Middle Row School

School in/near Kensal Town, existing between 1878 and now

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School · Kensal Town · W10 ·

Middle Row School was established in the late 19th century to provide education to the children of Kensal New Town.

Middle Row School
Kensal New Town was a 19th century greenfield development of terraced workers housing sandwiched between the Grand Junction (now Union} Canal and the Great Western Railway, next to the Western Gas Company Gas Works.

The first schooling for the new settlement was provided by the church of St John's, Kensal Green (built in 1845. north of the Canal). St John's School was erected close to the church in 1850. and it was here that any child from Kensal New Town who wished to receive an education would have attended. There was also an early Ragged School in Kensal Road adjacent to the Canal where poorer children may have received a rudimentary education.

The passing of the 1870 Education Act brought about fundamental changes in British education, as the state started to replace the church as the main source of elementary education. From 1880 education became compulsory until the age often or when a certain standard of education was achieved, and by 1899 the minimum school leaving age had risen to twelve. In the capital the School Board for London was established to provide this education.

it was in this context that in 1877, an application was made to the Chelsea Vestry "to build a School House and premises. to be known as 'Middle Row Schools. Kensal Road’ by Messrs. Hook & Oldrey, builders of Cowley Wharf, Kensal Road. on behalf ofthe School Board for London."

At this time there was already a ‘temporary’ Middle Row School operating on or close to the present site.’ By February 1878 the school was ‘now being built’ and the official opening took place on the 19 August 1878. There were separate boys', a girls' and infants’ departments, and a total of eight teachers.

The new school was erected south of the Methodist Chapel in Middle Row. A number of houses had to be demolished to clear the site. The school was almost immediately enlarged in 1879 by the original builders.

No buildings from 1879 survive. and the design of the main building is not entirely clear. However. an outline plan survives, as was well as a section through the front of the building that indicates that at least the range fronting Middle Row was three storeys in height.

In the 1890s its pupils had suffered terrible health problems, including epidemics of scarlet fever, diphtheria and smallpox. Free lunches and breakfasts were often provided for the hungry children and many suffered from damaged eyesight.

The school was described as overcrowded in 1897 and major structural alterations to all three of the departments were undertaken to create divisions in the classrooms and to improve heating and lighting.

In 1B93~9 the Girls’ and Infants‘ schools were enlarged by the building of temporary iron buildings. It appears however that these remedies weren't enough, as new building was being planned by 1901 when the School Board for London purchased a plot of land south of the school. It was on this site that a new Junior Mixed School opened in 1904. This was the year that the School Board was abolished and its responsibilities transferred to the new London County Council.

Clearance of house and light-industrial buildings on the site began in 1902. By 1903, some of the pupils at the school were in ‘temporary iron buildings' and by May 1904 the new junior mixed school had opened in a ‘bungalow building'. It was built to accommodate 422 pupils.

The "Boat House" was created in 1913, the Main Building in 1914-15 and a Caretaker's House in 1930.

In 1957, the 1904 block was described as 'containing a central hall with eight classrooms off it, a medical room and rooms for the headmistress and staff'. It has 'recently been redecorated in a variety of gay colours'. At the date there were 169 children at the school, significantly less than the number is was designed to accommodate.

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Middle Row School
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Kensal Town

Soapsuds Island

Kensal New Town was built between the Grand Central Canal (which opened in 1801) and the Great Western Railway line (opening in 1837) in the 1840s.

Single-storey cottages with gardens suitable for drying clothes were the first buildings and Kensal Road, Middle Row, West Row, East Row and Southern Row all appeared between 1841 and 1851. The rows of cottages quickly degenerated into a slum, mainly due to overcrowding, industrialisation and pollution.

The area was dominated by the Western Gas Company and Kensal Cemetery, which provided work but did little to improve the environment. Women were primarily involved in laundry work giving the area its nickname of ‘Soapsuds Island’.

The area was isolated from the rest of London at a time when Portobello Lane (now Portobello Road) was a muddy track sometimes impassable in bad weather.

Cut off from the municipal authorities it was left to charities to attempt to alleviate the social and health problems.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the cottage laundry industry began to be replaced by larger mechanized concerns.

In 1902 Charles Booth described it as, “Just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.” By this date the area had been transferred to the newly formed Royal Borough of Kensington. When the Piggeries and Potteries in Notting Dale were finally cleared in the early 20th century most of the displaced residents moved north into Golborne ward and Kensal.

By 1923 in the Southam Street area 140 houses contained some 2500 inhabitants. A series of evocative photographs by Roger Mayne in the 1950s showed that little had changed. It was only from the 1960s that the overcrowded and dilapidated terraces were cleared and replaced by social housing including Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower.
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