Who’s in a name?

I recently saw a reference to Joseph Lancaster and remembered that there used to be a Southwark primary school named after him. I realised that I did not know who he was although I was aware that the school no longer exists as, in an amalgamation with Geoffrey Chaucer secondary school, it was subsumed into what is now Globe Academy.

So, who was Joseph Lancaster and what was his local connection? He was born in Southwark in 1778. In 1801 he founded an elementary school for the poor. As it was free to attend he found it difficult to pay teachers and used a monitorial system where older children, trained by a teacher, taught younger ones. There doesn’t appear to be a full biography but the British Schools Museum has this interesting information about him and his beliefs https://britishschoolsmuseum.org.uk/discover/joseph-lancaster/. He was clearly responsible for many children receiving an education who would not otherwise have done so.

Joseph Lancaster was not the only Southwark primary school named after a significant local individual where this recognition has been lost due to educational and political changes. There used to be an Eveline Lowe Primary School near the Old Kent Road. It’s now the Phoenix School, an appropriate name in one respect as it was ‘fresh-started’ in 2012, but also sad as few Southwark schools have been named after women. When it still had its previous name, I once asked a teacher there if he knew who Eveline Lowe was and he had no idea. At that time neither did I and, upon investigation, she turned out to be someone who deserves to be better known. Eveline Lowe was the first woman chair of London County Council 1939-1940. She was born in Rotherhithe, trained and worked as a teacher in Cambridge, moving back to Southwark when her husband joined the Bermondsey medical practice run by Alfred Salter. Along with Ada and Alfred Salter she founded the Bermondsey branch of the Independent Labour Party and represented Bermondsey West on the LCC and chaired the council’s education committee 1934-37. Alfred Salter is remembered in the name of a school founded in Rotherhithe in 1995. It’s clear from the school’s website https://www.alfredsalter.com/339/latest-blogs/post/152/alfred-salters-birthday that pupils are made aware of who he and his wife Ada were. There is public recognition of their achievements, including the riverside statues of them and their daughter (and their cat!), the Ada Salter Garden that graces Southwark Park, Graham Taylor’s biography Ada Salter: Pioneer of Ethical Socialism and a play by Lynn Morris Red Flag Over Bermondsey

There are several Southwark primary schools named after people, with writers especially to the fore: Robert Browning, Oliver Goldsmith, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, John Donne, John Keats. Robert Browning was born in Camberwell in 1812. The school named after him first opened as King and Queen Street School in Walworth in 1883, before changing its name in 1933. Art critic and philosopher John Ruskin lived at 163 Denmark Hill, Camberwell, for a large portion of his life in the mid nineteenth century. Charles Dickens’ connections with Southwark are too many to expand on here but one is that he took lodgings in Lant Street, the location until recently (and still close by) of the primary school named after him, while his father was in Marshalsea Prison. While John Donne was born in London and Oliver Goldsmith lived his later life there, I haven’t yet found that either of them had any specific connection to anywhere in what is now the borough of Southwark or more particularly to Peckham where there are schools named after them. The same does not apply to John Keats who is commemorated in the name of a new school opened in Rotherhithe in 2018. Keats was a medical student at Guy’s Hospital where there is a statue of him.

Staying with science, Michael Faraday Primary School, which underwent an award-winning redesign and rebuild in 2010, is named for the pioneering scientist who was largely self-educated and was born in nearby Newington Butts in 1791. 

There are two schools named after women. Charlotte Sharman was born in Southwark in 1832 and ran orphanages for girls, one of which was in West Square where the school is located. Judith Kerr, much loved author and illustrator of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the Mog stories and the trilogy that began with When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, based on her own experiences as a World War 2 refugee from Germany, was the patron of the bilingual school named after her in Herne Hill that opened in 2013. Judith lived in Barnes but the naming of the school is clearly connected to her bilingualism rather than her having a local connection.

It seems that it’s mainly primary schools that get named after individuals although in my memory there were secondary schools in Southwark named after Geoffrey Chaucer, William Penn and Scott Lidgett which have closed or were reinvented under new names.

I’ve found it fascinating finding out about this aspect of the history of Southwark’s education and I plan to dig deeper.

Currently reading:

Square Haunting. Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade

The Chequer-Board by Sybil Marshall

Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Musical Truth. A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs by Jeffrey Boakye

Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland by Lisa Schneidau

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