Jun 11 1936 - 'Astonishing results have followed the introduction of a 'roof-top' schoolroom at Popham Road Boys' School, Islington. The schoolroom was installed last year to accommodate 30 backward and ailing boys. Records show that the pupils have gained in height, weight, and general fitness. The classroom is furnished with folding desks, blackboards, a master's table and a weighing machine. It has even been fitted by the boys with electric light. Mr A.W. Dean, the headmaster, is so satisfied with the results of the experiment, that other classes are to use the roof - top room.' TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com

By Mark McConville


INCREDIBLE images have revealed the forgotten open-air schools of the 1930s that aimed to combat tuberculosis.

TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


The stunning pictures, as revealed on the website Retronaut, show pupils at St James’ Park Open-Air School with blankers wrapped round them for warmth on a cold December day, a ‘roof-top’ schoolroom at Popham Road Boys’ School, Islington and boys exercising during a heatwave at the Bow Road Open-Air Day School in London’s East End.

May 26 1937 – ‘Physical exercise for the lightly-clad pupils at Bow Road open-air school.’
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


Other remarkable photographs show lightly clad pupils enjoying a lesson in the Bow Road open-air school, pupils gardening and children wearing ‘sun helmets’ during the summer months.

May 26 1937 – ‘Lunchtime at Bow Road open-air school. Fresh air has an effect on the appetite.’
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


England’s first open-air school opened in 1907.  The schools gained popularity in the 1930s as a means to combat tuberculosis, a disease then rife.

May 26 1937 – ‘The minimum of dress and maximum of fresh air and sun is the rule at the Bow Road Open-Air Day School in London’s East End, where the pupils are revelling in the heatwave.’
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


Children considered at risk of developing the disease – identified by stunted growth and mental ‘dullness’ – were sent to the schools. By 1937, 96 open-air day schools and 53 residential schools had been established across the country.

Wrapped up warm at St James’ Park Open-Air School.
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


A 1912 publication, ‘The Open Air School’, had set out the blueprint for how such schools should be run.  The regime included vigorous exercise, rest periods during the day and a wholesome diet with plenty of meat, dairy products and vegetables.

Dec 4, 1933 – Pupils dressed for warmth at St James’ Park Open-Air School.
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


Outdoor subjects included horticulture, bee keeping, natural history, woodwork and meteorology (schools had their own weather stations).  Academic lessons were based around these activities on desks and chairs in the open – assuming it was not raining.

Bow Road.
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


But by the 1950s, the schools had begun to decline.  The BCG vaccine was introduced in 1953 and antibiotics became widely available after WWII.  Together with slum clearances, the Clean Air Act and the NHS, the threat of tuberculosis was radically reduced, and the schools had lost their imperative to exist.

1938 – ‘An ‘official’ sign that summer is now here is the fact that the children at the open-air school in St James’s Park are now wearing their sun helmets for the first time this year.’
TopFoto / Retronaut / mediadrumworld.com


For more information see https://retronaut.com/