Most children in the early 1800s, if they were schooled at all, attended classes in church halls or in the homes of teachers who charged for the privilege, as demonstrated by Miss Emily Bradshaw, who set up a school in the living room of 17 Strafford Street. According to Survey of London, it was:
..held in a reasonably sized room (14ft 10in. by 15ft 5in.), furnished and used exclusively for the purpose, it was open 48 weeks in the year for four four-hour days and two morning-only days a week, and was attended by 10 boys and 24 girls, most of whom paid between 6d and 9d a week to attend (a few paid more).
Millwall British School
Opened 1847, also known as British Street School
The first purpose-built school on the Island was Millwall British School in British Street (now Harbinger Road) on a site donated by the Countess of Glengall.
Survey of London:
The school was run on the principles of the British and Foreign School Society by a committee of managers, mainly drawn from the local business community, until 1871, when it was transferred to the School Board for London. Before the transfer the school roll comprised about 130 boys and 140 girls. Apart from inadequate toilets and the constant noise from the Millwall Iron Works, the building offered a reasonable teaching environment. But there were only two teachers, and in the lower classes only two of the three Rs were studied (this was a result of local poverty: each subject studied required separate payment).
The school closed in 1873, when a new school (the later Harbinger School) was built on the other side of British Street, and the building was used for a variety of purposes. It survived until destroyed by World War II bombing, but can be seen in aerial photos taken in the 1920s and 1930s. After the war a scrapyard operated on the site before it was taken over by Joseph Westwood’s.
St Luke’s School
Millwall, opened 1865
St. Lukes School started life in a so-called iron church (essentially, constructed with corrugated iron) built in 1865 on a piece of waste-land close to the east end of Strafford Street. The church became redundant upon the opening of St. Luke’s Church and in 1873 a new school was opened on the other side of Westferry Road from Strafford Street.
Survey of London:
Built of stock brick, with dressings and horizontal banding of white brick, faced internally with unplastered perforated white brick, the school had little pretension to style beyond a few Gothic touches. An L-shaped range of three floors, it could take nearly 200 each of boys, girls and infants. It was inferior to a Board School in accommodation and fittings. Despite alterations and improvements, there were fundamental shortcomings, as an LCC inspector found in 1932:
The three floors are connected only by an uncovered iron staircase, and entrance to each department is through a classroom. The building has neither a hall nor a staff room. There is no stock room, no corridor in which a cupboard could be placed, and the one playground would hardly allow comfortable standing room for the children.
In 1971 the school transferred to the former Cubitt Town School in Saunders Ness Road. The old building was demolished and its site absorbed into Lenanton’s, named St. Luke’s Wharf (not that there ever was a St. Luke’s Wharf).
Just visible in the previous photo, left of the belisha beacon, is the memorial stone that used to be on the wall of the school. This stone is still present on the wall of the new shops and flats built on the site.
Christ Church National School
Not long after the opening of Christ Church in the 1850s, Christ Church National School was built on land between the vicarage and Billson Street (a section of the street whch is now known as Glenworth Avenue), site of a police station these days…..if it’s still open….
Survey of London:
There was no endowment, however, and financial difficulties, exacerbated by the unsatisfactory condition of the buildings, forced the managers to transfer the schools to the London School Board in 1876. Indeed, the state of the building was such that in 1888 the Board decided to erect a new school with greater accommodation and its lease of the Christ Church Schools was terminated in 1891.
An alternative for the school was built close by, in Wharf Road (now Saunders Ness Road), Cubitt Town School. Parts of the school building later became part of the church hall.
St John’s School, Roserton Street
Originally called, St Paul’s National School (oddly enough), the original school buildings consisted of a large single-storey mixed schoolroom, with a smaller adjoining classroom for infants. Both buildings were enlarged in later years.
The school buildings were badly damaged during the Second World War and were demolished soon after.
