George Widdows' revolutionary Derbyshire school designs

In the early 1900s architect George H Widdows designed Derbyshire schools that were unrivalled in Europe or the United States. His designs changed school buildings forever.

Derbyshire County Council staff (1928) by Panora LtdDerbyshire Record Office

About George Widdows

Architect George Widdows was born in Norwich in 1871.  In 1904 he joined Derbyshire County Council, becoming Chief Architect in 1910. By his retirement in 1936, 77 schools had been built in Derbyshire following his revolutionary principles in school design.

Tupton Boys' School Standard Class 3 (1890) by UnknownDerbyshire Record Office

Schools before George Widdows

Compulsory education began in England in 1870 but purpose-built schools were often cramped and poorly ventilated.  In the early 1900s public health began to focus on school hygiene.  A new kind of school was needed.

Plan of junior school at Dronfield, Derbyshire (1925) by George H WiddowsDerbyshire Record Office

A school revolution

Working in partnership with Derbyshire's Medical Officer of Health, Widdows introduced new building features to the county's schools, with children's health in mind.

Healthy schools

In this example, large airy classrooms surround a central courtyard which provides green space at the heart of the school. A key part of Widdows' design was to have windows on both sides of the classroom to get as much sun and ventilation as possible.

Around the courtyard, a covered walkway creates a cloister, enabling children to walk between classrooms in the fresh air, and take exercise even in wet weather.

There's also designated space for a school nurse to examine and treat children, and even give them a bath.

Architect's drawing of Ilkeston Secondary School (1911-03-29) by George H WiddowsDerbyshire Record Office


Widdows also prioritised architectural style and building materials in his designs.  His schools were not just well planned, but intended to be architecturally interesting and solidly built.  This example is in the Arts and Crafts style so popular in the early 1900s.

Architect's elevation drawings for New Mills Secondary School (1912-03-08) by George H WiddowsDerbyshire Record Office

A different style was used in other schools.  This plan for a school in New Mills was apparently inspired by an Eastern fortress. It has a Moorish influence, best seen in the use of a dome at the centre of the building.

Widdows created designs in standardised forms, to be replicated with a few changes in different places.  Here's a similar school to that in New Mills, but this time in Ilkeston. Built in 1914 it remains in use today, as do many other of Widdows' timeless school buildings.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps