William Patten Primary School
(Latest Version)

History: Part 1

from 29.5.08 London School Board and Church St School.doc

revised: October 23, 2011 12:34 PM

William Patten Primary School occupies a very old building which has been altered considerably over more than a hundred years. The school was built in 1892 as Church Street School. It was a three-decker London Board School building.

1894 drawn only two years after Church Street School was opened.
It is now site of William Patten Primary School.


The London School Board

William Patten School in 2006

The school has been enlarged since it was first built in 1892. Details of this are shown in the section on the School Drawings but from the road it was must always have looked much as it does today.

The Church Street School Plaque is still on the wall of
William Patten Primary School in 2006.

The initials LSB, for the London School Board, are at the top. Below are the words Church Street School. These have been carved into panels of Oolitic Limestone and surrounded by an elaborate brickwork plaque made of both moulded and cut bricks. The red bricks contrast with the wall of yellow/grey London Stock bricks. The red bricks were made of Brickearth, while the London Stocks were made in the London Estuary and contain about 17 percent of Chalk. This plaque was built by a highly skilled bricklayer and must have been very expensive even at that time.

This detailed examination of one small part of the building shows what unusual buildings these first London School Board buildings were. In 1870, when tha Act of Parliament ewas passed, ‘Education for All’ was a completely new idea. Some people resented it. One said ‘We shall be educating donkeys next.’ Others saw it as a wonderful advance. In one of the Sherlock Holmes stories he is travelling into London by train with Dr. Watson. He says:-

“Look at those big isolated clumps of buildings rising up above the slates.

“The Board Schools?

“Lighthouses my boy! Beacons of the future. Capsules, with hundreds of bright little seeds in each, out of which will spring the wiser, better England of the future.”

Before this there had been no compulsory education and many people were completely illiterate. In 1870 hopes for a drastic change ran high. There would not be another moment like it again until the start of the National Health Service after the Second World War. Everything seemed possible and the London School Board was determined to carry the public with it.

Hopes for education ran high, but the buildings had to be paid for and the London School Board was determined to carry public opinion with it. People had to realise that they were getting good value for their new education taxes. One way was to make the new school buildings stand out against the drab, ordinary streets, so they were tall and in a distinctive new style called Sweetness and Light. They out-topped the surrounding houses, full of light, in bright yellow and red brickwork, with huge windows, and designed to dominate the London skyline.

The Board knew that this would cost money and they spent with a will. They first priced the cost of building and then ADDED TEN PER CENT, so that the architect could make the buildings of ‘architectural interest’. It was this 10% of extra money which paid for the good quality materials, the fine workmanship and the elaborate decorations like the Church Street School plaque. One can imagine the bricklayer walking past the school years later with his grandson, quietly boasting that he had been chosen out of all the men to build that plaque, the only one in the firm who could do it. No doubt the child, in his turn, may have boasted in the playground that his grandfather as the only person in all London who could have built it.

In the 1950s, when they were building Woodberry Down Comprehensive School, overlooking the reservoirs, we took TWO TEN PER CENT CUTS during the construction, but then of course the country was almost bankrupt.

School Detectives Wanted

There is small piece of detective work that the pupils could carry out at William Patten School. In the early London School Board days, children did not write on paper, but on slates. In some London Schools, notably in Archway School, on Highgate Hill, in Crouch End, and in schools on the Edgware Road, I have found strange grooves worn into the red bricks which edgie the doors and windows. They are always low, at child height, and some are very deep, showing years of wear. These show where Charlie was sent out with the tin of slate pencils to sharpen them on the soft red bricks. Never on the yellow! The yellows are no good for sharpening, but the red bricks gave a good point and were fine to keep Charlie busy on a tired Friday afternoon. Similar grooves can be found in the windows of country churches where people sharpened their arrow heads for compulsory Sunday archery practice, before the Battle of Crecy.

The School Detectives could tell us how the earliest children were taught. Were they taught with slates, or with paper and ink? The Board started in 1870 and its first schools opened a few years later. They certainly started with slates, but Church Street School did not open until 22 years later. Had education moved on by then? Had slates become obsolete? Grooves or no grooves could tell us. This is real history.

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