LONDON: Dead exciting: lessons i method of teaching. Mediadrumimages/TopFoto/Retronaut

By Alex Jones


FASCINATING vintage photos show children enjoying their school lessons in a London graveyard.


LONDON: Dead exciting: lessons i method of teaching. Mediadrumimages/TopFoto/Retronaut

 The stunning shots include children having a refreshing nap along the graveside, studiously learning in the shadowy nave of a church, and learning about the world through play and an illuminated globe.


Another captivating photo depicts youngsters sitting and learning with their teacher, seemingly completely unphased by the gravestones towering over them.


LONDON: Learning to read and write. Mediadrumimages/TopFoto/Retronaut

The sensational photos, taken in 1951, capture a day in the life of pupils at The Gatehouse School at ‘St Bartholomew the Great’ church in the City of London.


The unusual school was founded in 1948 by the church rector’s wife Phyllis Wallbank, with the school following the controversial Montessori method of teaching.


Educationalist and humanitarian Wallbank, who turned 100 last year, has lived a fascinating life and has been honoured by both the Queen and Pope John Paul II for her work with society’s vulnerable.


LONDON: The Montessori method of teaching encourages children to develop at their own pace. Mediadrumimages/TopFoto/Retronaut

 She set up the eclectic school in the post-war period which was originally housed in the Gatehouse of the church in Smithfield but moved to Bethnal Green in the 1970s. The school has always admitted children from the full ability range, with an emphasis on the Arts, including visits to museums and theatres, as well as sports and outward-bound activities.

The school followed, and continues to to this day, the Montessori-style educationa method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play.


LONDON: Unconventional methods are used to get the best from the children, no matter what their ability. Mediadrumimages/TopFoto/Retronaut

After growing tired of the limitations of ‘standard’ teaching methods, Wallbank befriended Dr Maria Montessori in the mid 20th Century and shared her view that experiential learning in this type of classroom led to “a deeper understanding of language, mathematics, science, music, social interactions and much more”.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who created Google, and Jeff Bezos, founder of, all enjoyed a Montessori education.