The History of St Mary's Primary School from 1563

I am very grateful to Derek Baker for allowing me
to use his research to build this article.

St Mary's is a very old school indeed, far older than any other existing local school. It has not always been a Primary School and it has flitted up and down Church Street , sometimes in the Church, sometimes elsewhere, until it finally settled on its present site.

In 1563, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, William Patten rebuilt the Old St Mary's Church, and added a School House on the western end of the church aisle.

Old St Mary's Church in 2009

Two centuries ago St Mary's School was held in the Old St Mary's Church during the week and this arrangement continued for decades.

Until the 1870 Compulsory Education Act, the education of poor children depended on charity. There were no government grants so when, for example, Thomas Stock Esq. died in 1664, two years before the Fire of London, he left four small houses to charity. The rents from three of them were to help to support ‘ the poor of the parish' and the rent from the fourth went to the charity school, ‘to educate five poor people's children of this parish.'

In 1707 the Vestry, which was the name for parish councils at that time, was responsible for running the school. That year, fo example, they made payments to individuals for teaching Parish children. Slowly a regular charity school was established, run by donations, sums left in wills, and the rents of donated houses or land. In 1729, 2 guineas per annum: in 1730, some property in Wapping worth six guineas per annum; in 1762, fifty shillings a year from yet another will. These sums seem almost trivial to us but were worth far, far more all those years ago. There are records of new shoes for children and repairing old ones. The school must have staggered on year after year, sometimes flourishing when a good teacher appeared, sometime falling away when no good teacher could be found or the interest of some patrons switched to something else.

In 1770 the Reverend Charles Weston, Prebendary of Newington, gave £10 towards the re-establishment of the Parish charity school , so the school seems to have collapsed and they were starting again. In 1789 a Vestry committee reported that the school, which received £21 from charities and £17 from the church rates, was of no benefit to the poor of the Parish. They resolved that, in its place, two schools should be established, one for 15 boys and another for 10 girls and that a committee should report on the conduct of each school annually. By 1795 the schools were teaching 15 boys and 12 girls, paid for by endowments, voluntary contributions and charity sermons.

The school still seems to have had no site of its own. In 1806 the two pews under the pulpit in the church could have been rebuilt and the Vicar could have let these to wealthy local people. A private pew under the pulpit, where everyone could see you in your Sunday best, was worth money. Instead the pews were not rebuilt and the Vicar was given six guineas per annum to leave the space clear for the charity children to use all the rest of the week.

A New Site

In the 1813 Tithe book there is an entry;

Dwelling house, schoolroom, yard and garden. Land area 14 poles' (about 423 square yards, or about 19 metres square) – ‘Copy landholder and Occupier, Samuel Ashby.'

Presumably he was the schoolmaster. The school seems to have got a site of its own at last and was no longer in the Church. The site today would be 30 Church Street , on the south side, five buildings east of Lancel Street.

Picture of Storer's Forge on the site of William Patten School


A picture of the shop on the Nursery School site in Stoke Newington Church Street, to the east of Lancell Street and just on the west of Storer's forge.

This row of houses was built about 1860 on the site of an existing group of houses. In 1813 St. Mary's School was where the newsagent's now stands.

By 1819 various charities were bringing in £235 per annum. The school was clothing and educating 30 boys and 25 girls and educating another 40 children. This is a total of 95 children, so it was a considerable school. Mr. Ashby was earning £25 a year and Mrs. Ashby, who taught the girls, earned £20 a year. They lived at the school and were each given a small allowance for coal.

The School was run on the Lancastrian system, in which older pupils (monitors) instructed younger ones. There would have been two rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls, with benches for the children, the little ones at one end of the room and the older ones at the other. One teacher in each room and a series of monitors in charge of the different benches (forms).

Lancaster claimed that one teacher, by using the older pupils as monitors, could teach one thousand pupils. The idea caught on in America , where people were not used to paying taxes, because it was claimed that a child could be educated for a dollar a year. Early New York schoolrooms were built for five hundred pupils. It was very cheap, but the scheme faded out of use because it demanded very harsh discipline, or everything turned into chaos. Secondly, the children did not learn much by this method. When a fact had been passed from the teacher's mouth to a monitor, is was often misunderstood and taught wrongly, the mistake becomes embedded in the monitor's mind and the end child was bewildered. In the old First World War joke, a message passes along the trench from mouth to mouth. “Send reinforcements, we're going to advance,” became “Send three and four-pence. We're going to a dance.” Under the Lancastrian System, the last child is likely to receive very poor information. In St Mary's, where the numbers were much smaller, it probably worked somewhat better. 

