The History of Islington Green School from 1884 -1991

Part 2

The Building of the Queen's Head Board Schools


The Queen's Head Street Schools in 1884

In 1884 the School Board of London built two schools in Queen's Head Street, a `Graded School' for Boys and Girls up to the age of thirteen, and a smaller Infants School. They were one at each end of a long thin site which stretched from Raleigh Street to Rheidon Terrace. Both schools were built close to the northern border, along Queen's Head Street, to leave as much room as possible for playgrounds on the sunnier south side. The whole site was very restricted and this was to affect the building for decades, as we shall see. The Infants School survives today as part of a much larger building. The 'Graded School' building later became part of Tudor Secondary School, but was demolished about 1962 to make room for the buildings of the new Islington Green School.

Queens Head Street School for Boys and Girls opened on 25th January, 1886 and the Infants' School, at the other end of the site, opened on 21st. February 1887.

Queens's Head School Street Schools as they were built in 1884.
Drain Plan ISL 359ABC

The Infants' School and the Boys' and Girls. School have been outlined. The above map is a drain map to show how the site was drained so the lines that wander across the playground show underground pipes.

Queen's Head Street School for Boys and Girls opened on 25th January 1886 and the Infants' School, at the other end of the site, opened on 21st February 1887.

Details of the Infants School Building

The Nursery School building in 1887
Drain Plan ISL 359 ABC

The Drain Plan ISL 359ABC shows the 1884 site of the Infants School as it was built originally. There were five classrooms and a hall with two windows to trap the maximum sunshine. The architect could have designed the building as one oblong block, but space was too valuable for that. Queen's Head Street and Raleigh St. meet at an angle, so an oblong block would have left a triangle of wasted ground along Raleigh Street. Instead he built two interlocking blocks parallel to the two roads and just far enough away from the roads to allow a passage round them. The position of the north corner controlled everything. This corner was placed at the correct distance from both roads and therefore, because the corners of the classrooms had to be square, the blocks joined at the joggled break in the Raleigh St. frontage. This join was edged with red bricks and turned into an architectural feature, separating and yet linking the two blocks.

This gave a thick, wedge-shaped wall between classrooms F and G, which the architect used this space for chimneys. It also made classroom H an uneven shape so the architect squared up the rom and used the extra space to make three recessed the back of the room. He saved every inch of space and still made his rooms look rectangular.


Why did the architect choose this very odd layout?

The Problem of Turning the Corner

How every inch of space was used.

Diagrams to show how the architect used his precious space.


He used the odd triangular areas by making them into cupboards and fitting his fireplaces in them.


Queen's Head Road school, now part Islington Green School had an unusual arrangement called Shadracks. The Reverend Sidney Smith, the witty nineteenth century clergyman, was happily established at St Paul 's Cathedral, but in about 1817 his Bishop decided that he should take over a parish in Yorkshire. Instead of dining at every fashionable table in London and keeping them amused with his witticisms, he would be sent to the other end of the country and act as a clergyman. Sydney Smith went, arriving in style in a four-horse carriage, and built himself a house with big fireplaces.

Fires need a lot of oxygen if they are to burn brightly. The brighter the fire, the more cold air has to rush in through the doors and windows. People huddle near the blaze with their fronts burning and their backs frozen. To avoid this Smith laid a pipe under the floor to bring air from the outside to openings just in front of the fire. The draught of the chimney drew in the air direct from outside the house and this did not cause draughts in the room. He called them Shadracks after Meshack, Shadrack and Abendigo, the three men in the Bible who walked through the fires unharmed. Perhaps other old schools may have traces of Shadracks still hiding below the floors.

The right hand drawing above shows the two shadracks leading to the two fires built into the wedge between classrooms F and C.



Queen's Head Street Boys and Girls School


North Elevation of the Boys and Girls School Building

The Boys and Girls School (the building at the Rheidol Terrace end of the site) was demolished about 1962, so all we have now are some drawings in the London Metropolitan Archive and the Drain Plans held by Islington Architects Department. It was a two storey building with a pitched roof, a hall facing south west, a long classroom on the south east with tiered seating. This could be divided into three sections by sliding glazed partitions. There were three other classrooms on the north east side.

