Victory Primary School, Walworth, London

Notes towards a Short History Based on Internet Resources

by Pavlos Andronikos

 


For Miss Lee, my teacher 1962-1964


 

Photo by Pavlos Andronikos

Prehistory

The sequence of events that would lead to the founding of a new school at Victory Place in 1875 can be said to have begun with the passing of the Elementary Education Act in August 1870.[1]

The Act, which demonstrated for the first time a government commitment to the provision of elementary education nationally, required that elected school boards be formed in the boroughs or parishes in which they were needed. These would be responsible for the building and administration of “board schools”.

In the case of London, a School Board for the whole metropolitan area was created with the election of members being held in November and the first Board meeting taking place on 15 December 1870.

The London School Board quickly set to work on one of the most urgent tasks facing it—the erection of school buildings in areas where not enough school places were available:

At a very early period of their existence the Board... decided to apply to the Education Department for authority to provide forthwith a limited number of schools in the districts where the deficiency of school places had been ascertained to be very great.
 
The Statistical Committee were instructed to select the localities for these schools; and after consultation with the Divisional Members, application was made to the Education Department for power to establish twenty schools in London, located as follows: One in Chelsea, three in Finsbury, one in Greenwich, two in Hackney, one in Lambeth, four in Marylebone, three in Southwark, four in Tower Hamlets, and one in Westminster.
 
The application was made to the Education Department on July 6th, 1871, and so impressed were the Department with the urgent need for school provision, that they sanctioned the erection of these twenty schools on July 11th.[2]

Victory Place School does not seem to have been one of this first batch of schools, of which three were in Southwark, but it was one of the first ninety nine schools provided by the Board, which in the thirty three years of its existence constructed more than four hundred new schools! [3]

The Site

On the basis of a copy, held by the Lambeth Archives, of a conditional agreement for purchase by the School Board for London of the land on which Victory Place School was built, we can surmise that planning for the School was under way by May 1873, the date of the agreement.[4] The land bought was part of an area still known as Locks Fields, a reclaimed swamp which was fast being built up.

Since the commencement of the present century a considerable advance has been made in the way of buildings in this neighbourhood, particularly on the east side of the Walworth Road. Lock's Fields, formerly a dreary swamp, and Walworth Common, which was at one time an open field, have been covered with houses.[5]

Lock or Locks Fields were so called because of a leper hospital—the Lock Hospital—which used to be situated by the Neckinger River where Bartholomew Street meets Great Dover Street.[6] The origin of the word “lock” as used here is uncertain. It could be from the old French loques meaning rags, i.e., the rags applied to leprous sores, or it could be from the Saxon loq, to be closed in. Whatever its origins, the word “lock” came to mean, inter alia, “an infirmary”, and is so defined in Nathan Bailey's dictionary of 1721.[7]

Weller London map 1868 (detail)

The Weller London map of 1868 (detail above) shows that, East of Rodney Road, Locks Fields were still mostly open ground in the late 1860s.[8] However the map also shows that there were buildings along the Rodney Road and Victory Place boundaries of the site for the new school, which would have had to be demolished. The school site’s northern boundary was Little Trafalgar Place, later renamed Elba Place.

The Original Buildings

The character of the new schools built by the School Board for London owed much to the ideas of the architect Edward Robert Robson, who was appointed chief architect for the London School Board in 1871.[9] It was Robson himself who designed the buildings for the Victory Place Board School. We can get a fairly detailed picture of what they were like from a description in the trade periodical The Architect:

These schools are situated at the corner of Rodney Road and Victory Place, near the Elephant and Castle. They consist of two separate buildings, one for infants, of one storey in height, and the other, of three storeys, for the boys and girls, the latter being placed on the first and the former on the second floor, the ground-floor being entirely open (except the caretaker’s apartments, & c.), and forming an extensive covered playground for the girls and infants. Each school contains a large school-room with four class-rooms adjoining, the infants’ having, in addition, extensive class-rooms for the use of the “babies.” Each department has separate access, with ample lavatory and cloak-room contiguous. Especial attention has been paid throughout to the sanitary arrangements, and the playgrounds are exceptionally large and commodious. In the elevation Portland stone bands have been introduced to relieve the stock brick facing and the red brick dressings. The school will accommodate nearly 1,000 children, and has been erected by Messrs. Cook & Green, contractors, from the designs of Mr. E. R. Robson, Mr. R. Walker acting as clerk of works. The amount of the contract was under 8,500/.[10]

