How Tuberculosis affected the Design of Schools in
St James's Elementary School was built in the clean air of Muswell Hill but
many London schools were in polluted air so that the children there were particularly
likely to contract Tuberculosis. Here is the story of how one London school
building, not so very far away, was adapted in the fight for good health in
the period before we had any of our modern drugs.
The Graph of Deaths from Tuberculosis
As described in the chapter on St James's School, Muswell Hill, there were 4000 deaths per million from tuberculosis in 1840. Slowly better living conditions, better food, and the cult of open-air exercise, reduced this but, by the time the tuberculosis bacteria was identified in the 1880s, there were still 2000 deaths per million. There was then no prospect of an early cure. The only hope was to feed people better and to give them fresh air, in the hope that their bodies would be made strong enough to resist the disease. This is why fresh air and exercise played such a large part in the conscious planning of child health.
The London County Council developed open-air school sites in Muswell Hill and other areas on the outskirts of London. Classes from the centre of London visited them by coach for one day a week, to work in open-air classrooms, botanise, and play games, away for a short time from the befouled town. In town, schools had lessons and exercise on the roof. This emphasis on physical exercise which would ensure deep breathing, was the other side of the coin. Exercise yards can still be seen on the tops of some London Schools.
An example is Queen's Head Street School, in Islington, now part of Islington Green School. It was built in 1884, on a long narrow site where there was hardly space to move.