The British Schools, St Leonards on Sea

The title of this posting is that of an illustration in the Illustrated London News, 30 January 1869, page 113. It accompanies an article titled ‘St Leonard’s British and Infant Schools.’ Below is the image. I was aware of the former building’s site opposite Christ Church, but not of its appearance or other details.

The term “British school”, used across the country, meant that it was a non-denominational school, though largely supported by non-conformists. Also used across the country was the term “National school”, for the rival Anglican establishments. St Leonard’s “National school” was at Mercatoria, the site of which is now the Hastings Mosque. Here is the complete text of the article.

British Schools, at junction of London Road and Gensing Station Road (now Kings Road), 1869

These schools are erected at a commanding site at the junction of the London-road and Gensing Station-road, at St Leonards-on-Sea, and the building has rather an imposing appearance, though plain and unpretending. Its design is of composite architecture, combining features of both the Norman and Italian styles; but outward beauty and ornament have not been so much studied as the comfort and appearance of the interior. The ground and basement floors are of brickwork, plastered with Portland cement and having architrave mouldings and a good cornice, surmounted by a story of red brickwork, with white brick cut arches and projecting key-stones. The south end is octagonal, and finished with a bold pediment, a clock, and a handsome vane for finial. The difference of level of the roads on either side of the school enabled the architect to provide an entrance for boys and girls in opposite sides of the building, without meeting each other. On the ground floor is the infant school, 58 ft. by 28 ft., and 14 ft. pitch, with galleries so constructed that they may be used as platforms for lectures, for which the room is very well adapted. The girls’ and boys’ schools above are each 42 ft. long by 28 ft. wide, and 15 ft. 6 in. in height, with two class-rooms to each 17 ft. by 14 ft., all fitted with desks and seats of the newest design and best construction. This furniture, with the whole of the interior woodwork, is stained and varnished. The staircases, passages, and lobbies are of Yorkshire stone laid in concrete on brick arches, and are fireproof. Opposite each school-room door on the landing is a fire-tap, or landing, always charged with water and furnished with hose, in case of fire. All the doors, internal and external, are made to open outwards. The best arrangements are made for warming and ventilating, and for the lavatories. The building will accommodate 560 children, and its entire cost, including £700 for the freehold site, and the expense of fittings, is about £3600. The architect is Mr Thomas Elworthy, of St Leonards; and the builder, Mr Alfred Vidler, jun., of Hastings. The work was commenced in April last and completed at the end of November.

Ordnance Survey map from 1872 showing the British School in St Leonards on Sea

The image on the left, from an Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1872, shows the site. Note that it is the original Christ Church which is shown, with the later, larger church to the north, opposite the school site. The school was at times numbered either 45A London Road or 24 Gensing Station Road. According to an article on the Historical Hastings website it was offered for sale in 1896 and closed by 1913 at the latest, merging with the Tower Road school.

That Board school was also built in 1896, and an article in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 9 May 1896, marking its opening, mentions that the British School had been taken over by the Council’s Hastings School Board (set up in 1871) in 1875. Its origins were credited to Thomas Spalding, with the first headmaster being Henry King. Mr Ray had been headmaster since it was taken over by the Board.

Working out exact details of what went on would be very difficult and time-consuming. For example, in the 16 November 1878 issue of the Observer Mr Spalding stated that he had been offered £3600 for the freehold of the site, but wanted it to continue to be used for educational purposes. He offered the site to the School Board provided they paid off the outstanding mortgage (which was in his name) of £2500. His obituary in the 14 July 1900 issue of the Observer states that he had been an important papermaker and had moved to St Leonards in 1863 for the benefit of his health, with his final home being Ore Place, Hastings. He was an active Congregationalist, giving about £5000 towards the building of their church on London Road, close to the school site.

There is some relevant archival material (none of which I have had the opportunity to look at) such as the original planning application, The Keep’s DH/C/6/1/1094, “School”, dated 6 December 1867. The catalogue entry lists the addresses it replaced: 32A, 32B and 32E Kings Road, and 45A, 45B, 45C and 45D London Road. Also at The Keep is R/E/4/1/130, covering 1867-96, which consists at least partly of plans showing improvements to heating and ventilation.

The National Archives at Kew holds ED 21/560, school inspections for the school during 1879-97. At some time the building was replaced by the present buildings, but I have not identified its demolition, let alone the new buildings. The Observer for the 8 August 1896 stated that the Council’s General Purpose Committee decided to sell the “London Road School” by public auction. The freehold was to be sold by Messrs. John and A. Bray, and in the 26 September 1896 issue of the Observer they said that it was “admirably suitable for adaptation into a number of high class shops, with show-rooms and dwelling houses over.” It appears that it failed to sell by auction and it was offered for private sale. Apparently it was sold to Holman, the estate agent from 24 Kings Road, as in the 7 November 1896 issue of the Observer we have planning permission for “Conversion of school buildings into school premises, corner of London-road and King’s-road; Mr H.C. Holman, owner, per Mr H. Ward, architect; that the plans be approved.”

The Keep’s DH/C/6/1/5943 for this application is dated 6 November 1896, “Conversion”, and is for the same Kings Road addresses as in 1867 plus London Road 45A-F (instead of 45A-D).  The Observer, 17 November 1906, in recording the anniversary of the school being opened on the 23 November 1868 “with a great flourish of Nonconformist trumpets”, says that in later years it was condemned as unsuitable (as a school) and “Cheapside now occupies the site of the old schools.” Mr Holman, estate agent and auctioneer, was at Cheapside, Kings Road by 1900, although in the Observer, 8 May 1897 it was implied that his premises were in the old building.

A planning application for “Alteration” of 45A London Road, which is now the address of the optician at the corner, is DH/C/6/1/6053, dated 3 September 1897. This was approved in the 4 September issue of the Observer, as “Cheapside, corner of London Road and Kings Road; Mr H.C. Holman, owner, per Mr H. Ward, architect; that the plans be approved on the express condition that the rooms are to be used for business purposes only.” The school inspections ended in 1897, so he presumably moved in after the school closed all use of the site.

Below is a photo showing the current site of the schools. The newer (but still old) buildings are obvious. The near end is rather narrow, in contrast with the Illustrated London News image. This is because, as the map makes clear, the present buildings extend further out than the original building did.

The current site of the British Schools at the junction of London Road and Kings Road, St Leonards on Sea

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