• Katharine Alston

Deptford Ragged School: a film by year 5 at Tidemill Academy

At the beginning of 2020, I took the Deptford Ragged School Archive to Tidemill Academy, Deptford to run a project with Year Five. Together, we explored what life was like for children who went to the Deptford Ragged School in Victorian times. I worked with two classes, using archive documents to find out who started the Deptford Ragged School, why they started it, who were the children who came to the school and exactly where it was in Deptford.

The students were amazed to find out that at one time the Deptford Ragged School was on Giffin Street, the same street as their school. ‘That we are in [the same street] that the Deptford Ragged School was in, is awesome’. They also really loved hearing stories of children who let mice and birds loose in the school to cause chaos!

William Agutter, who founded the Deptford Ragged School was heartbroken by the poverty he saw in the streets of Deptford. Similarly, the children at Tidemill showed real empathy for the Victorian children who ‘went barefoot in all weathers, were so neglected that they didn’t have names - they were known by nicknames.’ This project caused the children to reflect on their own situation - ’we are very lucky to have an education.’

Using their research, the students devised two ‘ragged’ characters; Bella and Frank Jackson Tanner (known as Sparky to his friends). They used their learning to develop these characters, creating stories to tell the real life experiences of ragged children. The characters Bella and Sparky helped the children to understand the impact the Deptford Ragged School had on the lives of the poor; teaching them to read and write, giving them skills to get a job and even providing breakfast before they started lessons in the mornings.

The project culminated in the production of a short film. I worked with filmmaker, John Ford, to both record the children reading the script they had produced and to photograph their drawings. Making the film gave the students a focus for the project, enabling them to respond creatively, as you can read from their responses; ‘I really liked reading the script and recording my voice’ ‘I enjoyed drawing characters for John to animate.’ ‘I liked drawing Victorian children as well as reading the script.’ ‘I enjoyed learning about Victorian Deptford.’

You can watch the film below, a wonderful culmination of Year Five’s creative ideas and hard work.

I would like to thank the Merry Trust who fully funded the project.

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