A New Site is Found

In 1830 the Trustees leased a site north of Church Street on the east side of Barn Street and in 1831 a National School – St. Mary's Parochial School - was opened in Barn Street .

By 1833 there were 80 boys, 35 girls, with a master and mistress supported by a charity endowment, subscriptions and collections at the Parish Church . By 1853 average attendance was 92 boys, 106 girls, in two rooms; with school fees 2d a week.

The 1848 Tithe map of St Mary's School, in Barn Street.

The school was behind the Church Street houses, with a narrow entrance in Barn Street. The playground, behind the Church Street houses, seems to have been numbered 231 on the tithe map.

As well as the Barn Street School , there was a St Mary's Infants School which used the Old Rectory at this time. Before 1855 the wooden Rectory building lay opposite St Mary's Old Church .

This is the 1846 Tithe Map of the Old Rectory. It was the red building on plot 662.

Church Path (shown as a blue line) ran at the back of the Albion Road houses, branching left and right at the Old Rectory site. The right turn was a cul-de-sac, while the left one twisted its way into Church Street . Later Church Path was moved to the other side of what became the Nursery Garden Site. It then ran at the back of the Clissold Road houses all the way down, through the fields to Newington Green for centuries.

The Old Rectory

This woodcut seems to have been made about 1855, while the New St Mary's Church was being built. The new church can be seen under construction behind the Rectory but the tower was not yet tall enough to rise above the Rectory roof. If there had been a tower the artist would have drawn it, so this dates the building of the church picture accurately.

Eventually they completed the church and the tower was built. Then, when they had built the church nave and the tower, they used the building as a church but without a spire. A New Rectory had been built and the old one demolished, but they had not yet collected enough money to build the spire. This would take a number more years.


The New St Mary's Church, built in 1855.

The congregation had collected enough money to build the square tower but not the spire. The architect had designed it but it would take several more years before enough money had been saved to build it. In the meantime the tower was made watertight and the congregation continued to save.


St Mary's church with its spire.

Architect, George Gilbert Scott

Notice the elaborate patterning of the slates in the roof. This was typical of Scott and the Oxford Gothic style of architecture. During the Second World War the Church was badly bombed and had to be completely re-roofed so this patterning was lost, but fortunately the spire escaped. Old St Mary's, where St Mary's School used to be held, can be seen behind the tree and the 1855 crescent of house is on the right.

The new Rectory

The new Rectory was built on the south side of the Church in this Victorian Gothic style. There was no room for it to the north of the Church and no doubt the vicar would have preferred to bask in the sun, with the church protecting him from the cold north wind.

It is in blue/grey bricks and with a steep slate roof. The roof is so steep that it has to be built as an M roof, in two sections or, at that slope it would have reached up to heaven. For some reason the top of the gable wall has been rebuilt in a slightly different coloured brick. It was probably the result of damage in the Second World War.

Demolishing the Old Rectory

In 1855 the Nursery Class of St. Mary's School was still in a room in the Old Rectory. When the Rectory was demolished a new room had to be found and Miss Mary Putman, the school mistress, moved her school to the other end of Church Street . The site was on the south side of the Street, to the east of Storer's forge. This was then called Rigby's Buildings and was near the present William Patten School site.

The First Hints of the future 1870 Compulsory Education Act

In 1866 St Mary's School in Barn Street , was aided by some Parliamentary grants. At that time Education was top of the political agenda. Compulsory Education for all would be introduced only two years later, funded by the government. The debate about whether education should be secular or religious was fierce. Darwin had published The Origin of the Species in 1859, only a few years earlier, and this had come as a bombshell. People were deeply divided between Evolution and the belief in the literal meaning of the Bible. Many people wanted to keep religion out of the schools completely, while the Church was very active making sure it would get its share of any money and therefore control its own schools. These grants must have been the first results of the Parliamentary dispute. The 21st Century debate about Faith Schools has a long and controversial history and will not go away.

The 1868 Ordnance Survey map shows the school with an entrance in Barn Street . The site was expanding slightly, by leasing the southern garden which had been part of the second Abney churchyard and was later (see 1848 Tithe) leased as garden ground by one Micah Corder. The school was also leasing a small dart shaped area to the north.