In addition the Ordinance Survey Map of London published in 1895 gives a very clear idea of how the buildings were situated on the site and in relation to each other:[11]

The layout of the school buildings in 1893
The layout of the school buildings in 1893

I have only been able to find one photograph of the original school buildings. This seems to be a view of the main building from Rodney Road, taken from roughly where the “Y” of “RODNEY” is on the Ordinance Survey Map above.

The main school building 1875
The original school building

As can be seen in the photograph, the 1875 school buildings were sombre and somewhat Gothic in style. At three storeys high the main building formed an impressive and perhaps intimidating structure. This was probably intentional.

The Nearby Ragged School

It is interesting to note that according to the Weller London map of 1868 above, there was a Ragged School on the other side of Rodney Road, right by the site for the new Victory Place School.[12] Perhaps this Ragged School should be seen as a forerunner of the Victory Place Board School, and not just because the success of the ragged schools movement was a key factor in the emergence of the perception that proper new elementary schools for the poor were necessary. It is possible that this particular Ragged School was taken over by the London School Board prior to the building of the new school. In the beginning the Board was responsible for the education of thousands of children but did not yet possess any school buildings. Consequently, the Board accepted many schools which offered to transfer to its authority and used their buildings on a temporary basis until its own new buildings were ready.[13]

Twenty three Ragged Schools were thus transferred to the Board in the years 1870 to 1875 (four in 1871, fourteen in 1872, three in 1873 and two in 1874).[14] Whether the one on Rodney Road was one of these twenty three has to remain for the time being a matter of conjecture, pending further research. What is certain is that when the new school buildings were ready, the pupils (and perhaps the teachers) of the Ragged School would inevitably have been absorbed into the new school.

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

It was in the original buildings, some twenty years later, that Charlie Chaplin got his first taste of schooling. His teacher Mrs E. E. Turner-Dauncey recalled that she taught Charlie Chaplin at Victory Place Board School when he was between four and five.

“I remember his large eyes, his mass of dark curly hair, and his beautiful small hands. He was very sweet and so shy. He copied his famous walk from an old man who gave oatmeal and water to the horses with cabs and carts outside the Elephant & Castle.”[15]

Mr W. H. Libby, Headmaster in the Late 1890s

W. H. Libby seems to have been an exceptional headmaster. He is referred to in an article in the The Manchester Guardian Weekly as one of those caring teachers who cultivate an enduring relationship with their pupils:

... Well, children need love. Sometimes they find it in the master or mistress at the day school. Oh, yes, indeed. I had not known Walworth many weeks before I met lads and young men to whom the title “One of Mr. Libby's boys” (Mr. Libby, head master of Victory Place board school in the late [eighteen] nineties) was a source of pride... [16]

However he is primarily remembered for being instrumental in setting up the supply of free meals for poorer pupils.

