The Norwood Society


On a beautiful day in last July I had the pleasure of making an excursion from London to Norwood, for the purpose of inspecting a very remarkable public institution which has for some years been established there. A coach started from Charing Cross and soon whirled me a few miles down into the county of Surrey, and in little more than an hour I was at the end of my journey. The district in which I now found myself is, unlike most English ground, agreeably varied by gentle eminences presenting slopes in all directions, plenteously ornamented with copses, tufts of forest trees and hedgerows, while in very part we discover villages and Gentlemen’s seats nestling in hollows or scattered over the rising ground.

The salubrity arising from a varied surface, many years ago, caused this fine region to be selected by the Guardians of the London Poor for the rearing of destitute children who fell into their hands. These unfortunates were placed here at nurse in the cottages of the peasantry; afterwards they were collected into a large establishment at Norwood, under the charge of one trustworthy individual who contracted for their nurture en masse; it was this establishment, latterly under the care of the new Poor Law Commissioners, which I visited; but since the change of management just stated, which has been attended with considerable alterations in the mode of rearing the children, it has become the object of much curiosity. I found the Norwood School of Industry, as it is now called, to be composed of a number of large brick buildings in the midst of enclosed areas, the whole occupying the top of one of the swelling eminences before alluded to, and thus presenting an aspect of cheerfulness rather uncommon in pauper schools. The children, at present eleven hundred in number and of various ages from two or three to twelve or thirteen, are classed in two separate wards of divisions according their sex, and still further classified in their respective divisions according to age and capacity.

The present contractor and superintendent is Mr. Aubin, a middle aged man of that aspect which I am accustomed (being a stranger in the South) to regard as characteristic of the frank and upright Englishman*. He undertakes to pay all expenses in consideration of his receiving four shillings and sixpence a week for the support of each inmate: a rate which must be considered sufficient, though not by any means extravagant considering the excellence and copiousness of the diet, the comfortable clothing and lodging, and the extent of intellectual and moral instruction which is conferred. Mr. Aubin being a benevolent man, willing to engraft any improvement in his system, the routine of the estate was revised and remodelled a few years ago; on the recommendation of Dr. Kay, Poor Law Commissioner for the London district. It now serves as a pattern for the organisation of workhouse schools throughout the country. The great object held in view is to fit the children to engage with alacrity and ease in any species of useful employment to which they may be put on leaving school.

The main edifice consists of a very long schoolroom fitted with desks and forms and partially divided by green cloth curtains which can be raised. At each end is a gallery or flight of seats one above the other like the steps of a stair. Each child in a clean linen blouse looking very healthy and robust were given elementary lessons. In another class about forty older children were examined on Bible History, and there were various other classes. Outside there was a boys’ courtyard with apartments for industrial training round it: shoemaking, tailoring , blacksmith, tinsmith, there is also apparatus like a ship for training in seamanship under a Naval Officer. A similar arrangement for the girls ensures that they are taught reading, writing and sewing, and later on laundry work, cooking, serving, nursing and child nursing. The Medical Officer said that since the introduction of Industrial Occupations the health of the children had improved. There is also gymnastic apparatus in the playground.

Mrs Eades. (from Chambers Edinburgh Journal No. 398, 1840, included in ‘Norwood Schools’ by Rev. J. Brown, M.A.)

*Note: Mr. Aubin’s reputation suffered in later years!

The Norwood Review Edition #26. Published 1966.