA) and to gain an understanding of key vocabulary


Introduce the children to The Deptford Ragged School, which opened in 1844 during the Victorian Times 1837-1901. 

Key initial question: Why are the Victorians called the Victorians? -Queen Victoria was on the thrown.

Ask children to write down any initial questions they have about the project, the era or the archive with the aim of being able to revisit the questions at the end of the lessons.


Main lesson

  • Discuss the meaning of the four words Deptford, Ragged, School and Archive. Children to takes notes of their initial ideas and knowledge about these words in the form of mind maps – children could quarter a piece of paper and put one in each section to record interesting information they acquire.

  • Provide the children with the information below for them ‘magpie’ interesting information about the new vocabulary. 

  • Encourage children to collect other unknown words as they skim and scan the text i.e. sanitation, squalid, rebellious

  • Children to add notes to their initial ideas and begin to understand what the Deptford Ragged School was and what the DRSA is


Class Feedback

 Children to discuss what they have learnt about these key words and share what they have added to their initial mind maps of information. Children to ‘magpie’ from each other to build on their class knowledge of the Deptford ragged school in the Victorian era.



Develop our questions. Ask the children to now improve their initial questions thinking carefully about what kind of open questions could further their own understanding of Deptford and the lives of children at this time.

Save these questions to revisit at the end of the topic.


Extension Activity ideas

  • Children could research other unknown vocabulary using historical children’s dictionaries or online children’s dictionaries.

  • Children could research the Victorian era and create a fact-file or presentation to develop their understanding of the period in history. 

Historical information and vocabulary for lesson 1 activity

Each year the Deptford Ragged School produced a report describing what had happened at the school during the year. There are many reports in the Deptford Ragged School Archive. This project uses these reports as historical sources to learn about the life of Victorian children in Deptford. Excerpts from the reports can be downloaded here. 


DEPTFORD: in 1844


  • Deptford: in 1844, very dirty streets. Too dangerous for police to patrol alone

  • There were said to be 30,000 homeless children in London. Many lived on streets or under the railway arches

  • Unemployment

  • Poverty

  • Poor living conditions.

  • Very little sanitation, very little sanitation, very little privacy

  • 10 people could be living in one room

  • Circa 1889: 1,300 people lived in 50 very small houses. (average 26 people per house)

  • Sickness & fever could spread very quickly

  • Some children had homes. Many homes for the poor without doors or furniture as they were used for fuel.

  • Name of Deptford made people think of unimaginable squalor (grime & dirtiness). 'I was never taken there and somehow was brought up to think of it as dark, dirty, common and low'

  • Very close, Friendly Street, to Lewisham and Brockley, where there were rich houses. Families with servants, maids and horse and carriages 

  • Children from the rich houses were forbidden to go to Deptford, their nannies were forbidden to take them


RAGGED: from documents in the Deptford Ragged School Archive we know that:


  • So called because they were dressed in rags with ‘bare feet in all weathers. Half-starved, half-dressed and half-wild’.  From documents in the Deptford Ragged School Archive we know that:

  • Some children were so neglected and uncared for that they didn’t have names, known by nicknames. 

  • In 1862 the teachers defend appearance of the children who go to the Deptford Ragged School. Our schools are essentially ragged schools, none are too ragged for admittance, everyone is welcome.

  • In 1900 a teacher describes a boy as very pale and thin, in a coat very tightly done up but he had no clothes on under the coat

  • In some families there was only one pair of boots. Son wore them in the morning, daughter in afternoon, mother wore them out in the evening. 




  • In 1844 Deptford Ragged School started by William Agutter and seven other men and women in a small room in a house. They crammed as many children in as possible into a rented room.

  • He was appalled by the poverty, conditions that he saw people living in and was particularly concerned about the children. 

  • Children were between ages 5-13.

  • Children were taught to read and write. They were taught bible stories on a Sunday. 

  • Teachers visit children at homes and see scenes of poverty and hardship/suffering, reporting that there is no fire or food in many homes.

  • Many children did not have enough food to eat and suffered from starvation.

  • In 1869 teachers report that they need to feed the children before they teach them. They feed the children bread and soup.

  • The children are often described as badly behaved and rebellious.

  • Classes were sometimes disrupted by troublemakers. On occasions mud and stones were thrown at the teachers, and mice and birds brought into school and let loose 

  • A retired policeman was hired as a doorkeeper to help keep things in control.

  • The Deptford Ragged School often provided clothes and blankets for the children and their families.

  • The Deptford Ragged School ran a sewing club for girls to make and repair clothes

  • The Deptford Ragged School ran a Boot Club for families to save up for clothes and boots

  • Grocery, coal and hospital tickets given out to those in most need. Hospital tickets taken to Miller Hospital in Greenwich for medical care. 

  • Hospital treatment needed to be paid for. The Deptford Ragged School also paid for a doctor for some children to give medical help to those who could not afford it. 

  • The Deptford Ragged School acted as an employment agency for girls leaving school and looking for work. Mostly going into service as a maid or servant. 

  • 1846 too many children came to the Deptford Ragged School so it moved to a larger room above a stable in Giffin Street. Now 80 children came to the school. 

  • 1851 began to teach adults as well, in the evenings, as many adults could not read and write. 

  • 1859 400 children were taken to a field in Brockley as a school trip/treat. 'To get some fresh air in the country'.

  • In 1870 the government introduced compulsory education for children aged 5-10 but did not enforce it. Generally, children had to pay to go to school.

  • Some children couldn’t go to school because their families needed them to work and earn money.

  • The Deptford Ragged School continued to provide an education for children and adults, teaching children who couldn’t afford school and those that had left government funded schools without being able to read and write.

  • In 1886 the Deptford Ragged School raised money to build a purpose-built school in Giffin Street. 170 children attending each day.

  • 1914 Second building built in Hales Street, called the Princess Louise Institute after its patron, Princess Louise, now demolished.



Similar to a museum, an archive is a collection of historical documents providing information about a place, institution, or group of people. The Deptford Ragged School Archive has a collection of objects that tells a story about the Deptford Ragged School. The Deptford Ragged School Archive is different to most museums as it does not have a building with an exhibition that people can visit. 


Documents= reports, photographs, maps, letters, diaries, school registers, leaflets and fliers. These documents can tell the story of what life was like for children who went to the Deptford Ragged School. 


However, documents cannot tell us everything, they are one way of gathering evidence. There are some things we can never know as we don’t have the evidence. There will be missing parts of the story and that’s OK.

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