A specially interesting and well-organised system of food supply is that of the East Lambeth Teachers’ Association, which in the winter of 1902-03 provided nearly 93,000 dinners for the needy children of 38 South London schools. The Fund, which has been in existence since 1892, originated in this wise: Mr W. H. Libby, the headmaster of the Board School at Victory Place, Walworth, noticing two brothers in his school who seemed very weak and languid, asked if they were hungry. “Yes, sir,” was the answer, “we have had nothing to eat for two days.” To test the truth of this statement Mr Libby sent out for a pennyworth of the stalest bread that could be obtained; this he gave to the boys, and they devoured it ravenously. Believing this to be no isolated case, though perhaps a specially bad one, Mr Libby enlisted the sympathy and help of his fellow-teachers, and the Scholars’ Free Meal Fund was started.
Very substantial help was obtained from a gentleman whose ambition it was to convert the world to vegetarianism, and in deference to his views the Association still works on strictly vegetarian lines. The dinners consist of soup or pudding, and the preparation and distribution are carried out in a quite unique manner. The crypt of St Peter’s Church, Walworth, has been equipped as a food supply depot, and is under the management of the Rev. Canon Horsley, M.A., and an energetic band of voluntary workers. Here the food for all the participating schools is cooked overnight, and placed in specially made asbestos-lined vessels, in which it will keep hot for twenty-four hours. In the morning the cans containing the hot soup or pudding, as the case may be, are despatched by vans to reach the different centres in time for dinner. If required, the Association can supply 5000 meals a day at an inclusive cost of a penny per meal.
One admirable feature about the Lambeth system, which might with advantage be widely extended, is that meals are provided not only for destitute children but for those who are able and willing to pay the cost of the meal. Thousands of Board School children are unable to get a comfortable and nourishing meal at home because their mothers are obliged to go out to work. Such children are sent to school with a make-shift dinner, consisting probably of slices of bread and butter, or with a few pence, which they expend not more wisely than might be expected. In winter time a hot dinner obtainable at school for a penny or twopence would be a real boon to many such, and not the least advantage of the extension of this system would be that no stigma of pauperism would attach to the eating of a school dinner. At the Lambeth schools the diners do not know who of their number have paid the full price, who part of the cost, and who have come in with free tickets.[17]

By the time I was a pupil at the school, every school in the country offered cooked school dinners as a matter of course. At Victory Primary School these were prepared on site, and were available to each pupil, if desired, for one shilling a day. Each dinner consisted of a meat dish (e.g., shepherd’s pie, roast beef, sausages, toad in the hole, etc.) plus potatoes and “greens”; and this main course was followed by a dessert—pudding and custard. The alternative was to go home for dinner, but few did.

In addition, at morning break, each child was given free a small bottle of milk (one third of a pint). The welfare state truly catered for the welfare of its children.

Questions in Parliament

We next hear of the school in August 1909 when a question is raised in Parliament regarding the adequacy of its facilities. By this time the London School Board had been abolished by the Education Act of 1902, and its responsibilities for education in London had passed to the London County Council (formed in 1889).[18]

Mr. Ramsay Macdonald asked the President of the Board of Education [i.e., Department of Education] whether he has received a memorandum from the managers of the Victory Place Schools, Walworth, stating that the schools are so badly lit as to cause injury to the children’s eyesight, that the sanitary arrangements are insufficient, that they are inefficiently equipped in case of fire, and showing that these complaints are supported by His Majesty’s inspectors; whether the memorandum draws his attention to the delay on the part of the late School Board and the London County Council in remedying these defects; and whether the Education Department proposes to compel the education authority to take immediate action regarding this school?

To which Mr. Runciman, the President of the Board of Education responded:

I have received a memorandum from the managers of this school, which includes the criticisms to which the hon. Member refers. The condition of the premises has been adversely reported upon by His Majesty’s inspector, and the Board have already been in communication with the London County Council on the subject. The managers’ memorandum will now be referred to the Council for their observations.[19]

These criticisms are surprising given the very positive appraisal of the new school buildings in the periodical The Architect cited above, especially the complaint that the sanitary arrangements are insufficient. In The Architect we were told that: “Especial attention has been paid throughout to the sanitary arrangements.”

I have yet to discover what immediate actions, if any, were taken by the London County Council in response to the complaints cited by Ramsay Macdonald, but a few years later, the original school buildings were demolished and the current school building was erected. This does not seem to have been a direct response to the complaints described above, although they may have been a factor in the decision-making process.

The Rebuilding of the School—Dates

According to what seems to be an authoritative source—the London Metropolitan Archives—the demolition of the old school buildings and the erection of the new took place in 1913-14.[20] However there is reason to think that these dates may be inaccurate, and should be 1912-13 or 1912-14.

