A hornbook, illustrated below, was the schoolbook for about three centuries from the mid 16th on. A printed sheet was protected from the grubby fingers of the pupils by a sheet of transparent horn mounted on a wooden back board with handle. As William Shenstone puts it in The School-Mistress (1737):
Eftsoons the Urchins to their Tasks repair:
Their Books of Stature small take they in Hand,
Which with pellucid Horn secured are;
To save from Finger wet the Letters fair:
The Work so quaint that on their Back is seen,
St. George’s high Atchievements does declare:
On which thilk Wight that has y-gazing been,
Kens the forth-coming Rod, unpleasing Sight, I ween.
The top left of the sheet shows a cross, from which the hornbook got the nick-name Christ Cross Row, or criss-cross-row. The alphabet in small and large letters was followed by the vowels and their combinations with the consonants in tabular format. The Trinitarian formula – “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen” – followed, then the Lord’s Prayer. The hornbook often concluded with the Roman numerals.