Old Monovians Association; History of the School

Financial crisis and the County takeover; 1889 - 1927

 

 

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The re-founded school was further financed by a complex scheme of the Charity Commissioners, made in 1890. By it, the school was subsidised further by the diversion of funds from yet other Walthamstow charities, notably the dole charities of Rigg, Sims, Banks, Legendre, Collard, Harman and Bedford, and the Apprentice Boys' Charity of Mary Newell. These charities produced about £145 annually. There was a certain degree of opposition to the 1890 scheme from some townspeople, led by J. J. McSheedy, a Radical and perpetual opponent of the Walthamstow establishment. They accused the Governors of financial mismanagement, and certain of them of open dishonesty. But behind this lay a total unwillingness to accept that money left to the poor of  Walthamstow should be diverted to "educate the sons of gentlemen", as one of McSheedy's round robins dated September 1891 had it.

For this point of view there was certainly some justification. By the 1884 and 1890 schemes, there were to be about 25 free places at the school. On the basis, however, of the school fees at this time being £6 per annum, the income lost to the authorities was some £150. Over £300 per annum, however, was being appropriated from the charity account - £145 from those listed above, £130 from the Inhabitants' Fund of 1650, and £50 from Wise's charity. Thus there was indeed an effective subvention to the school from funds originally intended for relief of the poor.

The social composition of the school in l890, though not quite of a nature accurately to be described as "sons of gentlemen", was certainly not representative of the town as a whole. In l887-8 no less than 67 % of the fathers of boys admitted were in the professions, clerical workers, or retailers. In 1902, this figure was 79 %. In the national census, these groups accounted for but 13 % of Walthamstow's population.

It is worth mentioning here that, from the 1890s a number of Monoux boys were prepared for entrance to Christ's Hospital at the age of 13. Cambridge Local Examinations were taken, and a number of boys also sat for the Civil Service Third Division or L.C.C. Clerical Class examinations at the age of fourteen. There was no uniform, but during the 1890s certain boys wore a clerical type habit about which little is known, though it may have been in connection with Christ's Hospital admission. There was also a red and black cap, awarded for success in sport.

Sir Reader Bullard, a Walthamstow boy of the 1890s, who attended first Bancroft's School, and then the Monoux School, even whilst a pupil realised the root causes of the school's problems; the lack of money, and the comparative lack of scholarship of the staff. Bullard, it may be noted, though obviously a brilliant pupil in the elementary school he attended, failed the Monoux entrance examination, probably because of the number of subjects required, which then included shorthand or drawing.

H. A. Allpass was earning £500 per annum as headmaster when he resigned in 1903 because of ill-health. He recommended William Francis Spivey, the second master, to be his successor. The Governors acquiesced in the choice of Spivey, but took the line that they could no longer afford to pay him £500. They invited the Board of Education to concur in an open defiance of the 1884 scheme, by which the minimum salary permissible was £400. This the Board refused to do; but the Governors  adopted an artful compromise, whereby they paid Spivey £500, but expected him to employ the woodwork master (at £100 per annum) out of his stipend. They also failed to advertise the post publicly as the scheme required. No doubt they saw this as a proper course in the circumstances, but it had the effect only of procuring a further existence for the school on the verge of penury. Spivey was always patently very highly regarded by all who knew him, whether boy or master, but in the light of subsequent reports it may be doubted whether he was as ideal a Headmaster as the Governors obviously thought.

The state of the school twenty years after re-foundation is shown in several ways. The first of these are the Inspectors' Reports, the second is Michael Sadler's very thorough examination of secondary education in Essex, and the third by the various, and numerous, accounts of former masters and pupils.

Of these, Sadler is probably the most valuable in placing the development of the school into the context of the times. By 1900, Walthamstow had grown almost to its optimum population. If we think, then, of the vast number of houses erected since 1900, we may envisage something of the social fabric of the town in the first decade of this century - a much larger family size, a much more densely packed population, predominantly young families. Most of these were skilled artisans - only 13% were professional, commercial and clerical persons, and less than 10% unskilled labourers. Because of the profusion of large growing families, the educational system had to be in a state of continual expansion; and a walk through Walthamstow even today will provide plenty of proof of the School Board's endeavours and success in providing elementary school places in their large, two-storeyed, neighbourhood schools.

Secondary education in the country as a whole was less well provided. The private entrepreneur was a common aspect of the system, with the large municipal, or county, higher school much less so. The Monoux School had been re-housed in 1889, the plans having been drawn up some years previously. Between 1885 and 1910 Walthamstow's population had increased by 300%; the population under fifteen years of age by an even greater percentage. Hence the accommodation had become inadequate. Moreover, the total income for school purposes was extremely low - £135 from the foundation, £365 in government grant, and £250 from the county were received in 1903-4. Fees brought in just over £800. The resources were, then, at a very low level. Some boys at the school at the time of Sadler's survey had come from the Council elementary schools (44%). Rather more had private primary education (53%). This again reflects the fact that the 13 % of Walthamstow's population engaged in professional and clerical work provided a disproportionately high number of the Monoux pupils.