The 1868 O.S. map showing St Mary's School site.

At that time it was a Primary School. It took pupils from five, or even younger, to thirteen. Then all the pupils left, except those monitors who wished to stay on and become Student Teachers.

When The Compulsory Education Act was passed attendance increased. From 188 and perhaps some Infants in 1833, there were a total of 228 and room for 315.

The School Premises were enlarged in 1871 and again in 1875. In 1876 the school leased some more land.

The Street Directory of 1874 shows –

  • National School (boys, girls & infants), Barn Street.
  • Thomas Edward Jones, Master: Miss Emily Moore, Mistress: Miss Harriet Sharp, Infants Mistress.

In 1878 the teachers were Thomas Edward Jones, Master, and Mrs Mary Hind, Mistress. By 1881 they had been joined by Miss Eliza Warne, Infants Mistress.

When Augustus Clissold died he must have been a rich man. He had married Eliza Crawshay. Her father was said to be the richest commoner in England , and Eliza inherited her father's fortune. The Crawshay property was still entailed in the Crawshay family so Clissold did not inherit it. Nevertheless, in his will Clissold gave St Mary's School £500.

In 1887 there the School had accommodation for 445 pupils, with an average attendance of 307. It was a large school.

1894 Map of the School Site showing the probable shape of St Mary's School Site

The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows extensions to the existing building on the south side and the play area enlarged to ‘a square on the north side' .

By 1897 school fees were abolished at St. Mary's. It seems extraordinary that they had been kept for so long, but perhaps Stoke Newington was lagging behind Inner London. When the 1870 Compulsory Education Bill was passed the London School Board faced the enormous task of building dozens of new schools. Slowly they rose all over London: three storey buildings with very high ceilings, elaborate roofs and bell towers, for hardly anyone had a clock and they would all have been different anyway. There was no time signal to check them by. Without bell towers half the pupils would have been late.

These new schools stood taller than the surrounding buildings, in the fine new Queen Anne Revival style and held out real hope for the future. Sherlock Holmes called them ‘Beacons for the future.' However, before they could be built many large sites had to be found. Merely finding the sites took some years and the most crowded areas, tee ming with children who were promised schooling and had no schools to go to, came first. The earliest London School Board School in Stoke Newington was Church Street School (now the site of William Patten Primary School) but it was not opened until 1892, twenty-two years after the Act was passed. This shows the size of the problem. By 1897 St Mary's abolished fees so perhaps they may have been feeling the pressure from the new Church Street School where education was free.

In the Nineteen twenties and thirties there was a huge Slum Clearance movement and, as part of this, the old Lordship Row houses in Lordship Road were demolished. The Denman House flats were built on the site. This allowed St. Mary's School to acquire a new entrance from Lordship Road. The new flats on both sides of Lordship Terrace are shown in red below. By1931 the new Lordship Road entrance became St. Mary's School's new address, although the Barn Street gate was also used for many years.

By1932 the school had accommodation for 104 boys and 210 girls & infants.

St Mary's School Site in 1936


Some of the new 1933 blocks along Lordship Terrace


The Butler Education Act

In 1945, as part of the re-organization connected with the Butler Education Act, St. Mary's became a primary school. The children between the ages of 11-14 were moved to Church Street Secondary School , in today's William Patten Primary building.

St Mary's School site in 1952

In 1980, with the demolition of shops and dwelling Nos.158-164 S.N. Church Street and the small houses Nos.l-4 consecutive in Barn Street, St. Mary's was able to acquire this land and build a new single storey building along Barn Street at right angles to their original building. A new entrance into S.N. Church Street was also established.

1981 Roll - 81 Junior mix, 45 infants
1998 Notice under the 1996 Education Act- That the Governors of St. Mary's C.E. Primary School, Lordship Road intend to add a nursery class of 25 children age 3-5 to the school beginning spring term 2000
1999 St. Mary's teacher Thelma Andrews age 59 (retired July) was named "Primary Teacher of the Year" for London and the South East. 52/24,27. SMM1/1.
2001 Award given to St. Mary's School for "The most improved school in Hackney 1997-2001". Although Lordship Road is still used as the main address, the S.N. Church Street entrance has now become the entrance used by parents, children and visitors and the Barn Street entrance still exists.
2001/2 New single story nursery extension built along Barn Street to the S.N. Church Street junction.


last revised: October 16, 2011

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