The evidence for a 1912 start is the fact that the District Surveyor summonsed the builders Holliday & Greenwood for failing, on or before 6 September 1912, to serve a building notice on him with regard to Victory Place School as required by the London Building Act of 1894.[21] (On appeal, the builder and the LCC were vindicated.)[22] This suggests that work began on replacing the school buildings in September 1912, since only two days notice was required.[23]

An earlier start date than 1913 is also indicated by the fact that in late July 1913, the Education Committee reported to a meeting of the London County Council that the new building was “nearing completion, and would shortly be ready for occupation”.[24]

Also, in The Times of 12 March 1913 there is a call for tenders for the “installation at the Victory-place Elementary School, Walworth” of “about 178 lighting points”.[25] This suggests that building progress was at an advanced stage earlier in the year.

If the new building was “nearing completion, and would shortly be ready for occupation” in late July 1913, then it is likely that it was completed before the year was out, and perhaps in time for the beginning of the 1913-1914 school year.

The Annual Report of the Council, 1914, states that the rebuilding of Victory Place School “was completed during the year”,[26] but If the Report covers the year from April 1913 to March 1914, as the alternative title given by Google indicates (“Annual Report of the Proceedings of the Council for the Year Ended 31st March 1914”), then it is possible that what is referred to here is completion in 1913 rather than 1914. [I am forced to resort to conjecture here because of the restrictions imposed by Google’s “snippet view”.]

The Rebuilding of the School—Reasons

The rebuilding of the Victory Place school was not an isolated instance. Many Board school buildings were rebuilt as a result of government-imposed requirements introduced from 1907.

Some rebuilding of the first crop of SBL [School Board for London] schools from the 1870s was found necessary by the LCC [London County Council]. The problem was not their condition—the demolished schools were substantial structures with an average age of only 50 years—but an obsolescence caused by changes in planning and accommodation standards. In 1907, the Board of Education established new building regulations for elementary schools, including ‘certain requirements as to plans’, standardised classroom sizes and the provision of halls, gymnasia and playgrounds. In 1912, the LCC introduced the so-called ‘40 and 48’ scheme with the approval of Board, which set class size maxima of 48 for infants and 40 for senior pupils, requiring 120,000 additional places, spurring a capital investment programme which only saw completion in the mid-1930s. It was not due to their age, quality or condition that many board schools were rebuilt. Indeed, their very permanence made them inflexible buildings and in some cases remodelling was deemed prohibitively difficult, making demolition the only apparent answer.[27]

In order to spur it on to greater efforts and to encourage more rapid improvements, the Board of Education was not averse to withholding funds from the London County Council. For example, in November 1910 the Board of Education is reported to have withheld £65,967 because the classes in the London County Council’s schools contained more than 60 pupils each. The Council responded with a statement that it had “for a long time been hurrying forward the erection of buildings in order to allow of more classes being arranged”.[28]

Since the Board of Education had made it clear that the maximum of 60 per class was only a temporary measure, and that it intended to further reduce the number allowed in a class from time to time, the London County Council decided in 1912 to embark upon the “40 and 48” scheme, i.e., to restrict classes to a maximum of 48 in the infants and 40 at the junior levels.

Cyril S. Cobb, a leading member of the London County Council from 1905, and chairman from 1913 to 1914, explained the rationale for this as follows:

Now our experience has shown us that the difficulties of the London area render it extremely inconvenient—indeed, wellnigh impossible—for us to deal from time to time with successive reductions of this kind. It is much better, and far more economical, for us to deal with the whole question at once... [29]

In any case the London County Council had already adopted the maximums of 40 and 48 for all new buildings back in 1907.[30] Now it intended to adapt or rebuild older schools to these new requirements. Thus in 1912 a programme of enlargement, structural improvement or rebuilding of existing schools was embarked upon. At this point the fate of the 1875 Victory Place school buildings was sealed.[31] They would be demolished and replaced by one new three storey building.