Opened 1873, as Millwall British School
Built as a replacement for – and originally named – Millwall British School (see above), the school was renamed in the 1930s when British Street was renamed Harbinger Street by Poplar Borough Council (because there was another British Street in its administrative area, a street which still exists in Bow).
During the Blitz the school was damaged by bombs which severely destroyed St. Cuthbert’s Church, the Great Eastern pub and houses nearby in Westferry Road.
After the war, the waste-ground in front of the school was used for a variety of (sometimes unofficial) purposes before it became part of the school’s playground.
A few years later, when our family moved from Stepney to the Island, Harbinger became my primary school. Sadly, I don’t have a single Harbinger class photo that includes myself.
Around this time the school building was extended a little with the construction of a new toilet and cloakroom block at the front (I can remember the extension frequently flooding due to the large quantities of indestructible LCC loo paper being stuffed down the toilets).
It was also around this time that we could all afford colour photos.
St Edmund’s School
The present St. Edmund’s School was opened in 1909 and replaced an earlier school built in 1873.
Survey of London:
Before the original school was built, in 1873, day and evening classes for local Catholics had been held in St Edward’s Chapel in Moiety Road, and by 1871 there was another day school at No. 68 Stebondale Street in Cubitt Town, run by a mistress under Father Biemans’s management. Designed to accommodate 400 children, the school, which adjoined the clergy-house, was in a utilitarian Gothic style, distinguished by a plate-traceried window on the first floor.
In 1928–9 a large ground-floor extension was built at the side of the school, comprising two classrooms, a cloakroom, staff room and stock room. It was intended that, funds permitting, a first-floor hall would be added later on, but this was not done.
Its site now occupied by Cubitt Town School, the first Glengall School opened in 1876 on vacant land purchased from the Charteris estate. Two years later it was realized that the school was too small and an extension was built offering places for close to 200 more pupils. And then, three years later, the school was extended yet again, adding 795 places.
A remarkable example of bad forecasting, one would say, but was anything learned from it? Survey of London:
Plans for the enlargement of the school were made in 1895, 1914 and the late 1920s, but none of them was implemented. Nevertheless, the site was enlarged by the purchase of a strip of land 20ft deep along the whole of the rear boundary, acquired from the Port of London Authority for £1,500, and land on the east side was also acquired.
In 1935 the school was replaced by the present building. During the war, as with other schools on the Island, it served as a depot for the emergency services, whose members clearly had too much time on their hands between air raids 🙂
The school survived the war relatively unscathed.
Whoops, sorry, wrong language. Let me try that again…..
As mentioned in the news article above, Glengall School ceased to exist in 1971, and its buildings were taken over by Cubitt Town School, then located in Saunders Ness Road. This move led to some protest as Glengall School was the only secondary school on the Island – a protest that led to George Green’s School moving to the Island.
Cubitt Town School
Cubitt Town School was opened in Wharf Road (now Saunders Ness Road) in 1891.
In the 1930s, land adjacent to the school was purchased, the school buildings demolished, a new school built on the site, opening in 1938.
Scarcely had the paint dried when World War II started and the school was taken over by the emergency services. Most Island schoolchildren were evacuated to the countryside.
On 18th September 1940, Cubitt Town School was the scene of one of the worst incidents of the war on the Island when it received a direct hit and almost 30 people, mostly emergency workers, were killed. Rescue worker Bill Regan:
What a bloody mess, the whole guts blown away, only two end flanks standing. There were more than 40 people stationed here; I only saw one survivor, the gatekeeper, a man who lived in Pier Street, who had lost a leg in the 14-18 war.
He said he saw this parachute coming down, and thought it was a barrage balloon, it was a parachute mine, and he was lucky to be on the opposite side to where it landed, with building between him and it. He was blasted into the road, but miraculously none of the debris had hit him. Within minutes we had located the spot they were likely to be, and got two people out, but I don’t think they were alive as were working without lights and they were at best unconscious.