This in part illustrates that secondary education was given a low priority in the accepted way of life for working-class children. It is largely forgotten these days that such families, often of six or seven children, could live adequately only if children were sent out to work at the earliest possible age. The chances of a boy in London and its suburbs in 1892, for instance, gaining a scholarship to a secondary school had been calculated as 170 to 1. But the inhabitants of Walthamstow in the early part of this century were beginning to have rather higher aspirations for their children, and it is probable that real poverty in the town was low. Many of the artisan families could manage to keep their sons longer at school, through higher earning capacity. Sadler informs us that perhaps 75% of leavers entered the professions, the Civil Service, or city offices as clerks. The last named was the most popular, with only about 15% entering the Civil Service, and 7 or 8% the professions. Hence it is clear that the Monoux School offered, even in its condition in 1905, a means of social advancement to the middle strata of Walthamstow society.

The fees at the school were £6 per annum for the older boys, with an extra 24s. a year for books and the like. Only six or seven scholarships were available for the annual intake of 45. These were preferentially awarded to boys from Walthamstow council schools.

Sadler's report on the school, if optimistic, was in general adverse. His main objections were to the inadequacy of the buildings and the consequent restrictions placed on the teaching. This was, of course, only part of the school's perennial problem - the lack of funds, which was probably at that time insoluble. Sadler's assessment of the teaching was also low, and he particularly disapproved of the arrangement of the curriculum. He argued that in view of the future careers of the bulk of the pupils, excessive time was spent on science and mathematics. The reason for this disproportion was, again, the lack of funds. The Board of Education had a special grant available to secondary schools able to provide an experimental science course, and which could provide a certain standard of teaching in the subject. This was an essential part of the Monoux School's income, hence the timetable had at some time - probably in 1895 or l896 - been adjusted to provide the required amount of natural science teaching. In fact, the proportion of science teaching in 1906 differed little from that of the 1960s. By an accident of administration and financial necessity, the school's curriculum provided a modern (i.e. a post-World War II) subject balance in Edwardian times.

Sadler's solution was to amalgamate the school with the Technical Institute day school, which had been founded in l897 by the then newly constituted Urban District Council. The Institute was co-educational from the beginning. By 1905 it catered for just over 200 children, of which girls were in a considerable majority. In effect, it provided a four year secondary course at eleven plus, and at thirteen plus a two year higher elementary course. Again, there was a scientific bias to the teaching in order to earn the Board of Education special grant. Sadler was much more satisfied with its teaching, which he saw as progressive and enthusiastic compared with the technique of the Monoux masters, which he regarded as outmoded and
pedestrian.

Sadler was an advocate of single-sex education, and advised accordingly that the Walthamstow High School for Girls (of which he approved without reservation) should, in effect, take the Technical Institute girls, whereas the Technical Institute/Monoux amalgamation should be in essence a take-over by the former, with the Monoux name being retained for historical reasons, if it were thought desirable.


The first statutory inspection of the school also took place in 1906, and its findings closely matched those of Sadler. The conclusion of the inspectors, though, was interesting. "There is so much that is good in the school, and it is so clearly capable of filling efficiently a most important place in the public provision of education, that it appears incumbent upon the local authority to secure to it . . . a sufficient income". The strongest subjects were science and mathematics; the weakest were history, art and French. Entrance Scholarships were at this time awarded on the basis of an examination (held on the first Saturday in December) in Reading, Writing, Dictation, Drawing, and Arithmetic; and three subjects from History, Geography, Grammar, Mechanics and Shorthand. This exam must have been something of a marathon! The Headmaster stated that "scholarship boys pass through with distinction . . . some proceeding to the Universities".

In March 1907, the Board of Education threatened to withdraw its recognition of efficiency from the school, and its officers' minutes show clearly that this was an attempt to force the County Council into increasing their financial support, first given after the 1902 Education Act. A compromise was effected in June l907 whereby the county paid for an additional master (at £125 per annum), but the Board continued to deny permanent recognition, in the hope of persuading the council to give a further subvention. After an increase of fees in 1910, the Board put the school back on a permanent recognition basis.

Accounts of the school from former pupils at this time, like all such recollections, are tinged with sharp loyalty. There is no doubt the value of the teaching and school life were appreciated by the boys rather more than the accounts of Sadler and the Board's Inspectors would suggest. Despite the lack of money, school life was full. Games were played at various grounds in the town, the Forest was used for cross-country races and other athletic events. Various concerts and socials took place, and a December prize-giving, at the Victoria Hall, predecessor of the Granada Cinema. Most of the pupils found undoubtedly that the school gave them a good start in life; for many it was obviously the starting point of much social advancement. An Old Boys' Club was formed and thrived, when such things were virtually unknown, such was the loyalty of the former pupils.


