Great War Classroom – Guidance Document for Schools

Essentials on one page


  • The Great War Classroom Experience has been developed by Sydenham Arts as part of its commemoration of the centenary of the Great War.
  • It is designed to complement pupils’ formal learning about the Great War with a uniquely personal experience of what it might have been like to be in a classroom in 1916.
  • Each session will last one hour, half of which will be a recreated lesson of 1916, the remainder being a workshop and discussion to capture reactions and ideas stimulated by the event.
  • Each prospective participant should be given one of the recreated National Registration Cards supplied with these guidance notes as their adopted “persona” for the class.  The names on the cards are authentic for the period and locale but the personal details are fictitious.
  • A Facilitator will meet each group of participants at the event and will provide a pre-experience briefing.  The facilitator will be present throughout the classroom experience.
  • IMPORTANTLY no mobile phones or electronic devices are allowed in the classroom.  Any violation of this will result in the offender being immediately asked to leave the experience.
  • The classroom event will take place within a simple set brought bin by the organisers to define the space.  It is expected that the school will provide bench-type seating for up to 30 participants.  Use of modern-looking chairs should be avoided.
  • Up to two teachers should also be present in the classroom throughout the experience.
  • The recreated lesson will be conducted by an actor in the role of a teacher character based on a real person.   Mr. Charles Maddock Stuart was a real headmaster in South London at the time.  More details of Mr. Stuart and the actor impersonating him are given in the following Guidance Notes.
  • The Great War Classroom project is broader than the classroom experience itself.  Salient points emerging from the post-lesson workshop and discussion sessions will be captured in note form and added to the body of research information being accumulated on the project website.  It is hoped that participants will provide further material for this collection in the form of written work, pictures or personal reflections, either before or following on from the classroom experience itself.  Contributions can be uploaded directly to the project website or sent in any convenient form to the project organisers.
  • To maximise everyone’s benefit from the classroom experience, the following Guidance Notes offer informal ideas on how prospective participants might prepare for the experience or follow it up with supplementary activities.
  • At the end of the session, each participant will be asked to fill out a feedback questionnaire which will be collected at the time.




Background to the Great War Classroom experience project.

Aims and objectives:

Organisers and supporters:

What will happen on the day?

Brief biography of Charles Maddock Stuart, MA, F.I.C, F.I.E:

Brief Biography of Mike Tibbetts

Ideas for preparing to get the best out of the experience:

A new kind of war.

Ideas for following up the Great War Classroom experience afterwards:







Thank you for participating in the Great War Classroom experience!  


This guidance document is designed to explain the project in more detail and provide some background information on its aims and purposes.  It also offers some informal thoughts on how participants can not only derive the fullest benefit from the experience, but also make the fullest contribution to it.


The core of the Great War Classroom experience project is a re-envisaged classroom lesson as it might typically have been given in 1916.  The lesson will be “taught” to a class of up to 30 participating pupils by an actor re-creating the character of a teacher of the period, adapted from a real person: Charles Maddock Stuart, who was a headmaster in South London at the time.


The classroom experience is designed to complement the participants’ learning from formal lessons about the Great War, providing a uniquely personal experience of how it might have affected quite young schoolchildren at the time and how young people were expected to help the war effort.


The experience session is targeted to last an hour in total.  Half of this will be the simulated classroom experience which will involve some formal teaching in an elementary general subject, but also some discussion of topics relevant to the war: an update on recent military progress and discussion of how the children can actively help the war effort on the “home front”.


For the second half of the hour the participants will return to 2016 for a real-time workshop and discussion to explore what they thought of the experience, what ideas it stimulated in their minds and what questions it provoked.  The salient points arising from each of these discussions will be captured and added in impersonalised form to the project’s body of research.


To stimulate some preparatory thinking and discussion, each prospective participant will be provided in advance with a simulated National Registration Card with the name of an imagined young person from the Sydenham area, together with some very brief details about them. These are entirely fictitious although the names are authentic from the period and location.  They are simply designed to give each participant a persona within the event.


The atmosphere of the re-created class is likely to be very different from modern classroom experiences in terms of greater formality and less free interaction between pupils and teacher during the lesson itself: “speak only when invited”, etc.  It is suggested, therefore that some discussion with prospective participants in advance of their attendance at a classroom experience might provide valuable orientation and preparation to get the best out of the event.


Finally, it is also hoped that the classroom experience might provide the basis for follow-up work within the school curriculum to develop and expand on ideas which arise.  The tangible products of this follow-up activity – written work, pictures, notes from discussion with families and friends – could all be valuable additions to the body of research which is intended to be this projects long-term legacy.


Background to the Great War Classroom experience project.


