Time capsule unearthed

23rd July 2004 at 01:00
Staff at a Yorkshire school discover aglass jar full of Victorian memorabilia. Simeon Brody reports

Advice for schoolmistresses on teaching embroidery and a mystery about missing coins have been unearthed in a Victorian time capsule discovered underneath a Yorkshire school.

The glass jar, buried in 1891, was discovered at East Ardsley primary during construction work on a new building.

The jar, thought to have been placed under the Wakefield school by the original builders, contained local newspapers from the time and invitations to the school's stone-laying ceremony.

Copies of School Mistress and School Master magazines illustrate the different expectations of male and female teachers in the Victorian period.

For mistresses there are main features on the importance of music teaching for children and tips on how to improve embroidery and laundry lessons. The publication also includes an advertisement for the National Union of Teachers.

The magazine for male teachers has not yet been studied but is thought to focus more on arithmetic.

The jar included an inventory of its contents referring to 3s 9d which was supposed to be inside the sealed capsule but had somehow gone missing.

"The jar had been put underneath the foundation stone and it had a cork stopper. I'm just guessing that somebody at the time must have helped themselves before it went in the hole," said Jessica Bailey, of the West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Marian Bean, head of East Ardsley, said that when the building contractor showed her the capsule she assumed it must have been the one buried to mark the Silver Jubilee in 1977, until she spotted the date on one of the newspapers.

She said: "It sent shivers down my spine, it was like time travel."

The school, spread over two sites, is being rebuilt as part of a city-wide pound;32 million private finance initiative project.

But Ms Bean believes there are many similarities between the position of the school in 1891 and the present day.

She said: "It was stated then that the authorities thought that the existing building was getting too old and needed replacing. The cost of the new building was pound;5,000 but that was an awful lot of money to spend."

The school was growing to cater for the rapidly expanding village which was then a centre for cultivating rhubarb. Today it is expanding again, said Ms Bean, because of its good motorway links to nearby Leeds.

Also, when the 1891 building was opened the school authorities held a picnic - Ms Bean organised a similar event this year for the building's closing ceremony without knowing anything about the original picnic.

"The parallels are uncanny," she said.


The curriculum

1891 "The teaching would have been pretty basic," said Andrew George of the West Yorkshire Archive Service. "Recitation of times tables and spelling mainly." Reading, writing and arithmetic formed the basis of the curriculum but teachers would also give object lessons about topics as diverse as elephants, kangaroos and salt. Teachers would often have a collection of stuffed animals or minerals or other objects which they could bring into class.

Now The national curriculum, which has a strong focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.


1891 Blackboards and rows of desks with built-in chairs. Separate entrances for boys and girls. Victorian school buildings often had windows built high into the walls so pupils would not stare out of the window and daydream.

The school's two teachers would be assisted by pupil-teachers who could be as young as 13.

Now PFI-funded school with airy classrooms, a large assembly hall, modern library and IT suite. Contractor maintains the school grounds and takes care of security as part of the deal.


1891 There was no official school uniform. Girls were likely to have worn pinafores, dark-coloured skirts and blouses. Boys would have worn waistcoats and collared or collarless "grandad" shirts.

Now East Ardsley's uniform is blue sweatshirt with the school logo, white polo or T-shirt and navy blue or grey trousers or skirt.

School dinners

1891 There were no school meals. The school would probably have had a two-hour midday break to give pupils the time to walk home for their lunch.

Now The school has a canteen offering a wide choice of food including salads and pizza. Water is always available. Many children bring in packed lunches.


1891 Likely to be supervised play and exercises. Skipping ropes, hoops and cup and ball were all popular but children were probably not allowed to bring them to school.

Now The school tries to give pupils constructive activities and supplies skipping ropes and bats and balls. Children are not allowed to bring in their own toys because of health and safety regulations.

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