The History of St James's School

Before 1850, when the school was built, the nearest schools to Muswell Hill had been the National Schools in Hornsey, in Priory Rd, near what is now Warner Rd, and at St. Mary's Church further along. These were too far for children under eight to attend, so an appeal to local residents raised money and an Infants School was built. It must have been part creche, for children from eighteen months were admitted and at eight years old children left and had to walk to the National Schools in Hornsey. At St James's School, parents paid twopence a week for the first child and one penny for each subsequent child. There were regular public appeals for voluntary contributions and, since many of the people in Muswell Hill were prosperous, the school was able to expand. The only other source of income was a government grant for average attendance and for each child who passed a fresh stage in an examination. This was the 'payments by results system', with all its implications of rote learning.

The 1865 Ordnance Survey map showing the National School in Priory Road,
at the bottom of Muswell Hill.

The first school had been built in 1850, to a design by Salvin, the famous local architect, at a total cost of £790 which included the classroom, school-house, complete furnishings of both buildings, and the salary of the schoolmistress for the first year 'of £40 and coals'. The site, on a country lane and backed by dense woods, was so remote that 'the comparative isolation is somewhat obnoxious to the residence of a single woman.' Her first classroom later became the Infants Department.

Soon a second, larger building was added parallel to the first and the older girls, and then the older boys, who had been walking the long distance to Hornsey, were also accommodated on the site. An evening school on three nights a week was started soon after the building was opened. In 1856 there is a bill for 5 shillings and 9 pence for 'candles and ink for the Night Class.' Gas was installed in 1864. There were extensions in 1861, 1887, 1912 and 1931.

In 1887 about £1500 was spent on building a long room capable of being divided into classrooms while still suitable for evening use for choirs and entertainments. In 1912 an additional classroom was attached to the Long Room, divided from it by a glass and wooden screen.


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