Thursday, 10 April 2008

School Board Schools again

There should be a picture book – a coffee table book, huge -- of all the nearly 500 schools built by the School Board for London, from 1970 until 1904 when they were superseded by the London County Council. It would have photographs, plans if they have survived, dates, names of architects and previous names of the schools.

I'd then have an easier time with school like the one that I photographed near Clapham Junction the other day. I'd often seen it from the train and wanted to investigate. The plaque on the door of the apartment block (which it now is) read

[click to enlarge]

but I've no easy way of knowing what the school actually used to be.

Handsome, isn't it - and distinctively SBL: the two colours of bricks, the large white-painted windows, the articulated frontage comprising a number of distinct elements, the minimal decoration but a bit of a flourish at the top level. This was known as the Queen Anne style. What was the school originally called?

School Board schools usually had a plaque like

but this school doesn’t.

However, it may originally have had a plaque because I think the school may have been part destroyed by bombs. Alternatively it was never completed. I think what we see isn't the whole thing partly because I could find only an Infants entrance
and no Boys or Girls entrance. These may, of course, have been at the back where security prevented me from going. Elementary schools had, from the bottom floor, three 'departments' for Infants, Girls and Boys. Girls and Boys had separate staircases.

Another indication of uncompletess is the front elevation:

[Do click to enlarge, won't you?]

Working from the left here we see

1. A classroom section, the most decorated, with rooms in the roof and the gable at the front
2. A narrow, set-back staircase section with small mezzanine (teachers’) rooms
3. A 4-part unit of classrooms (facing east, the preferred side; at the back there would have been a hall on each floor).

Shouldn’t we then get the equivalents of 1 and 2 again, repeated in reverse order? That would be the standard SBL symmetrical model, as in Cobbold Road School (said to be in Chelsea though there’s no Cobbold Road in Chelsea now; perhaps Chelsea referred to a big electoral division that also served as one of the Board's divisions. I must go and look at the school I can see on the map at Cobbold Road in Chiswick or Acton.)

Here’s Cobbold Road from a pre-1902 photograph and architect’s plans - note the symmetry:
That’s from School Buildings by Felix Clay, 1902. The architect named, T.J. Bailey, was the second architect of the SBL and the first of the LCC. Clay says of Cobbold Road School that ‘This example may be considered a typical plan of the modern Elementary School as built by the London School Board.’

And, speaking of symmetry, going back to the Clapham Junction school shouldn’t that bay 3 (of 4) in element 3, with its double window on the second floor, be at the centre of the frontage? Doesn't it suggest almost half the building is missing?

If I now look again at my photograph of Walworth Lower School (blog of 10th March) in the light of Clay and later studies, I note that this building too is clearly incomplete. Here it is again:
The work on the left end is really rough. That was the first school I worked in. All the time I worked there, and even when I took the photograph last month, I never realised it had been bombed or left half-built. (The latter is quite possible: T.J. Bailey designed his schools in discrete sections so they could be built in stages, as the population expanded. So presumably there were places where the population didn’t expand and the school was never finished.)

Walworth Lower School, formerly Nelson Secondary Modern School, originally Sandford Row School

was exactly on the plan of Cobbold Road School, except it had two classrooms, not three, in the end element – and had one end missing. It had the key features of the fully evolved SBL elementary school: three storeys each with a hall, two classrooms off each hall with glass partition (through which the headteacher – one for each department: I, G, B – could supervise the pupil-teachers or assistants), a classroom directly opposite the stairs off the landing and two or three classrooms at the end. I could mark on Bailey's plan the equivalent two classrooms I taught in on the second floor.

(Classrooms were an imported German idea; the English tradition was to teach the whole school in one room – the schoolroom.)

Each classroom was designed to take 60 pupils, with high ceilings (partly to ventilate the fumes from the gas lights), windows that opened easily and a fireplace. Well-built, sound-proof, light and spacious – and in my experience never surpassed. And this was what the School Board built for the unwashed plebs; imagine what the middle-class grammar school pupil got (though they were outside the school boards' brief).

Well, you don’t have to imagine. We know from Clay’s book and often from our own experience. Those schools were designed for classes of 30 and had playing fields. Requiring more space, they tended to be built in the less densely populated suburbs where land was available and cheaper.


Pandora said...

Pete, maybe there will be a coffee table book like the one you describe - this blog could be the first stage! You should send the link to a publisher...

Pete Medway said...

I'll have a look in Triangle Books, the best architecture bookshop in London, and see who might be possible publishers. Thanks for that, Pandora