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Southwark: a model borough?

14/09/2011 Tim Walder

This blog entry is a discussion of the news item "Southwark Schools: full data now available".

Between 1870 and 1914 the School Board for London (SBL) blessed the London Borough of Southwark with a total of 89 school buildings.  This was a disproportionately high number, because the borough, particularly its northern end, contained many working class children in need of state education.

Of these 89 schools, 50 buildings (56%) are still standing and 33 are still primary schools, with another 6 in some educational use.  This represents a good survival rate; of these there are currently no school buildings in poor repair or derelict and most are well maintained.

Generally, Southwark has handled its school stock well since it inherited the role of LEA from ILEA in 1990.  A number of then redundant schools were sold and many were converted into flats.  There are currently 11 Victorian schools in Southwark which are in other uses, 7 as apartments, 2 as offices, 1 as a theatre rehearsal space and art gallery and 1 as a hospital outpatient department.

Over the near century since the demise of the SBL 36 schools have been demolished or lost.    The 1920s saw the replacement of some smaller, older schools by the London County Council (a typical example being Webb Street (Grange) School).  The Second World War saw the bombing of areas around docks and railways (Silwood Street School appears to have vanished without trace around this time).  The 1960s and 1970s saw ILEA replacing buildings with modern schools (Rolls Road (Evelyn Lowe) School is a significant example nationally).  Urban clearance put paid to others: the school and whole area of Scarsdale Road disappeared, becoming Burgess Park.

The Building Schools for the Future programme (2005 to 2010) had the potential to be very destructive.  In Southwark, recent demolitions have been minimal.  A few fragments of an early and interesting school were lost at Michael Faraday School, but replaced by a beautiful new circular building.  The Friern School, a splendid Bailey building was doomed to destruction.  It was first left vacant, then severely damaged by fire.  It finally found itself in the way of a new Academy.  Passers-by in the street were heard to shout "They are never going to knock down that beautiful old building are they?" as the bulldozers bit into the masonry.

Generally, Southwark has used its money more wisely: the new entrance at The Oliver Goldsmith School brings new utility without destruction or excessive compromise.  The excellent maintenance of schools such as Heber Road are a tribute to the authority's positive attitude to its Victorian heritage.

 

 

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