Compulsory Education and The London School Board

The 1870 Education Act made it compulsory for children to attend school and soon the typical three-decker London school buildings were arising all over London. The newly formed London School Board was searching actively for sites, so a block of dilapidated houses in Lisson Street, next to an existing Ragged School, must have been ideal.

Bell Street School

Bell Street School opened just opposite the Ragged School. Clearly the latter would not be able to compete and closed by agreement. The London School Board took over the lease, but reserved the use of the building on Sundays to the managers of the Ragged School.1

Bell Street School, built 1874, demolished 1960.

On 7 January 1874 a Headmaster for the Boys School was appointed at £130 a year; a Headmistress for the Girls at £75 (later £80) and a Headmistress for the Infants School at £80. In later years a house in Bell Street which backed on to the playground was converted into a Domestic Science Centre.

The Domestic Science Building

The new school was an impressive building, with Mixed Infants on the ground floor, Girls on the first and Boys at the top, each with entrances and playgrounds segregated from the others. Incidentally, these Board schools were the first properly designed schools in the country. Earlier schools had been in churches and other buildings, constructed for other purposes, without consideration for the needs of pupils or education. The London School Board had to think out the problem afresh. Each floor had a sunny south-facing hall, and class rooms leading off, reducing corridors to the minimum. Double-height ceilings provided plenty of air for each pupil, the only defence at that time against tuberculosis. There was one unusual feature in all the building contracts. The building work was priced and then 10% was added so that the buildings could be made 'of architectural interest'. This extra money made possible good brickwork, decorative belfries, and a general feeling of wellbeing. Conan Doyle called the new schools:

"Lighthouses. 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."

Charles Booth, in his book 'Life and Labour of the People of London', said,

'In every corner the eye is arrested by their distinctive architecture, as they stand, closest where the need is greatest, each like a tall sentinel at his post, keeping watch and ward over the generation which is to replace our own. - - -Taken as a whole they may be said fairly to represent the high water mark in relation to the education of the children of the people.'


  1. Minute books of London School Board, 21 Feb. 1872


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Updated July 5, 2011