Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

A Trip Back in Time

Shoshana R. Meiri

I grip the sides of my narrow wooden-slatted seat on the second floor of a glossy cream-and-red tram. A bell jingles — and we’re off, gliding between the tram tracks. I feel like we’ve meandered over a hundred years back in time, as we rumble toward the old Victorian schoolhouse at Beamish, an amazing open-air museum about half an hour’s drive from Gateshead, where different aspects of Victorian and Edwardian England come to life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The tram stops at the Victorian school, built in 1891. Come and peek: a low, gray-and-black stone building with tall, paned windows and separate entrances with “Boys” and “Girls” engraved in the stone. Although boys and girls learned in the same classrooms, they would keep apart; they’d be seated at different tables in the classroom, and they lined up separately outside the school and entered via different doorways.

In one classroom, about the size of an average classroom today, we see rows of glossy, wooden desks with benches. Over ninety children, ages seven to eleven, studied together in this room every day, with between three and five of them squashed onto each bench. They had one teacher and a teacher’s-assistant, usually a girl no older than fourteen. At fourteen (imagine — only two years past bas mitzvah age!), children finished their education and went to work. That’s if they were lucky — children from poorer families had to start work as young as five, to contribute to the family income. The desks for older children have slates on them, like small blackboards, and a lead stick to write with.

A coal fire crackles in the fireplace and Queen Mary, in an elegant gown and tiara, gazes sternly at me from a picture on the wall.

Lines of handwriting practice snake over the blackboard, with the date: Sunday 13th May 1913. “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” “Manners maketh man.” I guess without computers even those with poor handwriting had to make sure their writing could be understood!

Beside the teacher’s desk hangs a long, black leather strap. I turn to a lady dressed as a Victorian teacher, in a long, navy, flared skirt and high-necked blouse, and ask what the strap was for. “That was for smacking naughty children,” she says. “If you didn’t know your reading, or couldn’t do your sums, you could get the strap.” She points to a long, thin bamboo stick inside a glass cabinet. “But the worst punishment was the cane.”

I’m glad I didn’t go to school in Victorian times!


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Out with the Girls
Yonoson Rosenblum Another progressive revolution that eats its own
And I Will Glorify Him
Eytan Kobre Herman Wouk “made G-d a bestseller”
What You've Learned
Alexandra Fleksher Allow me to let you in on what school is all about
Going Broke
Mishpacha Readers Reader feedback for “The Kids Are Going to Camp..."
Top 5 Ways Jews Try to Lose Weight
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Gaining weight and talking about losing weight
He Soaked Up Our Pain
Rabbi Yaakov Klein A tribute to Reb Shlomo Cheshin ztz”l
Leaving on a High Note
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman And then it happened. I knew it would
Family Matters
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP Not the answers they teach in medical school
Play the Night Away
Riki Goldstein May we all share simchahs, no strings attached!
Fast Thinking
Faigy Peritzman How we react when we're exempt from a mitzvah
Baalat Teshuvah
Rachel Karasenti Don’t ask, “So how did you become frum?”
Confessions of a PhD Graduate
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When it comes to parenting, we’re always learning
Dear Favorite Little Sis
Anonymous I ended up wanting to be like you
Who's Making My Phone Calls?
Sara Eisemann Should I be upfront that I’m calling for myself?