AAH the joys of packing the kids off to school again. Presuming it hasn’t fallen down over the holiday. Have they put on all of that new uniform you bought? And their new shoes? Remembered their dinner money? And not forgotten the one penny to give to the teacher to cover their reading, spelling and writing on the slate?

We are not talking 2023 here, when most children over the age of five seem to possess not only a mobile phone but a laptop computer too and no-one has a writing slate any more. No, we are talking 1850, when virtually every child walked to school simply because there was no other way of getting there.

In the 19th century Worcester had a wide variety of schools, but none made a greater impact on education in the city than the Lancastrian Monitorial School in St Martin’s Gate. This was the first day school for “children of the labouring poor in Worcester” and its establishment set off a spate of local school building.

The monitorial system was devised by Joseph Lancaster and so called because monitors, a few selected children, passed on to other children the simple lessons they had been taught by the teacher.

Although the method obviously had its defects, it made education available on a scale not known before. Lancaster, who was a Quaker and from London, visited Worcester in 1809 to speak about his ideas at a meeting in the Hop Pole Inn.

His address so enthused eight city gentlemen they clubbed together and bought a plot of land in St Martin’s Gate where a school was erected and subscribers could nominate children for education according to their subscription. Indeed it was called the Worcester Subscription Free School.

A young man by the name of H Clements was sent to Birmingham for a few weeks to learn the system and the school opened on February 23, 1811 with 352 boys on the register. However Clements proved to be way out of his depth and was soon replaced by Thomas Reynolds.

Unfortunately Reynolds oversaw a rapid reduction in school numbers and by 1820 there were only 162 pupils, all of them “children of the labouring poor.”

Other schools started setting up in Worcester and the St Martin’s Gate establishment began suffering financial problems as subscriptions fell. This led to parents having to pay ”school pence”.

These ranged from one penny a week for reading, spelling and writing on the slate to six pence a week for the whole curriculum, which included lessons in English History, Natural History, geometry, grammar, book-keeping, geography, linear drawing, arithmetic and more. All in all, today’s fee paying parents probably wouldn’t mind shelling out six pence a week for that lot, although the equivalent figure would be much higher.

The St Martin’s Gate School finally closed in 1915. It had lasted 105 years and the building itself stood until 1975 when it was demolished to make way for City Walls Road. There were no reports of writing slates found among the debris.