Unlocking the Secrets of Slavery and Abolition is an exhibition exploring the British and Foreign School Society’s (BFSS) role in the introduction of elementary education to enslaved and freed children in the British West Indies during and after slavery. The exhibition showcases items from the Society’s archives held by Brunel University London Archives. It is part of a UK-wide series of events on the theme of “Secrets and Discoveries” hosted by the Being Human Festival of Humanities. The Festival is sponsored by the London School of Advanced Study, in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and The British Academy.
The BFSS was the UK’s most influential non-denominational education society in the nineteenth century. In 1804, it established Britain’s first teacher training institution, Borough Road College, in Southwark, London, before moving into purpose-built premises in 1817. The college opened its doors to both men and women and to British as well as overseas trainee teachers. Here they learned the BFSS’s method of non-sectarian instruction known as the “British System”.
By 1815, nonconformist young men and women were being trained as teachers at Borough Road College and dispatched by their missionary societies to deliver instruction in mission schools in all four corners of the globe — including the slave societies of the British West Indies.
Borough Road College First Register of Masters
Following the Slavery Abolition Act (1833), Parliament turned to the colonies’ missionary societies to set up elementary schools. The BFSS played a key role in training teachers, and dispensing teaching manuals and education materials - such as writing slates, books, pencils, maps, and globes – to nonconformist missionaries and teachers throughout the British West Indies. In addition they assisted and advised on the planning and building of schools. Schools that taught the BFSS’s curriculum and pedagogy were known as “British Schools”. Almost all islands in the British West Indies had British Schools.
The BFSS shares a direct connection with Brunel University London. Its teacher training college, Borough Road College, became part of Brunel University in 1995, following the merger with the West London Institute of Higher Education – formerly the university’s Osterley campus.
The exhibition is now installed in the Eastern Gateway Building Atrium at Brunel University London. It was curated by Mandy Mordue and Phaedra Casey (Brunel University London Archives) and Dr Inge Dornan, with assistance from Dr Alison Carrol.
For further information about the exhibition and the Being Human Festival, see
For further information about Brunel University London Archives, including the BFSS Archives, see