Over recent years, Sydenham Arts has been active across South London in promoting events to commemorate the Great War centenary.  In 2014 it commissioned and produced a thematically linked series of four theatrical productions recalling various local aspects of the War.

In 2016 it is offering school pupils and the general public the opportunity to experience what it would have been like to be a member of a school class during a typical lesson in 1916.  Sydenham Arts have commissioned Mike Tibbetts, a professional actor and writer, to research and recreate the character of a real teacher active in South London during the War and work with production teams to design a portable reconstruction of a contemporary classroom environment with display surfaces, props and furniture. Classes of school pupils and also groups of the general public will be invited to participate in a re-imagined lesson designed and delivered in character by Mike Tibbetts.  The re-created character is Dr. Charles Maddock Stuart, a former headmaster of St. Dunstan’s College in Catford.  

The recreated lesson will be approximately half an hour of a formal lesson combining scripted material and improvised interaction with the attending “pupils”, followed by a further thirty minutes of workshop discussion in which attendees may ask questions or offer their thoughts on the classroom experience itself and reflections on the Great War in general, particularly as it impacted on children of school age and their families.  Salient points emerging from discussion will be captured and later added anonymously to the body of social research being accumulated as part of the project.

This pack of preparatory briefing materials is provided in advance to all participants to enable the pupils involved and their teaching staff to prepare for their attendance and maximise the value of their experience, either as a formal adjunct to their history (and possibly drama) courses or simply as an interesting extra-curricular activity.  A website is also available to allow anyone to learn more about the project, access information and organisational material and – importantly – to contribute their own thoughts, family stories, ideas and other contributions to the project.

In addition to Mike Tibbetts performing in character, each session will be attended by a Facilitator who will be fully aware of the logistics and requirements of group educational activities.  Where schoolchildren are the participants, it is expected that one or more of their teachers will also be present to provide support if necessary.


Aims and objectives:


The purpose of the Great War Classroom experience is to give participants, particularly schoolchildren, a personal opportunity to appreciate what it might have been like to be a school pupil in the middle of the Great War.  1916 has been chosen as the context for the experience, not only because it is exactly 100 years ago but because it represents a particularly interesting point in the war.  


By the Summer of 1916, memories of 1914 and the first flush of patriotic fervour after the declaration of war had matured into a rather different national mood.  It was now appreciated that earlier hopes that “it would all be over by Christmas” were totally unrealistic and nobody now had any real idea how long the war would continue.  Huge numbers of men had gone from their daily lives to fight in foreign territories, leaving the gaps in workplaces and family circles to be filled by the remaining population.  Women were taking on many roles normally fulfilled by men and – importantly – children were now seen as an important resource in defending the “Home Front”.


For this reason the Great War Classroom experience will not only re-envisage a simple lesson but also include a simulation of how the latest progress on the war would have been discussed with the class, together with encouragement by the teachers for the schoolchildren to become more pro-active in all sorts of ways to help the national war effort.  


The overall aim is to help participants appreciate that young people and schoolchildren were by no means passive bystanders in the Great War but made a very active – and vitally needed – contribution.


Organisers and supporters:


Principal organisers of the Great War Classroom experience are Sydenham Arts.


The project has received valuable financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund

The project acknowledges the valuable advice and assistance of Dr. Barry Blades, a leading social historian on education during the Great War.  Doctor Blades is also the author of a recently-published book on the subject of school education during the Great War.


What will happen on the day?


The simulated experience will take place within an area simply dressed to suggest a classroom of the 1916 period.  Obviously, period classroom furniture is no longer readily available in class-size quantities and it is anticipated that the school will be able to provide gymnasium-type benches for up to 25 participants to sit on.  If these cannot be provided within the school, please contact the experience organisers in time to make alternative arrangements for seating.


Each simulated classroom session will be supervised by a Facilitator who, although not actively part of the theatrical simulation, may be regarded as a helpful “matron” or “assistant teacher” figure providing practical help and liaison between the experience and the participating class with its real-life teachers.


The participating class will initially be met by the Facilitator who will provide any necessary practical briefing required (health and safety, fire exits, location of toilets, etc.)  The Facilitator will also assist with appropriate storage of coats, bags, etc.  Importantly, the Facilitator will insist that electronic devices of all kinds are silenced and left outside the classroom experience.


The Facilitator will then begin the process of orienting the participating children into 1916 thinking: no more talking, form into straight lines, quietly enter the classroom and take seats.  Sit up straight.  Keep silent.  Attending teachers will also enter the classroom and take their seats.


The teacher, Mr. Charles Maddock Stuart, will enter the classroom and begin the lesson.  He will introduce himself and set the scene for the experience, in particular explaining why the children find themselves in this temporary and unfamiliar classroom.


Mr. Stuart will then conduct a short formal lesson in a general and elementary subject (probably English grammar) followed by a briefing for the children on the latest development in the war.  He will then talk to the children about what they should be doing to help the war effort.


At this point, approximately 30 minutes into the session, the theatrical simulation will end and the Facilitator will invite participants to engage in a general workshop and discussion about their reactions to the classroom experience and what thoughts and ideas it may have provoked.  Notes will be taken of interesting questions or points arising in the discussion and, without any personal attribution, may be added to the body of research material on the project’s website.


At the end of the discussion period (about 25 minutes) a questionnaire will be passed out to each participant (including the accompanying teachers) for them to record their reaction to the session in a slightly more structured way.  The filled-out questionnaires will be collected and that will be the end of the session.


The Facilitator will guide the participants out of the classroom area and help with the retrieval of coats and bags, etc., after which, if necessary, will guide the group out of the premises.

Brief biography of Charles Maddock Stuart, MA, F.I.C, F.I.E:


The character of the” teacher” who will be leading the Great War Classroom experience will be based on the real-life person of Charles Maddock Stuart, who was the first headmaster of St. Dunstan’s College in Catford when it opened in 1888.  This is an initial summary of this remarkable man’s life and career.


On September 25th, 1857, two significant events occurred in the sub-continent of India.  The Indian Mutiny was in progress and September 25th saw the relief of the first 87-day siege of the British Residency at Lucknow.  On the same day, nearly a thousand kilometres away in Calcutta (now Kolkata) a third son was born to James Stuart, a merchant originally from Harrow and his wife, Mary Agnes.


Charles Maddock Stuart was sent to Harrow School in England and, in 1876, entered the Royal College of Chemistry at St. John’s College, Cambridge to study the Natural Sciences Tripos (Physics, Chemistry and Mineralogy).  He graduated top of his year in 1879 and was elected to a Fellowship in 1884 after undertaking a period of study at Strasbourg University between 1882 and 1883.


Choosing a career in education he held teaching posts at Clifton College and then at the High School, Newcastle-under-Lyme before accepting the headmastership of the new college built in Catford by the Parish of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East in the City of London.


Combining pedagogical expertise with strong organisational skills and remarkable personal character and integrity, Stuart made an immediate personal imprint on the nature of the school.  Personally modest and retiring but physically strong and active, he is reported to have led by example and presented a colourful role model for the boys under his aegis.  He excelled at sports, whether cricket, fives or golf and as soon as a scholastic term ended he would go off mountaineering or tour European universities to update himself on the latest advances in science and learning.


A single event typifies this remarkable man.  On a cold evening in February 1886, he was walking by a frozen lake in Stoke on Trent and noticed that someone walking on the ice had fallen through into the water.  A second man was lying on the ice supporting the unfortunate victim’s head above water but it was clear that both were nearing exhaustion and incapable of a complete rescue. Stuart plunged into the water himself several times and was finally able to drag the unfortunate to shore.  For this he was awarded the bronze medal of the Royal Humane Society.


During the Great War, Stuart’s approach was characterised by actions, not words.  The boys in his classes during that period recall his insistence of doing the maximum amount of quiet and unsung service for others.  He never talked openly about his own achievements and advised others to be similarly reticent.


Stuart married in 1888 to a Miss Bertha Marion Coghill of Newcastle-under-Lyme.  They had two sons.  The older boy enlisted to serve in the Great War at the age of 17.  He was badly wounded and died shortly after the war.  His other son worked in the Burma State Railway Service.


Stuart’s time at St. Dunstan’s continued until his retirement in 1922, by which time he has acquired the affectionate nickname “Old Mug”, had built up the school to 600 boys and was President of the Incorporated Association of Headmasters.  He was a member of the Institute of Mining Engineers, a Fellow  of the Institute of Chemistry and had several scientific articles published.


“Old Mug” died on November 22nd 1932 in South Croydon.  By his own request, his funeral was held in the Great Hall of St. Dunstan’s College but such was the respect and appreciation of colleagues, acquaintances and old boys for this remarkable man that the funeral itself was followed by a memorial service at St. Dunstan’s-in-the-East and later by a celebratory Old Dunstonians’ dinner in his honour.


Mike Tibbetts, professional actor and writer, has been commissioned to create the character of the teacher for the Great War Classroom experience based on, and adapted from, “Old Mug’s” legacy.


Brief Biography of Mike Tibbetts

Mike trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.  Over recent years he has worked extensively across a range of performance media, from film and television to live stage performance, both in the UK and abroad.  Most recently Mike played the unfortunate captain of the ship wrecked off Scotland in 1941 in the re-make of the classic film “Whisky Galore”, which will premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2016.  Mike is also a playwright, specialising in one-act plays, for which he has received a total of eight awards.  Mike is married with two grown-up children and divides his time between bases in Glasgow and South London.

