1930s: Open-Air Schools

Dec 4, 1933 - Pupils dressed for warmth at St James' Park Open-Air School

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England's first open-air school opened in 1907.  The schools gained popularity in the 1930s as a means to combat tuberculosis, a disease then rife. 

Children considered to be at risk of developing the disease - identified by stunted growth and mental 'dullness' - were sent to the schools. By 1937, 96 open-air day schools and 53 residential schools had been established across the country.

A 1912 publication, 'The Open Air School', had set out the blueprint for how such schools should be run.  The regime included vigorous exercise, rest periods during the day and a wholesome diet with plenty of meat, dairy products and vegetables.

Outdoor subjects included horticulture, bee keeping, natural history, woodwork and meteorology (schools had their own weather stations).  Academic lessons were based around these activities on desks and chairs in the open - assuming it was not raining.  

But by the 1950s, the schools had begin decline.  The BCG vaccine was introduced in 1953 and antibiotics became widely available after WWII.  Together with slum clearances, the Clean Air Act and the NHS, the threat of tuberculocis was radically reduced, and the schools had lost their imperative to exist.


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"On an occasion some of us will not easily forget, the ink became solid in the ink-wells, snow blown into the classroom in the morning was swept out in the afternoon, dinner was served with snow sauce, for there was no means of keeping snow out of the dining shed.”


Jun 11 1936 - 'Astonishing results have followed the introduction of a 'roof-top' schoolroom at Popham Road Boys' School, Islington. The schoolroom was installed last year to accommodate 30 backward and ailing boys. Records show that the pupils have gained in height, weight, and general fitness. The classroom is furnished with folding desks, blackboards, a master's table and a weighing machine. It has even been fitted by the boys with electric light. Mr A.W. Dean, the headmaster, is so satisfied with the results of the experiment, that other classes are to use the roof - top room.'

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“Vigorous physical exercise should precede sitting-down lessons, overcoats and rugs will serve to retain the natural heat of the body.”

 

May 26 1937 - 'The minimum of dress and maximum of fresh air and sun is the rule at the Bow Road Open-Air Day School in London's East End, where the pupils are revelling in the heatwave.'

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 May 26 1937 -  'Lunchtime at Bow Road open-air school. Fresh air has an effect on the appetite.'   (c)  Topfoto

May 26 1937 - 'Lunchtime at Bow Road open-air school. Fresh air has an effect on the appetite.'

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 May 26 1937 -  ' Physical exercise for the lightly-clad pupils at Bow Road open-air school. '   (c)  Topfoto

May 26 1937 - 'Physical exercise for the lightly-clad pupils at Bow Road open-air school.'

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 May 26 1937 -  'The lightly clad pupils at lesson in the Bow Road open-air school.'   (c)  Topfoto

May 26 1937 - 'The lightly clad pupils at lesson in the Bow Road open-air school.'

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'May 26 1937 - Pupils gardening at Bow Road open-air school.'

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1938 - 'An 'official' sign that summer is now here is the fact that the children at the open-air school in St James's Park are now wearing their sun helmets for the first time this year.'

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Sep 21 1937 - 'St James's Park school children take to blankets. Autumn has brought chill winds to London, and pupils in the open air school at St James's Park have sought refuge in blankets to keep themselves warm at the lessons.'

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 Text and curation: Amanda Uren