Go to the Labyrinth of East London Lore

First schools at
East London

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Education at East London was initially in the hands of the Church. Indeed, the Government took little interest other than the payment of annual grants.

The Wesleyan Church School was the first. It's not clear when it started but it probably evolved naturally from missionary work at the port -- possibly in the mid-1850s when a Wesleyan Chapel was built.

An Anglican report of 1859 mentioned this school which used the chapel as its classroom. There were about half a score children, Bishop Gray reported, "taught by a female, a Wesleyan professedly, a middle aged married woman, who was gossiping with one of her neighbours . . . "

By mid-1864, however, the Wesleyan Chapel itself was in ruins and, with its demise, went the school as well.

Because of the uncertain situation at East London after Reverend Joseph Willson's murder in 1858, it was at Panmure that the first Church of England school was established.

This was the Panmure Mission School, founded by Reverend Rodolph von Hube, a Church of England missionary. It was adjacent to his Grace Chapel, and was opened in April 1860. Financial difficulties, however, would force it to close its doors within only three years.

After that, several more attempts were made to establish education on the East Bank. In 1863 a school was opened by CG Roske, but it would fail after only a few months. In 1864 the Church of England made another attempt at a school but it too had foundered by 1869.

A fourth and much more successful school was opened in 1872 by the Lutheran Church. This would eventually evolve into the College Street School, with Pastor Muller as schoolmaster.

In contrast to Panmure, the Church of England on the West Bank was much slower to initiate a school. Once established, however, it proved to be permanent.

In September 1860, Reverend Edward Lees formed a school committee but could not find a suitable schoolmaster. This delayed the school's opening until January 1861.

The school continued to struggle with school-masters as well as inadequate facilities, until November 1862 when a new chapel was built on the West Bank -- St Peter's Chapel -- which would double as a schoolroom. Eventually, Reverend William Wallis himself became the schoolmaster.

The number of pupils on the register remained small but constant throughout the period up till 1873. Nevertheless, the school maintained its annual grant of £75 from the Government.

The quality of education also appeared to improve between 1869 and 1873, attested to by the inspector's report in March 1873 which praised the school and commented particularly on its excellent discipline and healthy tone of work.

This was the beginning of what is today the West Bank High School. Although not the first school to be established at East London, it is certainly the oldest.

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