I was sent this wonderful photo of Charnwood Street School by someone whose father went to school there in the early 20th century. The building is still used as a school, of course, but here’s a little of its earlier history.
The school was designed by the local architect Edward Burgess for the Leicester School Board, an elected local authority which was set up in 1870. Before that most schools were provided by churches, chapels or charities, and it was part of the job of the School Board to fill in the gaps and provide enough places for the growing populations of Victorian towns. The Charnwood Street Board School was opened in May 1877 to accommodate over 1000 children – 383 Infants and 790 in the rest of the school – and cost £13,013. 8s 1d, including the site.
In the late 19th century its Headmaster was Lawrence Staines, who had previously been Head of Syston Street School, the first school to be opened by the Leicester School Board in January 1874. He was born in Leicester, and educated at Christ Church School in the Wharf Street area before training to be a teacher at St Martin’s College in Chelsea. He then taught for four years at a school in Forest Hill in south east London. On returning to Leicester he spent 14 years at King Richard’s Road School and seven at Syston Street before moving to Charnwood Street. According to an article in the local journal The Wyvern in March 1899, six other headmasters in Leicester had been scholars or teachers at his schools at one time or another; and:
during his long career… Mr Staines has been the recipient of many presents from the scholars and teachers who have been under him, testifying to the high esteem in which they have held him.
Like most other Board Schools in urban areas, Charnwood Street had no playing fields and used the nearby Spinney Hill Park for games. Mr Staines himself was said to be an enthusiastic sportman, a member of his college football and cricket teams, ‘stroke oar in the college boat’, and captain of the Teachers’ Cricket Club for several years. An ‘active supporter of and worker for’ the Leicester Football Club (The Tigers), he was also Chairman of the Schools [Rugby] Football Union. In his professional capacity he served on the Committee of the Leicester and District Teachers’ Association for 21 years, and on the Executive Committee of the National Union of Teachers for eight years, ‘doing much useful propagandist work up and down the country’ (The Wyvern, 17 March 1899).
Leaping ahead to 1938, Charnwood Street School was by then looking and feeling its age and was modernised at a cost of £27,054, including the demolition of the nearby refuse destructor. The area was expected to ‘provide a school population for many years to come’, and as there was no other site available nearby for a new school the Education Committee decided ‘to try to turn and old school into a new one’ (Leicester Mercury, 26 July 1938). However, in a report by HM Inspectors in October 1951 the school was described as presenting ‘many difficulties and falls below modern standards’. These difficulties included a lack of space, especially in terms of classrooms, while the hall was unable to accommodate the whole school at once for assemblies or ‘allow freedom of movement’ for dancing and PE. Nevertheless, the Inspector noted, ‘commendable effort is made to keep the school in good order and to brighten it with fresh paint, cheerful pictures and flowers’.
The safety of the children was also a matter of concern. In the 1950s the school was using the playing field on Martin Street, the other side of Humberstone Road, for games on Mondays and for the annual Sports Days, but the space previously occupied by the refuse destructor was used to provide extra playground space for the Infants School. The ‘confined nature’ of the existing playgrounds was the cause of several accidents to the children – not to mention the danger of ‘extreme falls towards the railway’ from one of the walls around them. Similarly, the Headmistress’s request for a gas ring in the staff room was granted in 1964 because staff tea and coffee had to be made in the Nursery kitchenette and then carried the length of the school – a practice described as ‘very dangerous’ to both staff and children.
I’ll be passing on some memories of Charnwood Street School and the other schools in the area – Green Lane Road, St Saviour’s and Sacred Heart – in the next week or two, with some great photos, but if any of this jogs your memory in the meantime please do leave a comment!
Very many thanks to Audrey Payne for the photograph. The information about Charnwood Street School in the 1950s and ’60s is taken from Log Books and correspondence in the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland (30D73. 221 and 30D73/266.