Sunday, September 02, 2012

Beethoven St. School...

When John William Tate began his own experiment in offering manual arts in school, he was headmaster of the Beethoven St. School in Chelsea. Before his experiment he had offered counseling to his students and had noticed that nearly all were destined for jobs as clerks, book keepers and salesmen. He observed that the instruction of his school came nearer to "fitting a boy for the desk or the counter than for the workshop." Typically, along with those professions came a sense of scorn toward common tradesmen as being lower in social class and capacity. But as I reported in yesterday's post, Tate discovered that when children had the opportunity to explore their own creative capacities, they also discovered a sense of respect for those who take the time to cultivate skills in the manual arts. Tate, a gentleman in every sense of the word as you will read below, was inspired to purchase his own tools, build a workbench for his own use, and then attended classes in the manual arts to attain skills that he might better teach and set a better example for his kids.

This being labor day weekend, I plan to spend some time laboring in my own shop, but also reflecting on those who chose to bridge the gap between the working classes by attempting to illustrate the dignity of all labor. A portion of the History of Beethoven St. School was written as follows:
'John William Tate, the first headmaster, was held in awe by the whole school. He was indeed, in our eyes, every inch the headmaster. With his whitish hair and white imperial, sky-blue eyes, florid complexion, white vest decorated with a massive gold Albert, and tie held in position with a gold ring, he dominated the community. In winter he sported a rich box-cloth overcoat, gathered in round a high waist, then flowing on like a lady's dress to within a few inches of the ground.'

The parents were eager to send their children to such a school and, in 1885, the school made history. In the late nineteenth century, British industry had a problem very similar to its problems today. Having long been regarded as both the cradle and the engine of the industrial revolution, it found itself being surpassed by foreign competitors. The Paris Exhibition of 1878, where eight million people saw British goods outclassed by those of France and Germany, came as a particular shock, especially as France had been overrun by the Germans and in turmoil over the Paris Commune, only seven years before. As today, attention focused on the education system. It was here the fault was seen to be. One Manchester industrialist, Sir William Mather, expressed the general view in a speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science:

"--- the present methods of teaching in our public elementary schools do not satisfy the wants of the nation, or do justice to the children who are compelled to attend---"
The small experiment in the Beethoven School brought important changes for a time in British education... We can hope for something similar to happen again in the US.

Also, I am attempting to re-publish my out of print book, Making Elegant Custom Tables as a kindle edition. I'll let you know if it works. My first step is to scan each page, then convert it all to an editable pdf document. Then after necessary corrections are made, I will upload it to

Make, fix and create...


  1. Very interesting post, I wonder if one would be able to draw the attention of older students in the same way today.

    Actually when I was in high school in Denmark (called Gymnasium). The thing I missed the most was hands on classes. We had music and art class, but that wan't exactly what I longed for. When I tried to talk to my calss mates about it, it was a bit like the same attitude that you describe. It wasn't considered "fine" to do manual labour.

    Anyway. Tate is my new hero..

  2. Tomorrow in celebration of labor day in the US, I'll talk about Chenoweth. If you like Tate, you will love Chenoweth.