ROGER ASCHAM Tudor and Stuart School Children

Nov 23, 2017, 01:19 PM

This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to

Roger Ascham was a famous schoolteacher in the Elizabethan era and so it is very apt that Milton Road Primary School is on Ascham Road. Roger Ascham was originally from a place called Askam in Yorkshire but he came to live in Cambridge as a student in 1530. He then stayed on when he became a teacher of the ancient languages of Latin & Greek as a Fellow of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge.

Ascham was well known because he worked for the Tudor Monarchs and was Princess Elizabeth’s private tutor from 1558 to 1560 (when she was between the ages of 15 and 17), but also because he was interested in improving the education of all children in England. He wrote a famous book about his theories of Education, called ‘The schoolmaster’, which was printed many times in the 1570s and into the 1600s. In it he argued that children should be taught up to the age of seven using the English language, the language they spoke at home, rather than Latin and Greek which was the language for international learning and royal court life. Ascham didn’t think learning Latin and Greek was right for young children – was he right do you think?

After his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII changed the national religion from Roman Catholic (where services were held in Latin) to Protestant (where services were held in English). There was also a new law that stated all children had to learn their ABC and Prayers – called the “Catechism” and that this would be tested at church on Sunday. This meant they had to learn their alphabet in English in order to know the Church of England prayers.

Now it wasn’t just rich people who were learning to read (taught by private tutors at home) but children from ordinary families learning from their local church minister or at school. These schools were often called ‘dame schools’ if the teacher was a woman and ‘petty schools’ if the teacher was a man. Both boys and girls went to these schools which were often held in the church porch or the teacher’s front room rather than a specially designed classroom.

The starter book for children in Tudor and Stuart times was called the Hornbook because it was a piece of paper with the Alphabet and Lord’s Prayer stuck on a wooden paddle, and pinned under a piece of animal horn, looking a bit like a square version of a table tennis bat. The children learnt all their classes by rote, sounding out vowels and phrases aloud, (never reading silently), so schools were noisy places! They had a long school day from 7am to 5pm in winter and 6am to 4pm in summer. Pupils were given soup called pottage before they started school, and the same at lunchtime. Pottage was made of oats or barley, so it was a bit like having porridge, to keep children fuelled for their school day. Their main meal at 6pm would be pottage again with bread and possibly with the addition of peas or meat or cheese to fill them up before bed!

Most children were poor and so they left school aged seven to go to work. Boys and girls could earn pennies for their families working as cleaners, and doing farm work like running around the fields to scare crows away from the crops, feeding chickens, looking after sheep, or collecting wool & spinning it. Because writing was, traditionally, only taught from the age of seven upwards many children learnt to read but never learnt to write. From the age of 7, if you were lucky, you went to grammar school where you not only learnt to write using a quill a...