Guest article: Restored Victorian crane marks first step in facelift for Barnardo's Ragged School Museum

By Erica Davies | 02 February 2010
A photo of the outside of a museum on grassland

Erica Davies, Director of The Ragged School Museum, explains why work to restore a crane at the Victorian landmark represents the first step of important improvement plans...

The Ragged School Museum has provided a unique insight into Thomas Barnardo’s philanthropic heroics in the East End since it opened in 1989.

It’s a fascinating and moving place to visit – Dr Barnardo brought hope to thousands of Victorian children for 30 years after opening the school in 1877, and the Samson post crane is one of the original features from the front of Copperfield Road, which is Grade II-listed.

One of the illustrations in Dr Barnardo's journal, Night and Day, shows two of the cranes. They were essential for the 19th century warehouses these buildings had been, but redundant in a school for impoverished children.

A photo of the outside of a tall brick warehouse

The building was originally a set of warehouses

At the time, during a bitterly cold winter in 1879, the school provided 7,000 meals to rows of boys, shown seated at their desks tucking into the hot dinners.

The school closed in 1908, but the buildings went on to survive Luftwaffe bombings and visits from Hell's Angels, spending 30 years as a factory for the famous Lewis Leathers Highwayman brand.

A photo of two workmen on a crane repairing the outside of a brick building

The cranes were essential for the original purpose of the site

Last November one of the Museum trustees organised a fundraising dinner to pay for a survey of the buildings as the first step to a major redevelopment. When the survey took place, in January, fixing the crane was identified as the most urgent repair needed.

With generous grants from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and the Iron Ironmongers' Company, the Museum commissioned Ian Clark, an expert on the conservation of historic metalwork. His job was to remove the crane and rebuild the top fixing from fragments, helped by enthusiasts from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

A photo of a small door at the back of a brick building with graffiti on it

Museum officials have been raising funds for refurbishments

It was a huge relief when the crane was hoisted back into place just before Christmas, just before the arrival of a blizzard of epic proportions. Now the Museum is building on the campaign to try and bring more of the building into public use and increase revenues.

We've got a fully-equipped Victorian classroom with wooden desks, a blackboard and writing slates, recreated from original descriptions, and with more exhibition space the Museum will be able to reveal even more about Dr Barnardo's tireless work in London's East End.

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