In 1913 a General Inspection of the school took place, which was to have far-reaching consequences. The report of the Inspectors was very poor indeed. Teaching was regarded as inefficient in every subject other than Chemistry. Spivey's direction and leadership of the school was characterized as deficient. Some quotations will supply the tenor of the report . . . "there is little to say in praise of the staff" . . . "the literature teaching was dull and slow" . . . "the teaching was most faulty, and made worse by a flood of irrelevant talk". The Inspectors sum up, "The atmosphere of the school is one of plodding industry. Its modest work is done without flagging, and without distinction".

The private notes attached to the Board of Education records of the 1913 Inspection are very interesting. One particular master was heavily criticised and, on the day after the inspection, Spivey dismissed him. The master concerned appealed to the Board of Education. The Inspectors thought Spivey had too high an opinion of the individual and collective worth of his staff and framed some of their report with the intention of getting this across to him. They were particularly worried that "neither the headmaster nor any member of staff seems capable of stimulating interest . . . in clubs and societies . . . the whole institution lacks life and initiative". H. M. I. Barnett went further, and actually said in a memorandum that which can be read between the lines in the report, "I am inclined to despair of any improvement whilst he [Spivey] is head, poor man".

Spivey himself reacted decisively to the Inspectors' report, and there exists a long and bitter comment by him, which the Governors accepted and supported without question, and which they sent to the Board of Education as a memorandum of dissent. The dissent was not ignored by the Board, but they took the view that both Spivey and the Governors were setting their standards far too low; and furthermore, that no amelioration could be expected with the administration as it was. Accordingly, on 29 June 1914, the Board formally indicated to the Governors their intention to cease to recognise the school as efficient. Since half of its income would be lost, the foundation had no alternative but to seek a take-over from the County. On 28 September 1914, the foundation approached the Essex County Council, and on 5 November the plans were approved by its Higher Education sub-committee. Whether the stress affected Mr. Spivey is not known, but just before this, he suddenly died.


The Board of Education then withdrew its notice.So it was that Arthur Hall Prowse, the Second Master, was appointed Acting Headmaster, to guide the school through a difficult time. Since he was not a graduate, he was warned that he had no chance of the permanent position that would occur when the county's plan of merging the Monoux School with the Walthamstow County High School for Boys came to fruition. The latter school was the Technical Institute, taken over by the Essex County Council by virtue of the 1902 Education Act, and renamed about 1912. Two reforms initiated by Prowse were the house and prefectoral systems (l915/6). Both of these had been orally recommended by the 1913 inspection The houses were simply numbered at first from one to four. They were named shortly before the move to Chingford Road and expanded to six. This was reduced to four again in 1974.

The staffs were amalgamated and the two schools became one, at least in theory, on 1 September 1916. The County made additions to the High Street building at a cost of £1,400. These were a series of hutments made of corrugated iron, other materials not being available during the war. In fact, the Hoe Street boys did not attend in the Monoux buildings until 7 January 1917. In December 1916, an unprecedented number (five) of new assistant masters had been engaged and in the previous September a new Headmaster, G. A. Millward, had taken up his post. The High Street buildings therefore became even more
cramped.

The school was not entirely taken over by the County in 1916. It had an unusual status, according to the Board of Education, of "Independent School voluntarily controlled by the Authority". This lasted until 1920.

After amalgamation boys were still admitted at the age of eight, though this was phased out just after the war. Christ's Hospital entrance took place until 1923. Gradually, however, eleven plus became the usual entry age for the Monoux School.

Even before the amalgamation, in October 1915, a new school building had been decided upon. On 7 November 1916 the Essex County Council initiated an abortive Compulsory Purchase Order for the new site in Chingford Road, even before the High Street extensions were ready. The new school was to be for 300, but capable of taking 400 if necessary. The site was finally bought on 23 July 1919 and in October 1919 the Authority leased it to Mr. Hitchman for grazing cows since "no works were in prospect this growing season".

The period of amalgamation saw problems in the leadership of the school. G. A. Millward, the new Headmaster, joined the Forces in May 1917 and, until his demobilisation in January 1919, Prowse again led the School. Then Millward left in order to take up the headmastership of King George V Grammar School, Southport, and was succeeded by J. K. King.

