The History of the Lambeth Ragged Schools

Beaconsfield is based in the southern (girls) wing of the former Lambeth Ragged School. Built 1849-1851 by Henry Beaufoy, in memory of his late wife, Eliza Beaufoy, the building was originally three times the size and cost £10,000, with a further £4,000 laid down for maintenance. [1] The following text, written in 1851, gives a description of the building and how it was used:

‘It is of oblong construction, in the Doric style of architecture, with a noble façade and portico. Its centre is elevated, and on either side are extensive wings – the one on the right being appropriated to the use of the boys; and that on the left to the girls. The centre part of the building consists of two lofty storeys; the principal entrance is approached by a flight of steps, and the whole of the exterior is surrounded with substantial iron railings. The rooms in the wings are spacious, well ventilated, and are at night brilliantly illuminated with gas, and warmed throughout by hot water pipes. The other rooms, of which there are four up-stairs [sic] as well as on the basement storey, are of smaller dimensions, and some of them are fitted up with galleries for the reception and training of infants and the more juvenile portion of the scholars; while the others are designed for the accommodation and instruction of the senior scholars, a girls’ sewing class, and a committee room. The entire building, including the out-offices and lavatories, with a large play-ground for each school, and covered play-ground underneath, of the same extent as each school-room, occupies an area of more than 6,000 feet; and will altogether accommodate nearly one thousand children.’ [2]

Site of new Lambeth Ragged School, Doughty Street (now Newport Street).
Watercolour by J.D. Wingfield.

The school was one of nearly 200 Ragged Schools (so called because of the ‘ragged’ appearance of the poor vagrant children that attended them) that sprang up around the country at the time, [3] although most were housed in much more makeshift surroundings. [4] The schools gave basic lessons and taught the bible, all free of charge, which helped poor children find work or emigrate.5

It is not clear who was the architect of the building. The remains of Beaufoy’s correspondence from the period include a letter to Sir William Tite, a respected architect of the day, [6] regarding the suitability of the site. However, there are many more letters between Beaufoy and William Rogers. Rogers, who built the nearby Lambeth All Saints Church (now demolished), [7] is the only architect represented in the correspondence as working with Beaufoy on the development of the building. However, while we can be certain that Rogers acted as surveyor, [8] there is nothing in the correspondence which explicitly confirms his role as architect.

The original plot was owned by South-Western Railway and had previously housed dust yards. Built in a recognised slum and industrial area, [9] the building on Doughty Street (now Newport Street) must have been impressive within its surroundings.

The building and land remained the property of the trustees until 1872 when the day school was transferred to the School Board for London, which used the building until 1880. [10] After a number of Education Acts were passed in the latter part of the century (notably the ‘Forster’s Act’ in 1870 and the Elementary Education Act of 1891), the position of Ragged Schools began to change as free education became more formally available. [11] In 1903 the decision was made to sell the site back to the Railway [12] and in 1904 most of the school was knocked down when the railway was widened. [13] Network Rail still own the freehold for the site.

When Beaconsfield took over the lease from the London Firebrigade in 1994, the remaining building was derelict. Beaconsfield worked with LKM Architects to restore the building and transform it into a contemporary art space. The building was stripped back to its original open-plan design and new toilet and kitchen facilities were added. Beaconsfield acquired the use of the double railway arch at the back of the former school building in 1998, adding another gallery space, whose urban aesthetic contrasts with the pristine nature of the upper and lower galleries. The arch was sandblasted in early 2005 and state of the art infrared heating was added in summer 2005. Works are currently in progress to link the lower gallery and arch space so that access between the two will be under cover.


The Lambeth Ragged School of Doughty Street (now Newport Street), Lambeth Walk.
Engraving from the Illustrated London News, 8 March 1851.


The Lambeth Ragged School.
Date and artist unknown. Source:


The Lambeth Ragged Schools (Girls), interior scene (before the School was moved to the new building on Doughty Street).
Engraving and article from the Illustrated London News, 11 April 1846.


The Lambeth Ragged Schools (Boys), interior scene (before the School was moved to the new building on Doughty Street).
Engraving by Smyth from the Illustrated London News, 1846.




[2] The description “comprises the substance of a statement which was read by Frederic Doulton Esq. the honorary secretary”. All from an article from Lambeth Ragged schools publications entitled ‘Lambeth Ragged School’, 1851. Lambeth Archives, IV/71/111.
[3] The idea for free schools for poor children began with John Pounds in 1818 and was taken up by, among others, Lord Shaftesbury, who formed the Ragged School Union in 1844. Source:
[4] In fact the Lambeth Ragged School began life in the (Lambeth?) Palace-yard, and then moved to a railway arch, before moving into its grand new premises on Newport Street. Source: ‘Lambeth Ragged School’, 1851. Lambeth Archives, IV/71/111.
[5] A newspaper report on the first annual meeting of the friends and subscribers to the Ragged School also discusses the issue of emigration to the colonies. Source: Lambeth Archives, IV/71/15, 8 December 1848.
[6] Sir William Tite (1798 – 1873) was an architect “best known for building the Royal Exchange. Became president of the Architectural Society, 1838. President of Royal Institute of British Architects 1861 – 63, and 1867-70. Member Metropolitan Body of Works. Fellow of Royal Society etc. Buried in Norwood Cemetery” (notes, Lambeth Archive, IV/71/1-132)
[7] Built 1844-1846, on Leake Street (York Street):
[8] Lambeth Archive, IV/71/13
[9] See text from the Museum of Garden History website, which describes the extent of the pollution and stench in area, created by bone crushing factories, the Seyshell Asphalt company and from the local pottery factories: It is worth noting the proximity of Doulton’s pottery factory to the Lambeth Ragged School – part of the building still remains and is now home to Southbank House on Black Prince Road.
[11] By 1891, with the second Elementary Education Act, free schooling had in fact become compulsory for all children under 11. For more information on the sequence of the education acts see:

page1image43624960 page1image43616896 page1image43628224