About the British Schools Museum

Hitchin, home of the Educational Revolution!

Hitchin holds a unique place in the history of education as it boasts the world’s last remaining purpose-built Monitorial schoolroom. The grade II* listed building opened in 1837, but the school was founded in 1810, a full 80 years before the government finally provided free elementary education for all.

Educational pioneer Joseph Lancaster visited Hitchin in 1808 and inspired William Wilshere and a group of like-minded philanthropists to set up a school where children of the working poor could be taught cheaply and effectively through Lancaster’s ‘Monitorial method’, which involved one master teaching as many as 300 children in one large schoolroom.

At a time when Britain was still at war with revolutionary France, the idea of educating the ‘lower orders’ was highly controversial. Even more so was the fact that girls were taught also! Nevertheless, the school thrived as even the poorest families were willing to pay the ‘school pence’ to help their children to gain an education and escape the desperate poverty in which they lived.

The site developed and further classrooms were built in 1853, 1857 and 1905. Amazingly, the school stayed open until 1969 and then became an annex of Hitchin College. However, by the late 1980s the College no longer needed the site and it fell into disrepair. When all seemed lost, a charitable Trust was set up, the buildings were saved and a museum created.

So, here in Hitchin, you can enjoy the truly unique experience of visiting the ‘home of the educational revolution.’