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Case Study: Exploring Almshouses at the Geffrye Museum

Date Posted: 17/09/2014

Schools: Woodside Primary Academy, Elizabeth Selby Infants School, Randall Cremer Primary School
KS: 1 and 2
Venue: The Geffrye Museum, London

Pupils from primary schools across east London were invited to celebrate the tri-centenary of the Geffrye Almshouses in London and to learn about their local History and Sir Robert Geffrye during its Schools’ Special Week. Education officer Hazel, told us more.

Sir Geffrye bequeathed money to have the almshouses built and was a former Lord Mayor of London in the 17th century and a leading figure in the ironmongers’ guild.

It’s a special time for the Geffrye - as well as celebrating its tri-centenary we are also celebrating its 100th anniversary as a museum.

The Geffrye also wanted to address changes to the National Curriculum and offer a session based on local History and important figures in History.

For the first time the Geffrye opened its 18th century restored Almshouse to schools.

The children spent a day travelling back in time to learn about Sir Robert Geffrye and life in the 18th Century for the pensioners who lived in the Almshouse.

Multisensory learning sessions

The day was divided into exploratory, multisensory learning sessions: The children looked at caricature drawings from a diary kept by Ernest Baker, the son of the Almshouse Warden, a young boy who lived in the Almshouse and played tricks on the pensioners as well as capturing them in his drawings.

The children dressed up as the pensioners, Sir Robert Geffrye and his wife. They then role-played and character profiled them before recording their drawings and caricatures in their own diaries.

The children developed their understanding of 18th century lives of the almspeople by investigating a range of 18th century artefacts and objects from our handling collection such as a tinder box, tallow candles and a besom broom.

They investigated the objects through first-hand opportunities such as touching and using the objects and through use of open-ended questions; they then presented their findings to their classmates.

Pupils also learned about the very strict rules the pensioners had to obey, such as a curfew and fines for using bad language and not keeping their rooms tidy.

The children rolled their own beeswax candle after discovering that candles were often made from the fat from animals (tallow) often left over meat, which was very smelly when burned or beeswax which was very expensive for the pensioners. 

The children also visited the museum’s walled herb garden and mixed lavender, tansy, marjoram and soapwort in a pestle and mortar to make ‘washing water’ the almspeople would have used the water to clean their clothes as soap was very expensive and only used to wash their bodies.

Wigs and all

Pupils learned about the fashions of the 18th century, including the types of periwigs men wore, (like Sir Robert Geffrye).

These wigs were often made from human hair or horse hair, they were as much a statement of fashion and wealth as an aid for hygiene.

The children made their very own paper wig and paraded them to the music of Handel.

The day was a great experience, the children left with a solid understanding of what life was like for the pensioners of the almshouse as each session gave the children an opportunity to consolidate their learning.

More importantly the children all put their thumbs up when asked if they had a fun time. One teacher even said it was the: “Best school trip I’ve been on!”

Next year in July 2015 our Schools’ Special week will be commemorating the centenary of World War One, we will provide a taught session, object handling and art activities.

‘Exploring Almshouses’ is available for schools to book in the summer term 2015.

The Geffrye Museum also runs an extensive school programme throughout the year, visit for more information.

School Travel Organiser's Guide