Drawing No ACI/10, shows a section through two of the roof peaks. The wider room requires extra wooden bracing above, with a king post, a pair of curved diagonal struts and two wooden knees below. (Knees are the curved wooden brackets carved out of natural bends in tree branches).These ones were carved with simple patterns. The rooms are high and neither room has a ceiling.

The Ground Floor classrooms were 18 feet (5.5 metres) high and the Second Floor reached 38 feet (11.6 metres) to the peak. These heights are enormous. The normal ceiling height in modern houses is about 2.6 metres (8 foot 6 inches). Yet theses ceilings are 18 feet and 41 feet up to the ridge of the roof. All this was open space.

Why was it so large? Why did the schools rise so high above the surrounding houses? The schools were only two or three storeys high, yet they dominated four storey houses. The reason was their ceiling height. School ceilings were very much taller than the ceilings of ordinary houses for two good reasons.

Queen's Head Street School, c. 1929

The photograph shows that the desks were arranged in tiers and the back windows started above the teacher's head when she was standing on the top tier. Children were not allowed to move about much. The Activity Method, which called for children to move about, conduct experiments, and work in groups, was years in the future. The classroom floors would have to be leveled before that became possible. Instead, the children worked in their desks and classes had to be dismissed in lines to reduce the danger of falling down the steps. So ceilings had to be high because the floors were tiered.

The second, and far more pressing reason for high ceilings was the danger of Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was rife in towns with their pollution and overcrowded houses. It is a very serious disease, affecting mainly the lungs, but it can attack other parts of the body. Almost every family had someone who suffered from the disease, or knew of someone who had died of it. The only known cure was fresh air. A long. slow process of recovery in a mountain resort in Switzerland was the best, but how many could afford that? People had to live where the work was, despite their bad living conditions.

Deaths from Tuberculosis

The Graph of Deaths from Tuberculosis

In 1840 there were 4000 deaths per million each year from tuberculosis. Slowly better living conditions had reduced this but, when the tuberculosis bacteria was identified, in the 1880s, there were. still 2000 deaths per million. This was when Queen's Head Street School was opened. The death rate had been halved but the death rate does not tell the whole story. TB makes it difficult for the patient to earn a living. There are long periods of sickness at home, or in hospital. Patients had to be supported by their relations. There was no free health service and no unemployment pay, so one tuberculosis victim could bring distress to the whole family. This was years before the modern drugs which are available today. Paddington Children's Hospital was famous for its care and devotion to children, but the doctors' powers were limited. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, the list of medicines available to treat patients consisted of: Bromide of Potassium, Carbonate of Bismuth, Cod liver oil, Glycerine, and Quinine. They treated Vitamin deficiency diseases with oranges, when the parents could afford them, or with soup made with potato peelings. This was good science, but in its early stages. No others medicines are mentioned in their files.

No wonder children needed fresh air and why it played such a large, part in the conscious planning for child health. In one school in Muswell Hill, where there is fresh air direct from the Urals, there was an wooden, out-door classroom. It had open spaces instead of a door and windows and the older children worked out there even with snowflakes drifting in."

"The Growth of Muswell Hill, by Jack Whitehead, pp.25, 227-231

Open Air Schools

'The London County Council developed school sites on the outskirts of London, in, for example, Muswell Hill,Shooters Hill and other places where the winds blew free. Classes visited them one day a week by coach to work in open air classrooms, botanise and play games. In town, some schools had open-air classrooms in the playground, or rather gritty desks in the open, where children could do their lessons in good weather. This emphasis on fresh air and physical exercise which would ensure deep breathing, was the main defence against Tuberculosis.

The Chairman of The School Board for London in 1884 said:-

'At the instance of the Chairman of the Works Committee, whose connection with measures for arresting disease in London is well known, special attention has been paid to the. sanitary condition of our schools, and it may be safely said that this is now as well considered and as complete as in a first rate hospital. At a time wizen dangerous epidemics threaten the metropolis, I feel that this will be satisfactory to the public mind. In some of our schools considerations of expense and contracted sites have compelled its to provide playgrounds on the roof. It is worthy of note that the winning school in the drill competition this year as confined to ran airy but confined space of this kind.'

