38 Laystall St, Holborn, London EC1

Above: the building now houses Christopher Hatton Primary School

From: Survey of London: Volume 47, Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville. Originally published by London County Council, London, 2008;

“The oldest part of the building was erected in 1876 for the London School Board as Laystall Street School, intended for 500 children. It was extended to more than double the capacity in 1885–6, the extension being raised on arches because of a drop in the ground level; the space beneath was adapted as a covered playground. A new schoolkeeper’s house, replacing an old house originally retained for that purpose, was built at the same time. This was enlarged in 1894, when the playground was extended with a piece of land alongside the new Rosebery Avenue.

The school, which had become known as Rosebery Avenue School, was reorganized as Rosebery Avenue Primary School in 1949 and in 1951 renamed after Elizabeth I’s chancellor Sir Christopher Hatton (of Ely House, near Hatton Garden). By the late 1960s the roll had fallen to little over 200, and the school was eventually closed in 1969. The building was used for other purposes including teacher-training until reopened as a local authority primary school in 1996.

Both the original building and the extension are by the School Board’s architect E. R. Robson. The shaped gables fronting Laystall Street are characteristic of his early work for the board, while the later wing, of four storeys with a roof-top playground, is in the plainer, rectilinear style favoured by that date.”

John Boughton writes on his Municipal Dreams website:

“The London School Board built some 400 schools in the thirty years of its existence.  Together, they represent one of municipalism’s outstanding achievements.  Individually, they remain impressive both as architecture and symbol.

The origins of the London School Board lay in the 1870 Education Act – the first attempt to ensure the education of working-class children.  To this point, this had been a haphazard affair, relying on the voluntary efforts of the churches or generally low-quality private provision.

The Act required that sufficient schools be provided to educate all children between the ages of 5 and 13.  Elected School Boards were to be established where provision by other means had proved inadequate.  In London, particularly in its poorer areas, the inadequacy of current provision was so obvious that the Act required the establishment of a Board from the outset.

…Beyond this, there was a commitment to design – understood as inextricably linked to purpose – that stands to the credit of the Board and the man appointed as its architect in 1871, Edward Robert Robson.  He  built or supervised the building of 289 new board schools in London between 1871 and 1884.

Architecturally, there had been already a reaction against the florid neo-Gothic of the high-Victorian era.  The Arts and Crafts movement was gaining influence and its impact was shown in Robson’s philosophy of design:

To do ordinary buildings well, using every material rightly and justly, is the first mark of that interdependence between building and architecture which renders the higher and more intellectual efforts of  the latter at all possible…Architecture is not mere display, it is not fashion, it’s not for the rich alone.

For these reasons, Robson sought a precedent rooted in English craft and a ‘simple brick style’.  He alighted on:

the time of the Jameses, Queen Anne, and the early Georges, whatever some enthusiasts may think of its value in point of art. The buildings then approach more nearly the spirit of our own time, and are invariably true in point of construction and workmanlike feeling.

Here lay the origins of the so-called Queen Anne style of which the Board Schools are among the best exemples.  Architectural historians will point out that this was, in fact, an eclectic style incorporating Classical, Flemish and French Renaissance influences.  But this hybridity did, nevertheless, provide a distinct and attractive appearance to the schools.

…The schools’ presence was further enhanced by their scale and elevation.  Typically, they were ‘three-decker’ – a design reflecting their three divisions of pupil: infants on the ground floor, older girls and boys taught separately on the second and third floors. Some of the schools, where the sites were unusually constrained, also had a rooftop play area.

Internally, there was far less decorative effect.  Originally, the schools were designed with very large classrooms in which several groups could be taught simultaneously by teacher-monitors who were thus more easily supervised.

Over time and against initial resistance to this ‘Prussian’ model, smaller, separate classrooms, each with their own teacher became the norm.  There was some lag between the innovativeness of school architecture and the very traditional pedagogy it housed…”

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