The Ragged School Museum is a characteristic building with a fascinating past. Situated in a Grade II Victorian warehouse by the Regent’s canal in London’s Mile End, the building was occupied by Dr. Barnardo from 1877 to 1908 during which time it operated as London’s largest free school for poor or ‘ragged’ children.
These canal-side warehouses, built in 1872, were once used to store lime juice and general provisions. They are now the only mid-Victorian canal-side warehouses left in Tower Hamlets.
In 1868, Thomas Barnardo started a ragged school at Hope Place, Limehouse. Ragged schools were free schools for poor children. Due to demand, in 1876, Dr Barnardo rented two warehouses (now 46 Copperfield Road) and converted them into the Copperfield Road Ragged School for children aged 5-10 years. Here poor local children received a free education, breakfast, dinner and help finding their first job.
Each floor was made into a big classroom with a fireplace, and the loopholes (warehouse doors) were replaced by windows. The basements became the playgrounds.
In 1908, the London County Council condemned all the Copperfield Road buildings as unsuitable for the education of children so the day school was shut down.
After 1915, 46 and 48 Copperfield Road were divided up. 48 Copperfield Road was used as a factory until 1983, with the last occupant making motorcycle leathers. 46 Copperfield Road was used by Jewish clothing manufacturers, rag merchants, furniture makers, linen dealers and finally as a government surplus warehouse.
Although only one hundred and thirty years old, the previous uses of the buildings seems to have left their mark. Over the last seventeen years there have been reports from visitors and staff alike, ranging from feeling apprehensive in parts of the building to the sounds of phantom footsteps.
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