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Celebrations at the British Schools Museum...

(4th April 2008)

• Major improvements to the museum & improved accessibility.

• The launch of an important new local history book – Lottery funded.

• The 200th Anniversary of an important visit to Hitchin, in 1808.

On Saturday 5th April 2008 the British Schools Museum, in Queen Street, Hitchin will celebrate!

Media representatives are invited to join invited guests, the museum’s volunteer team and the public to “reopen” parts of the museum and to launch a new book and exhibition. The Museum will open at 10am, Festivities will begin at 11am. The High Sheriff of Hertfordshire will perform the ceremony; the chairmen of both Hertfordshire County and North Hertfordshire District Councils will attend. Two very special visitors are flying from Mexico to join in.

Over the winter months builders have installed a new ceiling and heating into the great Lancasterian Schoolroom, built in 1837 and now Grade 2* listed. The Schoolroom was built to the exacting specifications of educationalist Joseph Lancaster (1778 – 1836) for the teaching of 300 boys, the ‘sons of the labouring poor’ under the control of just one Master, with the help of some 30 ‘monitors’ – boys who learned their lessons from the Master and then taught other boys. Lancaster’s system was one of the most important milestone in the history of elementary education in the UK.

The original ceiling was removed in 1997 for the safety of visitors to the museum. Now, thanks to a grant from the British and Foreign School Society, with additional funding from the Friends of the British Schools Museum, the ceiling has been replaced, and heating installed.

Additional work around the site has greatly improved accessibility for visitors with disabilities, funded by the Landfill Communities Fund from Waste Recycling Environmental Limited (WREN).

These improvements have been made possible in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a visit to Hitchin in 1808 by Joseph Lancaster. Lancaster’s visit inspired William Wilshere Esq, a local businessman, lawyer and philanthropist, to set up a school for the poorer children of Hitchin. The school opened in 1810 – on the same site occupied today by the British Schools Museum – so the celebration today is the start of preparations to celebrate another bicentenary in 2010.

Saturday 5th April also sees the launch of a new book by the volunteers of the Museum - “Educating Our Own” which celebrates the work of seven Masters of the school from 1810 to 1929. Central to the story is William John Fitch, Master for 45 years from 1854 to 1899, when he retired at the age of 73.

His story, with those of the four Masters who preceded him, and two who followed, are told in an exhibition in the Museum. The book and exhibition have been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Local Heritage Initiative scheme.

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