Hitchin British Schools celebrate 200 years
A bicentenary of 'a place of learning'
By Ann Judge
In 1810 the first Monitorial School in Hertfordshire – and one of the first in the country – opened in Hitchin. On Saturday 20 March 2010, the British Schools Museum celebrated its bicentenary with a number of events to mark this special occasion.
The school, and others that followed, were for the children of the working class; in the early years of the 19th century there was no state education and no opportunities for the working classes to gain an education of any worth. Joseph Lancaster, a Quaker by faith and working in Southwark, London, developed a system in which one master or mistress could teach 300, or even more children in one schoolroom. He then came to Hitchin in 1808 and met William Wilshere, a local landowner and philanthropist. Wilshere then founded the Hitchin British Schools in 1810.
The events surrounding the opening of the school in 1810 were re-enacted by volunteers from the British Schools Museum team. Joseph Lancaster was played by Stuart Antrobus, William Wilshere by Ken Burton, Thomas Brand, Lord Dacre by Derek Wheeler MBE, and Thomas Dimsey who was the first Master of the Boys School was played by Graham Kingsley.
After a speech by ‘Joseph Lancaster’ to proclaim his system of education, everyone moved into the Monitorial Schoolroom to watch ‘Mr Dimsey’ demonstrate monitorial teaching.
Special guests included Lance and Andrew Dimsey, 3x and 4x great grandsons of Mr Dimsey, and the pupils of Wilshere Dacre School.