The New Building

The new school building was probably designed by Robert Robertson who from 1911 was the Chief Divisional Architect (Schools) in the London County Council Architects’ Department, but this needs to be confirmed through further research. The new building is described by one researcher, Tim Walder, as follows:

The current building is a good example of how the LCC moved on a little following Bailey’s death. It is a three storey single block without wings in yellow London stock brick with minimal ornamentation but with the vestiges of a Queen Anne feel. It does not yet have the eaves or more complex roof outline of the later LCC Philip Webb style schools. The effect is plain but massive and quite strong.[32]

View of Victory Primary School from the entrance to Elba Place
View of Victory Primary School from the entrance to Elba Place looking South East, 2002. (Photo: Pavlos Andronikos)

To my mind, the school’s classical simplicity is both elegant and functional. As a former pupil (1958-1964) I can testify that even as a boy I was fond of the school building. From the point of view of a young pupil, it was roomy, bright, airy, and reassuringly solid.

View of the rear and north side of Victory Primary School
View of the rear and north side of Victory Primary School from Elba Place, 2002. (Photo: Pavlos Andronikos)

“The Caretaker’s House”

One small building in the North West corner of the site was saved from demolition when the 1875 buildings were torn down. When I was a pupil at the school it was called “the caretaker’s house”, and the caretaker did indeed live there, but that may not have been its original function since, as we saw above in the extract from The Architect, the ground-floor of the main building included “the caretaker’s apartments”. Perhaps the house was accommodation for the Head Teacher.

The “caretaker’s house”
The “caretaker’s house”, Oct. 2016, from the entrance to Elba Place. (Photo: Google Maps Street View)

Charlie Drake (1925-2006)

The comedian Charlie Drake attended Victory Place School in the 1930s.[33]

“Destroyed in the War”?

In my researches I came across a reference to the school’s being “destroyed in the war”, but I have been unable to confirm the statement:

... In 1933, he [Francis Llewelyn Powys] married Sally Upfield, daughter of the Headmaster of Victory Place School, Walworth—one of the schools destroyed in the war.[34]

As far as I can discover no bombs fell on the school, neither in the 1st, nor in the 2nd World War. However, some bombs fell very close to the school in the 2nd World War.

Recently, in 2015, Laurence Ward, a curator at the London Metropolitan Archives, published a book of the London County Council’s Bomb Damage Maps, which are hand-coloured to show the extent of the damage inflicted on London by the Luftwaffe.[35] The map showing the school and the surrounding area confirms that the school was not damaged by bombs. However, the southern end of the Palatinate Building on Rodney Place was badly damaged, as were the buildings on the other side of Rodney Place in Munton Road. Curiously, the damage shown in the map on the south west side of Rodney Road does not agree with what I remember. As I recall, the rectangle formed by the streets Deacon, Eider, Brandon and Rodney Road was uneven waste ground which everybody called “the bomb site”, and this waste ground extended across Eider Street. The row of buildings on Rodney Road was clearly missing one or two buildings at the Eider Street end for one could see on the side of the first building the remains of living rooms.

On a personal note, it is fascinating to see that my family home in the late 50s and early 60s, 3 Elba Place, is coloured dark red!

Bomb damage around the school

A New Name

The Victory Place School was renamed Victory Primary School in 1951. Presumably this was because calling it Victory Place School no longer made as much sense since the main entrances to the school were now on the northern side in the cul-de-sac Elba Place. Another motivation may have been the desire to imply that the victory referred to in the name was the triumph of the allies in the 2nd World War rather than the defeat of Napoleon commemorated by the street name Victory Place.

Thank You Film Award

In 2014 Victory Primary School won the national Thank You Film Awards competition (London Primary School section) with the film “Today I Will Sing For You (Daddy Song)”. The competition was organised by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues of the University of Birmingham. [36] The award-winning video was produced and directed by Zuzana Pelaez, and was filmed by the “Reception Class children and their dads”. It features a very appealing song and music by Alejandro Pelaez.

Most of the action takes place in what used to be the Girls’ Playground (Western Playground). The façade of the school building can frequently be seen. Also visible is the “the caretaker’s house”.

Pavlos Andronikos
December 2016, November 2019

 

Aerial view of the school site

 

Footnotes

Warning
Some of the links may no longer be current. An internet search for the title should bring up the current address if the source is still available.