September 1920 was a difficult time for a new headmaster to take up his appointment. The Geddes axe was in progress and the promised new school seemed as far away as ever. The country was in the first post-war depression, with high unemployment and social and industrial unrest. King has all but been forgotten as a Monoux headmaster, but it was he on the one part, and the County Council's subvention on the other, that turned the school into a first-rate institution. The Cambridge Local Examination was rejected in favourof the London Certificate; the teaching of Spanish, and regular teaching of German (sporadic from 1912) were introduced. The Cadet Corps was disbanded, proper games and physical training - the latter in hired halls - substituted. A wireless was installed in 1921 and used in a "senior course in civics and current affairs". Throughout the period, King constantly urged the Governors, and through them the Committee and the County, for better facilities and a prompt start for the construction of the new school. He received few rewards for his pains. When in February 1921 he indented for a new carpet in his study he was instructed to buy a rug to cover the holes! His salary (£500 per annum) remained static, whilst those of other masters were increased.

Nevertheless, for the first time, the school started to attain results of a higher calibre. Between 1922 and 1925 eighteen scholars, mainly non-fee paying, and from Walthamstow elementary schools, went on to higher education and six open scholarships were won. These are figures which later seemed normal. Then they were outstanding. Many of these leavers were aided by scholarships from the Monoux Foundation. This was the result of the Essex County Council's purchase, in 1920, of the school site, the purchase money, and other funds, being invested to provide leaving exhibitions for Walthamstow children at the Monoux and High Schools, together with two entrance scholarships. The purchase resulted in the Monoux school being henceforth fully maintained in status.


In 1925 the Board of Education again inspected the School. This time their report was as full of praise and commendation as that of 1913 had been of condemnation. Its conclusion was that "the school is well organised, and thoroughly efficient . . . there is work of a high order in several of the main subjects . . . and . . . no really weak spots". The sixth form, however, remained small; with only sixteen boys.

The new building plans progressed slowly. There had been a dispute between 1916 and 1919 as to the site of the new school, during which the Board of Education and the Essex County Council had preferred the Chingford Road site, and the Governors had harried them in favour of a plot on the corner of Farnan Avenue and Forest Road, now the site of the County Court
House. The economic situation prevented plans being drawn up before December 1922, when they were approved by the County. Working drawings were ready in October 1924, but at this point the Board caused certain readjustments, notably simpler elevations, to be made. Work started in March 1926, a tender of £42,626 having been accepted the previous September. Then the contractor withdrew and direct labour was substituted. But work had been allowed to start before approval for a loan had been given, and this the Ministry of Health, who gave such authorisation, were loath to do, since Walthamstow (upon which fell all the interest charges in line with County policy) was already heavily in debt. It was not until 31 May 1926 that a letter was sent from the Board of Education to the Ministry of Health setting out the Monoux scheme as an urgent case, upon the personal decision, it is recorded, of the Minister, Lord Eustace Percy. On 10 June 1926 the loan was issued and building began in earnest. The final cost of the land and buildings, including making up the sports field, was £52,138.

Some general observations on the school in its last years in High Street seem appropriate before considering the Chingford Road era. Firstly, the site itself had become more cramped. The temporary buildings erected in 1916, and the additional three classrooms of 1920/21 reduced the playground space virtually to nil. The comforts of the staff were negligible; at one time they had to share the Head's study. High Street between 1890 and 1927 had changed from a semi- rural thoroughfare with large houses, to a busy street market "of roaring costers" as one account had it. Gillard's pickle and pie factory stood across the road, without the barrier of shops erected later. The corner by the baths was the traditional place for revivalists, barrel- organs and performing monkey shows. The Monovian of those days had a multitude of exotic sights, sounds and smells to distract him from his work. The staff-room had "a kind of warm fug . . . conducive to the telling of exceptional stories . . ." according to one former master.  One wonders how long the 28lbs of Rough Shag delivered in November 1923 lasted, for it, no doubt, provided the "warm fug". (Up to the war Headmasters had a licence to sell tobacco to the Assistant Masters).

Other innovations of King's period were a revised prefectoral system, the regular Monovian magazine, the "Bust-up", or masters' and sixth form Social Club, and the naming of the houses after school benefactors (to which Morris was always an inexplicable addition). Between 1916 and 1926, it should also be stated, the Monoux School catered solely for Walthamstow boys. The differential fees charged were abolished in January 1921, but by that time the only non-Walthamstow pupils were those whose parents had moved out of the district since their admission, and the very occasional boy admitted by reciprocal arrangement with the London County Council.

King resigned in May 1925 to take up an appointment at the George Green School with the L.C.C. He was succeeded, after a term, by Harold Midgley, who came from St. Olave's School, where he was a housemaster. Midgley was a linguist, and had written text-books for German teaching. It was thus with a relatively new headmaster that the school took over its new premises, but it was undoubtedly through the solid achievement of the King era that its flourishing state was due.

From October 1926, the title of the school "Monoux Grammar School", then in general use, was officially changed to "Sir George Monoux' Grammar School, but locally the unusually placed apostrophe was almost never used in the official form. The Board of Education continued to use "Sir George Monoux's Grammar School".

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