Ragged School Museum


46–50 Copperfield Road, E3 4RR


020-8980 6405



Opening times:

Wed, Thur 10:00–17:00; first Sun of the month 14:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Mile End; Station: Limehouse (DLR)

Entry fee:


Additional information:

Café and shop

Opened in 1990, the Ragged School Museum is the inspiring result of a local East End initiative to save three historic canalside warehouses from a proposed extension to Mile End Park. The warehouses were built in 1872 and used to store lime juice (hence the name of the local station) and general provisions. Five years later, Dr Thomas Barnardo rented two of the buildings (now No. 46) and added an imposing pediment to them for his Copperfield Road Ragged School for the children of the poor. Here boys and girls aged five to ten, regardless of race or creed, were given a free education, breakfast and dinner. By 1896 they numbered more than a thousand, with almost two and a half thousand attending the Sunday school, the largest in London. Even after expanding into No. 48, the day schools on this site were considered unsuitable for education and closed down by the London County Council in 1906, the children being dispersed to council schools, although evening classes and the Sunday school continued to be run here for another nine years. From 1915 until 1983, and the founding of the Ragged School Museum Trust, the buildings were used as garment factories and warehouses.

The ground-floor display presents the history of the local borough (Tower Hamlets) and the people that have lived and worked here. Snapshots and personal recollections complement artefacts, such as a model of the Bryant and May matchworks in Bromley by Bow, and a tiny model of the Great Eastern made by Bob Hamill, caretaker of Westwoods Engineering on West Ferry Road, where the ship was originally built. Pad hooks used by dockers to grip sacks of sugar, coffee and cocoa are typical of the items used to illustrate life in the East End over the last two centuries.

On the first floor is a re-created Ragged School classroom for 60 to 100 children from c. 1896. Painted in the chocolate brown and primrose yellow stipulated by Dr Barnardo, the room would originally have been lit by gas and heated by one small fire. Pupils studied reading, writing, arithmetic, recitation, grammar and geography and were examined at six standards in each of those six subjects. Teaching made heavy use of the blackboard and repetitive chants, with the pupils seated in ranks of wooden desks equipped with slates and slate pencils, the cost of paper and lead pencils being prohibitive.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


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