Ideas for preparing to get the best out of the experience:


ID cards for participants

Participants will be provided in advance with a set of simulated National registration Cards giving them an assumed “persona” for the event.  Although the brief personal details on each card are entirely fictitious, the names were researched in cemeteries in South London and are therefore typical of the period and locality.  Perhaps prospective participants might imagine additional details to flesh out the life and character of their assigned identity in addition to the brief details supplied.

Fashions for choosing names for new babies clearly change over time.  What forenames on the cards seem unfamiliar or old-fashioned today?


Life without … ?

Prospective participants in the Great War Classroom experience might usefully think in advance how different life would be without most of the things around us which we take entirely for granted.

Imagine what your life would be like with:

      • No radio or television
      • No internet; no computers of any kind
      • No mobile phones; no texting; no social media of any kind; very few landline telephones
      • Little recorded music – people make their own entertainment, playing an instrument, singing or reciting “party pieces”.  
      • No motor cars, horses and carts common for delivery vehicles
      • Trams rather than buses
      • Most homes lit by gas lamps rather than electric light
      • No microwave ovens
      • No refrigerators – people preserve food by bottling, pickling or salting.
      • London underground railway only a fraction of today’s size
      • No foreign travel: most people never been out of UK except in army
      • No civilian aircraft; military planes still in infancy
      • No bathroom or toilet inside the house

Which of these would be most difficult to live without?

A new kind of war.


Unfortunately the modern world is only too familiar with global conflicts involving civilians as much as armed forces.  Prior to the Great War, however, most people in the UK only thought of war as a series of battles involving only professional soldiers in foreign countries.  The Great War grew to impact directly on civilians and the home life of Britain almost as well as on the fighting forces.  It might help prepare for the classroom experience if prospective participants think a little how sudden exposure to a whole new kind of war changed people, including children, on the “home front”.


Previous wars:

        • Fought by professional armies in unfamiliar foreign lands: civilians not directly involved
        • Only involved two or three countries
        • Fought as a series of set-piece battles of short duration and limited terrain.


This war is radically different:

        • Our main enemies are our European neighbours
        • Massive scale:
          • Whole nations involved
          • Huge armies and unprecedented casualties
          • Strains country’s resources
        • New technologies transform nature of war:
          • Zeppelins threaten civilian population in their homes
          • Submarines cut off imported supplies
          • Machine guns kill on an industrial scale
          • Artillery and explosives now massively destructive
          • Poison gas a particularly offensive weapon
        • Civilians dying as well as military
        • Unprecedented national threat:
          • Not just a battle lost on some foreign field
          • Potential destruction of British culture and way of life
          • Complete loss of British Empire spanning 20% of globe
        • Vital to galvanise coherent national support for the war effort:
          • Patriotism means jingoism: My Country, right or Wrong
          • We don’t trust immigrants (even royal family changed surname)
          • We despise conscientious objectors
          • We shoot deserters and cowards (even if they’re really just shell-shocked)
        • We believe all our own propaganda:
          • Our successes are true; the enemy tells lies
          • Our cause is just; the enemy is evil
          • We fight fairly; the enemy commits atrocities
        • Failing to do one’s duty is worse than dying


Ideas for following up the Great War Classroom experience afterwards:


Pupils will fill out a brief questionnaire at end of their session to capture their immediate reactions to the event.  These will be collected at the end of the session.

After their participation in the experience, schools are also encouraged to contribute to the research material being compiled as part of the project.  We would welcome contributions either uploaded directly to the project website or sent directly to the project organisers by any convenient means.


Contributed material might include:

        • Summaries of classroom discussions, before or after classroom experience
        • Written thoughts, essays, poems, pictures and drawings by students
        • Imagined life stories and backgrounds to ID card characters
        • Thoughts on cultural differences between 1916 and now
        • Thoughts on different treatment of girls and boys in 1916 schools
        • Thoughts emerging from conversations with families, especially the more elderly relatives




The Great War Classroom experience requires an open space sufficient to accommodate up to 30 participants.


The organisers require an hour to set up the classroom space and will bring in everything required to carry out the experience event, except seating for the participants.  We expect schools to be able to provide gymnasium-type benches (or similar) for up to 30 participants to sit.  If such benches are not available, then schools must contact the project organisers in time to make alternative arrangements.




Sydenham Arts

Helen Goward

020 8659 7911 / 07868 459 370

272 Kirkdale, Sydenham SE26 4RS



We hope that this pack provides everything you need to prepare for your participation in the Great War Classroom experience and derive full benefit from it.  If you have any queries please don’t hesitate to talk to the organisers via any of the contact points above.

We look forward to seeing you!