I don’t know how many we recovered, our relief came on at 8.00 a.m., but we carried on until nearly ten, when a squad from the other end of Poplar came to help.
The victims were fire-brigade personnel, ambulance men, and a complete mobile operating theatre, [which was] billeted next to our depot, in the swimming baths, and always left for Saunders Ness when the sirens sounded.
The damage to the school was so bad that it mostly had to be rebuilt. The school, containing 320 places, was completed in 1952.
In 1971 the school upped sticks and moved to the former Glengall School premises in Glengall Grove. Around the same time, St. Luke’s School moved from Westferry Road to Saunders Ness Road. Island kids always had the perfect excuse when late for school, “Sorry Miss, we had a bridger”, to which they could now add “Sorry Miss, I couldn’t find the school”.
Millwall Glengall Road School
Aka Millwall Isle of Dogs School, opened 1897
Millwall Glengall Road School is not to be confused with Glengall School, even though it was on the same road, albeit in the western half, in what is now Tiller Road. Survey of London:
A couple of iron buildings were put up by the London School Board in Glengall Road in 1895, providing temporary accommodation for 240 pupils. A permanent school, designed by T. J. Bailey, was built in 1896–7.
In 1911 the premises were extensively reorganized to provide a Higher Elementary school— in addition to the junior school— for teaching metalwork, science and domestic economy to pupils from several local schools. Such training facilities existed at Cubitt Town, but the frequent opening of the dock bridge in Glengall Road made this an impracticable destination for Millwall children. The rationale behind the change was to give a suitably industrial bias to the education of boys who would probably take jobs with local engineering or manufacturing firms on leaving school.
In 1929, after the opening of Millwall Central School in nearby Janet Street, Millwall Glengall Road Council School was renamed Millwall Isle of Dogs Council School. Survey of London:
By then the premises were obsolete and in need of replacement, while the roar of traffic made the site unsuitable. Extensively damaged by bombing in the Second World War, the school was not rebuilt.
Millwall Central School
In 1906, the LCC built a so-called “special school” on land that it had purchased between Maria Street and Janet Street. (Older Millwall residents will know that wedge-shaped piece of land on the right as The Ironie). Survey of London:
The special school, officially known as Janet Street (Mentally Defective) Council School, was erected in 1906–7 at a cost of £3,118 to take 60 children. By 1922 it was coping with far more than its official capacity and the school hall had been brought into use as a temporary classroom. There were then nearly 100 children classed as mentally handicapped living on the Isle of Dogs.
By 1931 the roll had fallen to 14 as a result of public housing relocations, the school was closed and the children transferred to a school in Pigott Street, Limehouse. The building was later used as the Infants’ Department of Glengall Road School, eventually closing in March 1945.
By the 1920s, the only ‘Higher Grade’ school on the Island, Glengall School (near Manchester Road, now the site of Cubitt Town School) was considered too far away for Millwall schoolchildren, especially because of the many bridgers at Glengall Road Bridge and the growth in heavy motorized traffic. To alleviate this, a new school was built on the land east of the special school; it was opened in 1928.
As with other Island schools, Millwall Central School was used by the emergency services during World War II.
And also like other Island schools, Millwall Central School was damaged beyond repair during World War II.
The site of the school is now partly occupied by Seven Mills Primary School.
Seven Mills Primary School
There were far more than seven windmills on the Isle of Dogs, but Gascoyne’s 1703 map shows just seven and this number seems to have stuck, so much so that it inspired the ILEA to use it for the name of the new primary school on the equally new Barkantine Estate.
George Green’s School
In 1972, after agitation from Islanders who wanted to see a secondary school on the Island (and undoubtedly full of post-UDI zest), the ILEA approved plans for a new mixed secondary school for 900 pupils on the Island, replacing the old George Green’s School in East India Dock Road. Although the school was seen as a positive development by almost everyone, it did mean the loss of many houses, shops and streets.