Until the late 18th century a few children
were educated in charitable schools funded by philanthropic foundations.
The picture shows the pretty little predecessor to the Christ
Church primary school founded in 1708 and illustrated on a plaque on the
later school in Brick Lane. An unknown but probably larger number went to informal
dame schools which were wholly funded by fees.
The government was nervous about mass education.
In 1807 an MP warned that ‘Giving education to the labouring
classes of the poor would teach them to despise their lot in life.
Instead of teaching them the virtue of subordination it would
enable them to read seditious pamphlets and vicious books.’
Nevertheless from around 1900 the churches started to provide mass
elementary education, often in Sunday schools since poor children started
work very young. The
curriculum aimed at inculcating discipline and piety, teaching children to
read and training them to become good servants.
on Christ Church School, Brick Lane
Durward Street School, E R Robson, 1877
From 1870 the government made elementary education
compulsory for all children and it was free from 1893.
There was a major drive to find sites and put up buildings in the
congested East End, where the need for new schools was great.
The illustration shows the one time school in Durwood Street
Whitechapel, with a playground on its roof.
It has large windows, to symbolise enlightenment as well as to aid
teaching, and a decorative feature on the roof to convey the idea that
education in uplifting. Such schools were the norm when the former deputy editor of The
Times Louis Heren started school in the East End in around 1923.
In his autobiography, Growing Up Poor in London, he
described his first school, Highway Elementary in Shadwell (now
demolished), as ‘of red and yellow brick with tall windows in a large
Raine’s Foundation School, now Tower Hamlets College, Herbert Ellis,
St George’s Central School, T J Bailey, 1899
From 1895 secondary education was planned for around
one child in a hundred, to ‘correspond roughly to the gradations of
society’. Initially it was
only available in charitable grammar schools which charged fees and
offered a literary, non-vocational curriculum.
But local authorities developed free selective higher elementary,
or ‘Central’ schools, with a vocational curriculum.
In 1907 the government offered grants to grammar schools subject to
their offering a quarter of their places free to elementary school pupils.
Heren’s older brother and sister both passed the
‘scholarship’ exam, the precursor of the 11 plus, and went to
Raine’s Foundation School in Arbour Square.
But when Heren
reached 11 the world was in economic depression and the government had
replaced the free grammar school places with ‘special’ places with
fees geared to parent’s incomes. Heren’s
mother turned down the place he was offered at Raine’s and sent him to
St George’s Central School. The
now dilapidated building, labelled Cable Street Schools, survives next to
Hawksmoor’s St George-in-the-East. Like Durward Street School it is an
attractive building, albeit less aspirational than the ‘Wrenaissance,
Baroque and Palladian detail’ of Raine’s.
Heren was inspired by enthusiastic and helpful teachers there.
Teachers may matter more than buildings, but there is
a continuing belief that good school architecture facilitates good
education. Swanlea school in
Whitechapel was the first new secondary school in London for a decade and
features ‘humane school design, planned around the central spine of a
glazed two-storey mall covered by an exciting and showy glass roof’.
Brady Street, Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, 1993
First published London Society Journal No 455, Summer 2008