Prizes, Punishments and Pupil Teachers

Attendance Medal, Misc. 1169-1991

This medal was won – or earned – by Lionel Lehman in 1903. It is not a School Board medal, but, like Denis Delay’s medal, comes from a religious institution, the Westminster Jews Free School.

Westminster Jews Free School was established early in the nineteenth century, before the government provided any money for education. By the time education was made compulsory and school boards were set up in the 1870s, it was a large, successful establishment. In 1883 the school moved to a brand new building in Hanway Place, a narrow lane at the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street.

The school in Hanway Place as it is today.

Being placed between Bloomsbury and Soho, the school brought together an economically diverse Jewish community. The school charged fees to attend, but there were many scholarships available, and the wages and resources for teachers were overall much better than schools of comparative size in similar areas. These benefits came largely from the management committee of the school, which was made up of wealthy local businessmen and investors, who, it seems to me, approached the school as a philanthropic and religious endeavour.  This interest directly benefited the children. When the new school opened, the committee secured significant donations of maps, books, clocks and abaci. Staff turnover was low, teachers stayed for years and those who asked for wage increases always got them. When the school moved, the caretaker got a bonus for putting in extra hours.[1]

The medal in the Museum’s collection is evidence that the school had adopted prizes in line with other London schools by the early twentieth century, but they also had their own system of rewards that was completely different from the Board schools.

I was fascinated to find a financial report of the school from 1904 which listed the range of financial prizes awarded each year. The money was raised from a series of trusts that had been bequeathed to the school, and invested in international companies. The 3.5% interest gained was presented to deserving pupils. The prizes were:

The Benjamin Isaacs Charity Prize
Established 1876, “towards providing for the teaching and schooling of five poor Jews’ children from 6 to 13 years of age”

Mr Frederick Davis Prize
Established 1892, “to found a prize in commemoration of his daughter’s marriage. The prize is given to a boy and a girl in alternate years for general excellence”

Sir David Salomons Prize
Established 1869 “to provide superior education for a boy”

Sir David Lionel Salomons Prize
“Prizes given to two boys and one girl for general excellence”

In Memory of Gurtrude Moss
Established 1879, the “dividend to be applied in providing boots for children attending the school”

Louis Joseph Prize
Established 1885, for a “boy who most distinguished himself in Hebrew studies and whose conduct and attendance should have been satisfactory”

Miss Israel Prize
In memory of a teacher of over 40 years’ service, “given to a girl for Hebrew and Religion”

Ellis A Franklin Prize
Established 1902, with the “income to be distributed equally between a boy and a girl”

The presence of Sir David Salomon’s name on the list indicates the level of patronage that the school received. He was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, one of the first Jewish MPs and a founder of the London and Westminster bank. His nephew, David Lionel Salomons, continued that patronage. Members of the prominent and wealthy Montefiore and Rothschild families sat on the management board and supported the school into the early twentieth century. But Gurtrude Moss’s fund for boots is a reminder of the poverty still prevalent despite the occasional interventions of millionaires.

Hanway Place was behind the Oxford Music Hall. John Street was too small to be shown on this map from 1900.

Lionel Lehman would have been a typical pupil at Westminster Jews Free School. In 1901 he lived very close by with his five brothers, one sister, mother and silversmith father in a single house on John Street (now gone). Other households in the road included a French chef with his wife and a houseful of French waiters, and a German laundress and her workforce. Lionel’s family had moved every two years but he must have settled for long enough to make it to school every day in 1902-3.

The relationship between the school and community was an active one. The school published regular updates of inspection reports and exam results in the local Jewish press, made requests for donations, and sent letters of congratulation and condolence to alumni and supporters. However, the school didn’t always exist easily alongside its neighbours. There were frequent complaints about the noise from the furniture factory opposite, and in November 1902 one of the workers “molested and spoke rudely to” some of the older girls.[2] This episode in the school’s history caused conflict between parents, teachers and managers and produced hierarchies among the adults. The school reported the incident to the police and teachers were eager to pursue charges, but none of the parents would allow their daughters to prosecute. The school’s managers reacted with annoyance that they weren’t informed until charges had been dropped, believing they could have persuaded the parents to take legal action.

All schools were coming under increasing scrutiny in the first years of the twentieth century. The LCC asked for reports frequently, and inspectors could turn up unannounced. Perhaps in response, the school decided to clarify its policy on corporal punishment for boys:

  1. Assistant Masters be allowed to inflict corporal punishment… limited to one or more stroked with the cane upon the hand.
  2. Any graver punishment to be inflicted either in the presence of the headmaster or by the headmaster.
  3. No pupil-teachers are allowed to use the cane or inflict any kind of corporal punishment whatever.
  4. All cases of corporal punishment are to be entered in a book, strongly bound and placed on a table at the monthly meeting of the committee and open for inspection to any member of the committee.
  5. That the graver corporal punishment inflicted… should also be entered in the book.

I could find no reference to a similar report for girls, so I assume they weren’t subject to physical punishments. These rules reinforce the school hierarchy of pupil, pupil-teacher, assistant teacher, head teacher, and committee. The report would seem to legislate against the abuse of power by those lower down the school hierarchy. The emphasis placed on keeping record is also interesting, as it suggests the “strongly bound” and open book as a check to the spontaneous action of the headmaster’s cane.

Westminster Jews Free School closed in 1945, after attendance severely decreased. Corporal punishment, however, continued in state schools until the 1980s, and was finally outlawed in independent schools in 1999.


[1] Minutes of management committee meeting, October 1883. LMA/4047/A/01/004

[2] Ibid.

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One thought on “Prizes, Punishments and Pupil Teachers

  1. Sharpless says:

    What a fascinating piece of interesting facts. What drew me initially to the article was the image of the attendance medal. It looks beautiful in spite of it’s age or probably because of it. I’m just thinking about the contrast between the way of living between these two times, be it with regard to prizes or punishment. Kids these days around where I am in North York are awarded school trophies and medals for just about anything. There seems to be no more value attached to these anymore.

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