It was to be another twenty-six years before Queen's s Head School was lucky enough to get one.

Classes too were very large. Sixty children in one classroom could rapidly infect each other, so each child needed plenty of fresh air which was changed regularly. Therefore schools were built with big classrooms and very high ceilings. There were windows on both sides of the classroom, to change the air continually. Medical Officers of Health were perpetually writing about the 'Cross Draught Theory' The fight against tuberculosis was long and slow. Pasteur discovered that heating milk above 70° C killed the tuberculosis bacteria. Eventually milk had to be Pasteurised by law and one of the main sources of infection was controlled. By the end of World War 11, in 1945, the death rate from tuberculosis; was down to 500 per million, one eighth of the 1840 figure. This had been achieved by better nourishment, better housing, pasteurisation, and very high classroom ceilings must also have played some part. Only at this stage was a drug cure found.

By 1950 Streptomycin was widely available and, when BCG vaccination was introduced, the illness was practically eliminated in the west. At last there was a specific cure for tuberculosis and the isolation hospitals, which had housed thousands of sufferers were being closed. Classroom ceilings could be lowered. Compare the ceiling heights of the present 1910 building and the new 1964 ones.

There is a third factor often forgotten in our western world where most people have bathrooms and adequate washing facilities. Many of these children would not have had running water in the house and very few indeed would have had running hot water, so the class rooms could have become very smelly. Another reason for plenty of fresh air.

Thus Tuberculosis, other infectious diseases, coal fires in each classroom and general ventilation, all affected the design of schools in 1884.

The Enlargement of Both Buildings in 1892

Changing Trends in School Design

Earlier schools had used the Pupil Teacher System. In this way of teaching classes were very large and the teacher was assisted by older pupils, some of whom hoped to qualify later as teachers. They were little older than the oldest children but were responsible for small groups. Their own education continued and the teacher taught them for part of the week, but much of their time was spent supervising younger pupils in sections of a very large classroom. As these Pupil Teachers became qualified, they could have class rooms of their own and this meant changing the school layout. The 1884 London School Board Chairman again:

'The tendency towards the employment of adults in substitution for pupil teachers also requires some modification of the planning. A certain number of square -classrooms, accommodating a larger number than were entrusted to a pupil teacher, are therefore a feature of our newer schools. A better concentration of the class is thus secured, and left hand lighting for the room is rendered more generally possible.'

Thus at this period we find square classrooms, cross ventilated, lit from the left since most people are right handed, and, wherever possible, with the classrooms leading directly off a large, sunny hall which faced south.

At Queen's Head Street the long classroom was divided into three permanent rooms, instead of by mere sliding partitions, but there were still interconnecting doors between the rooms.


Enlarging the Boys and Girls School in 1892

Accommodation Present Additional Total
Boys 340 120 460
Girls 340 120 460
Infants 320   320
Totals 1000 240 1240

The 1894-96 Ordnance Survey map shows the two school buildings with the Infants School also enlarged. The St. James St. end of the block is lined with houses and behind their gardens were industrial buildings with entrances from St. James St. and Rheidol Terrace. These were the Builder's Yard which will be discussed later. The Infants School had been enlarged, but still had pitched roofs.

Ordnance Survey 1894 of Queen's Head Street


The Enlargement of the Infants' School in 1892

The original Infants' School is shown outlined on the 1892 drawing

The 1892 Enlargement of both buildings

The buildings have been coloured in to show how small the playgrounds had become. This small space had to be shared by Boys, Girls and Infants.

Drawing 1SL 359A, dated 1892, shows the 1884 work in white and the 1892 extension work in black. The extension had a gabled roof identical to those at either end of the 1884 building, but the window arrangement was different. The windows at the other end of the building were blocked in at the same time as part of the redesign of the long classroom. Small windows have been left, presumably these gave cross-draught ventilation. The new brickwork appears as black, as does some new work at the roof level.

