Schools of hard knocks: Georgian and Victorian public schools

Public schools in the 18th and 19th centuries exposed pupils to rampant violence and a 'curriculum' that left them sorely unprepared for the demands of modern life, says David Turner

An illustration of Rugby school

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

William Conybeare, the kindly headmaster who welcomed boys through the gates of the newly opened Liverpool Collegiate Institution in 1843, lived with a very physical reminder of the fact that Britain’s public schools needed reform. He monitored the establishment of the day-school, which provided a relatively humane education marked by a minimum of corporal punishment, through only one eye. The other had been lost in a dispute with fellow pupils at Westminster School, a place where, he remembered with some bitterness, Sundays had been marked by a total absence of productive activity. As a result, “we had nothing to do, and employed the idle time in reading novels or in quarrelling”.

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