Bostall Wood Open Air School
 RACS recreation grounds, Bostall Wood, Woolwich, SE18
Medical dates:

Medical character:

Open Air School

After visiting the pioneer 'forest school' in Charlottenburg, Berlin, officials of the London County Council (LCC) were keen to see if the same open air regime could be applied to ailing tuberculous and otherwise delicate children of the capital.  However, the LCC did not have the authority to establish such schools, so had to rely initially on private offers for a site and funding.

In May 1907 the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society (RACS) in southeast London was persuaded to offer the use of part of its recreational land in Bostall Wood - the 'Co-operative Woods' - for a first experiment.

Little building work was needed, as although on a damp and cluttered site, there were - in the midst of nature - two large sheds and benches.  However, a major disadvantage was the quarter-mile (400 metres) distance from the kitchen to the school area.  The open air meals will have been warm rather than hot.

From 22nd July until October, some 108 pupils were accommodated, with five teaching staff and domestic support.  School hours were from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., five and a half days a week, with three substantial meals provided, and a long mid-day rest.

The pupils, selected by their headmasters and vetted by medical examinations, suffered from anaemia, heart problems, lung conditions, pre-tuberculous symptoms or nervous disorders.  Many, perhaps most, were undernourished when they arrived - on average, they gained nearly a stone (3 kg) each over the summer.

When the experimental school closed at the end of October, it was deemed a resounding success, and plans were made to find sites for permanent schools.  These duly opened the following year at Shooters Hill, Forest Hill and Kentish Town.

Present status (April 2013)

Open air school were, by definition, light-footed on their environment, and a three-month experiment with minimal works have left no trace.  The exact site, therefore, is unclear but would have been within the northeast part of the woods, which became known as the Co-operative Woods.  Much of this area is now the Abbey Wood Camping and Caravan Site.

The RACS itself, after a long and distinguished history in progressive issues, fell on hard times and was absorbed by the Co-operative Wholesale Society in 1985.

Abbey Wood caravan park
The 'Co-operative Woods' off Federation Road are now occupied by the Abbey Wood Camping and Caravan site.
(Author unstated) 1908 Education in the Open Air. In: Central Foundation Girls' School Magazine 1,  338-340.

Franklin G 2009 Inner-London Schools 1918-1944:  A Thematic Study.  Portsmouth, English Heritage, p.70.

Harwood E 2010 England's Schools.  History, Architecture and Adaptation.  Portsmouth, English Heritage, p.57.

Jefferson EFE 1957 England's First Open Air School.  London, Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society.

Rose F, Blair R, Kerr J 1908 Open-air School, Bostall Wood (Plunstead).  London County Council.


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