The Heating System

When the school was built in 1883-4, each room had a coal fire with its own chimney. Every fire had to be cleared out each day and the ashes removed, the fire re-laid and lit, before the classes arrived. Teachers put on extra coal during the day and the smoke from all these chimneys would have spread over Islington, producing pea-souper fogs.

It is quite amusing that many modern children, brought up in centrally heated houses, have no idea what a chimney does. They draw houses in the traditional way - a square box with a door and windows, a pitched roof with a chimney belching smoke. But in the children's minds there is nothing under the chimney on the roof. It does not connect to anything. The chimney has become a sort of appendix to the house: a folk memory of a functioning chimney as the human appendix is a relic of an earlier digestive system.


Enlarging the Nursery School Building Again in 1910

Replacing the Pitched Roof with a Flat Roof and Marching Space

The Marching Space

The 'Nursery School' building school was enlarged again in 1910 and a flat roof built on top as a 'Marching Space'. The marching spaces were for open air exercise even in wet weather, exactly as the School Board Chairman had described years before. Playground space had been reduced drastically and the school need for more space, but the houses surrounding the school were densely packed, hemming the school in. There was no way to go but upwards. The steeply pitched roof was removed and a flat one built to provide a 'Marching Space' and playground. This also allowed the architect to improve the school by installing fireproof floors.

The roof playground with a high protective wall all round and a sharp edged top
to prevent adventurous climbing. The barred opennings give an adventurous
but safe view of the neighbourhood.

This photograh was taken in about 1990 when the school site had been much enlarged and the marching space was no longer needed for exercise. It was used for growing plants.


Building Fireproof Floors

The original wooden floors were replaced by steel girders and concrete. From below the new floors can be seen to consist of steel girders with concrete floors above. In most cases the girders are exposed, without ceilings. This steel construction was strong enough to give wide spans, while the lack of a ceiling meant that everything was exposed. There was no place for mice and other vermin to hide.

The floors were constructed as follows:-

Sections of brickwork were removed at intervals all round the building 18” (2 bricks) long and 2 bricks high. York stone slabs 18”x18”x 6” (2 bricks high) were mortared in place as firm supporting slabs to hold the girders. The ends on the large girders rested on these stone corbels.

The large girders had much smaller L shaped steel angle irons riveted along them to form an shelf and the smaller girders rested on these. Then a concrete floor was poured to enclose the smaller girders. Finally the ground and first floor concrete was covered with wood block floors and the roof with asphalt

Many London schools had their floors made fireproof and similar‘Marching Spaces' created at about this time.

Section through a new fireproof floor

The plans show the arrangements of the girders on each floor. The ground floor needed them only over the new boiler house but the others cover the complete area.

Construction of the First and Second Floor Fireproof Ceilings
with the Marching Space Above

The School building is in yellow London Stock bricks with red brick surrounds to the windows. The windows are large, with small glass panes and centre pivoting panels at the top. The roof playground is surrounded by a high wall with large openings all round. These have arched tops in red brick and are filled with substantial wrought iron panels. This ironwork is typical of the period. Similar wrought iron can be seen, for example, in Maida Vale, which was built about. 1900, and in many other London Board schools of the time.

Details of the new Roof-top playground and its surrounding wall
(Not to the original scale)

Many London schools had their floors made fireproof and similar ‘Marching Spaces' created at about this time as there was no other way of increasing the playground and exercise space.

At one corner of the roof is a square turret, with a tiled roof and a weather vane on a typical Arts and Crafts style pillar. It’s a battered shape, slightly smaller at the top than the bottom and composed of tapered uprights, and could be the design for a Victorian blanket box or jewel casket.

One of the arched openings around the roof wall,
protected by a decorative wrought iron grille.

These gave a view of the neighbourhood like no other.


The Tudor Building from the playground, showing how steeply the ground slopes


The Tudor Building in the landscape
showing the flat exercise space.


Installing Central Heating

In 1910 it was also decided to install hot-water radiators fired by one boiler, instead of the separate fires in each classroom. Queens Head St slopes downwards with the original Nursery School at the higher end. Therefore the boiler house was built at the lower end where less excavation would be necessary. Many of the original chimneys and fireplaces can still be found embedded in the walls.

End of Part 2

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