Five-figure grant to fund Hitchin museum’s Joseph Lancaster exhibition

Andy Gibbs and Sam Mason from the British Schools Museum and the Lyndhurst Financial Management team

Andy Gibbs and Sam Mason from the British Schools Museum and the Lyndhurst Financial Management team stand in front of a portrait of education pioneer Joseph Lancaster. Picture: LFM - Credit: Archant

Hitchin’s British Schools Museum has won a £54,525 grant to shine a light on the life and legacy of a 19th-century education pioneer.

The exhibition, opening in February 2019, will focus on Joseph Lancaster – and the venue is apt, as the museum is home to the last monitorial schoolroom built to his design.

Lancaster, who rose from poverty in Southwark to bring education to the masses, was one of the most famous men in Britain during the 1810s but has now been largely forgotten.

The new exhibition will be entitled ‘Joseph Lancaster’s Educational Revolution’.

The museum’s Andy Gibbs said: “Lancaster’s story is powerful and dramatic. Our visitors will wonder just why he is not better known and go away inspired by his example.

“He understood that education is the key to unlocking people’s potential, an ethos we maintain at the museum today.”

The grant has come from the History Makers programme run by the Association of Independent Museums and the Biffa Award community fund – with the British Schools Museum one of five museums to benefit.

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The interactive Lancaster exhibition will include video, audio, tactile and performance elements – allowing visitors to explore on their own terms and discover how his vision and innovation changed the world of education.

Lancaster’s model was based around rewarding pupils for passing on their learning to younger peers, and spread as far away as North and South America. In schoolrooms like that in Hitchin, a single master would teach up to 300 children with just two books and without corporal punishment.

Museum manager Sam Mason said last month: “Joseph Lancaster was an extraordinary man who made a profound difference to the education of the poor, especially in Hitchin. We are so proud to keep his name alive.

“Of course, schools were much stricter and more basic educationally back then – but without Joseph Lancaster we wouldn’t have one of the best education systems in the world today. His influence has been global.”

The museum in Queen Street also last week won a £1,320 grant from North Herts District Council’s Hitchin committee for essential roof maintenance. The building dates back to 1837, and was a school until 1969.