Winifred Till: Education and Schooling

Miss Bowls's class in an unidentified girls' school Date: circa 1905 Source: postcard
A typical early 20th century class room


‘I became a very happy school girl. I loved my school. It was new and only ten minutes walk from my home. It was known as South Lambeth Road Higher School. The higher Grade giving it a status above the ordinary elementary school’ (p9).

By the time Winifred reached schooling age education in Britain had become compulsory through the education act in 1870. This meant Winifred and the working class children of her generation not only attended school up until the age of 13, but had a better education than the previous generations had.

Winifred makes it very clear in her memoir that she enjoyed her school days. She even makes reference to her school being ahead of its time, and being of a higher grade than other elementary schools, giving this public school a slight air of distinction about it. Winifred’s mention of this fact that her school was of a higher grade than others in her area highlights how she must have been proud to attend this school. Winifred highlighting that her school was ‘a status above ordinary’ (p9) tells us that even amongst the working classes during the early 20th century the type of education they received mattered. The working-classes valued a good education just as much as the higher classes. The education Winifred received during her schooling days must have been to a good standard as she tells us later on in the memoir of how she became a clerk to a builders merchant during the second world war, a job that was previously only done by men of a higher class than her.

Although Winifred enjoyed her school days she does mention corporal punishment and discipline in her memoir: ‘Discipline was strict at home and at school. Both parents and teachers wielded a thin cane that was always on hand’ (p8). Winifred also goes on to admit that she was a talkative student who had on a few occasions ‘been called to order with a smart little rap on the palms’ (p8). Winifred accounts one particular occasion of her naughtiness as a child that stood out to her as unusual, and that was of her scribbling all over her new work book. She describes this event as particularly unusual as this was a very badly behaved thing to do, yet she went unpunished. Winifred describes her fear at the punishment she might have receive, ‘how would she punish me I wondered. Would she shut me up all night in the big cupboard in the corridor’ (p8). Winifred’s fear of the punishment she might have received highlights how schools had pretty much free reign over how they punished children, as it was not until 1998 that corporal punishment was abolished in schools in Britain (Macclean, 196).  The fact that Winifred remembers this event so clearly being due to her going unpunished, highlights how corporal punishment was a normal and accepted part of school life for children during the early 20th century.

Other working-class memoirs such as Wilhelmina Tobias’s also touch upon corporal punishment as a normal and accepted form of discipline during the early 20th century. Wilhelmina even states how parents of the period reacted to their children being disciplined in school: ‘Our sensible parents left discipline in schools to those responsible’. Thus highlighting that parents during the early 20th century as a whole accepted their children being disciplined with corporal punishment in schools.



2-0763- TillW. ‘The Early Years of a Victorian Grandmother’, TS, pp.39(c.13,000 words). Brunel University Library

MacClean, Mavis. Making Law for Families. London: Hart publishing, 2000.

Burnett, John ed. Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of Childhood, Education, and Family from the 1820s to the 1920s. Abingdon: Routledge, 2013


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