The Past Lives of the Students: The Battersea Training School

Piling debts, imminent deadlines, exam fever, student’s life has its challenges but in all honesty- we have it made and it’s great to be a student these days. Rummaging through the archives I have found some interesting facts from the life of the students more than a hundred years ago, when the St John College started as the Battersea Training School.

BatterseaHouseExterior

The Old Battersea House- The college left it in 1920 to join St. Mark’s in Chelsea

Some of us find the morning routine harsh. When the first lectures start at 9AM, some of us are still battling sleep Supporting our heads with our laptops after the exploits of last night( whatever they might have been). Back then the first lectures started at 7AM, but don’t think you could ‘sleep in’. There was housework to be done and the students were required to get up at 5:30AM( colloquially known as ‘stupid o’clock’ nowadays.) to do various tasks around the house, just before breakfast. That was a part of the modesty training, that’s why there were barely any support staff.

‘The young men and boys performed among them the whole of the household work, including such tasks as sweeping and scouring floors and stairs, cleaning shoes, grates, knives and yards, preparing vegetables for the cook and making beds.’

Now we have groundskeepers, catering staff, cleaning crews and various other people to make our life comfortable. I swear that I will be extra kind to them just because they make such a good job!

We have great conditions to learn, spacious library, computers, cafeteria, and for campus based student, a private room in the dorms or the village. Our university is modern and comfortable, but it wasn’t always so.  An unnamed, student reminiscing about the time he spent in the school around 1860, said:

‘The buildings, the internal arrangement of the rooms and even the sanitation at the date left much to be desired. More students were admitted that could be accommodated… twenty or more of the first-year men had to sleep in the adjoining Devonshire House in the residence of the Vice Principal.’

We all know how important it is for us to relive stress that mounts from stuffing our heads with knowledge all day long.  It varies from ‘Wooo! Party!’ to ‘Hey! A new gallery exihibit is in town’. What would you be doing if you were a student of Battersea Training School? Most probably you’d be running around with a hoe in the vegetable garden in the afternoon or getting some experience in animal husbandry just before your first lecture. ‘…gardening and outdoor work was introduced. Cows, goats and poultry were brought which were tended by the students.’ To help with ‘the strenuous effort of application and attention demanded from them..’. Because the best remedy for overworked youths is…more work! 🙂 The only true leisure seemed long walks under the eye of Dr. Kay (Sir James Kay- Shuttleworth- one of the founders of the school, for us historically challenged), and even that was described as ‘not solely for pleasure but were also intended to cultivate their habits of observation.‘ No rest for the weary then!

Yikes! I will never complain of tiredness ever again! However, one cannot help but admire those who have gained their education in such spartan conditions. Some people may sigh for the ‘good old days’, but I am impervious to nostalgia and I am glad I live in the 21 century. Who knows, maybe one day somebody will write about how hard it was to hand in your coursework in person before 4PM on the day of the deadline:-)

Source:

Year Book of the Battersea Club, Sixty years ago at Battersea Training School

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