St Peter's School and Church, Walworth

St Peter's School and Church, Walworth

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Further Tragedy at St Peter’s School

Following the death of Mr Christopher in January 1877, his widow the Headmistress to the girls, continued teaching, and remained as a tenant in the schoolhouse. The Managers of St Peter’s made it known at their midsummer committee meeting that they wanted a married couple to run the Schools. This meant re-housing Mrs Christopher and finding a suitable partnership for the scholars as soon as possible. During the interim temporary masters and mistresses came and went, some only remaining for a few days.

St Peter's School just before its demolition in 1905

Mr [and Mrs] William and Emily Down visited the school in September and accepted the respective Heads’ positions. Husband and wife began in earnest on October 30th 1877. The St Peter’s boys now had their fourth Headmaster in less than a year; whilst the girls were on their fifth Mistress in less than six weeks!

A little over two years later during another scarlet fever epidemic Mr and Mrs Down lost a son to the killer disease. They were half expecting it. Mr Down wrote in his brief account of 28th November 1879, “Owing to the almost sudden death of my son on Monday afternoon I did not attend for the remainder of the week.” Mrs Down also appears to have taken the sadness in her stride, “Mistress absent” she wrote, “owing to death in family.” They returned to work the following Monday. It was bitterly cold on Shaftesbury Street.

Tragedy seemed to stalk the occupants of the St Peter’s School house. Mr Church, another late Head and the first resident of the home, died whilst abiding there in 1864. In the winter of 1872-73 after six months in the house as Master and Mistress, Mr and Mrs Daniel Taylor lost two young children in quick succession to scarlet fever. After Christmas Mr Taylor recorded, “Death of my little girl during the holidays.” followed only a few days later by, “Death of my youngest child.” Mrs Sarah Taylor echoed with “Mistress absent from prayers during these four days. Illness. Death.” And “Mistress out of school during the afternoon, and one [sic] home in the morning. Domestic trouble.” Referring to the death of one’s child as “domestic trouble” may seem rather cold to some of us, but infant mortality was common in Victorian times, and mothers accepted it more readily.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

Playing Truant

Primary schools do not have as big a problem with truancy as secondary schools, but in an earlier time when children stayed at the one school until fourteen years of age it was more of a problem.

One St Peter's Headmaster, Mr John Corris, on the 21st July 1870 wrote, “Punished the boy Mudd for truanting.” The next day, “Punished Thos. Allen for truanting.” “Webb” is punished on the 26th, “Chas. Webb” again on the 2nd August, followed by Edwin Jones a day later. Mudd and Dolby, Miller, Livingston follow in quick succession.

Mr William Down, the Headmaster of St Peter’s School from 1877 to 1883 strongly believed that truancy from school led to further mischief. On the 23rd May 1879 he wrote, “A parent called this morning to inform me that his son, a boy of the 4th Standard was absent from school the whole of Tuesday and Wednesday without his permission. Received instructions to punish him as thought proper. Spoke to the whole school at 12am on the evils arising from contracting bad habits in youth.”

The same evil was addressed a year later on 23rd April 1880. “Three boys of Standard 3 played truant the whole of Wednesday. After-wards spoke to the whole school on the disgrace boys bring upon themselves who idle about in the streets in this way.” Years later, at the beginning of the 20th century one Walworth street urchin expressed a similar thought vividly, concisely, truthfully: “First you hops the wag, then you nicks, and then you bashes the copper.”

The next Head was Mr Alfred Down, the brother of William. He was less lenient. “Made an example of a boy who played truant by dismissing him from the school.” That recording was made on the 5th November 1886. Mr A.S. Down remained the Headmaster of St Peter’s for 35 years! He finally quit in 1919.

Exclusion is sometimes the only option for very naughty children. At the Girls School in October 1873, Mrs Sarah Taylor “Advised Mrs Clayton to remove her daughter to another school as her conduct had a baneful influence on our elder girls.”

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

Guy Fawkes

image from

The St Peter's Girls School logbook for November 5th 1883 reads, “Numbers poor in morning, and worse in afternoon owing to it being Guy Fawkes Day.” The Victorians did not have the access to the amount of pyrotechnics we have now, but they celebrated Guy Fawkes Night with bonfires and firework parties in remembrance of the foiling of the gunpowder plot and treason of 1605. For a while in the nineteenth century the children were officially given the afternoon off school.

A few days later the “School Board Officer found many children away from school looking after the guys in the street during the week.” Guying is not as common a sight today, but in the past, at the end of almost every street you would find groups of children parading an effigy of Guy Fawkes made out of old clothes and newspapers. This was an exciting time of the year for the poor youngsters who would ask passing adults, “A penny for the guy?” It was an easy way for them to make a little bit more money.

The School Board Officers worked for the Local Education Authority, and part of their job was to look out for children playing truant or not attending school. Parents would be in a lot of trouble if their child continued to be absent without a proper reason.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

The Death of a Headmaster

Mr Samuel Christopher was employed as Head Master of St Peter’s Boys School from 12th October 1874. His wife Mary took charge of the Girls School. Just two years later, almost to the day, Mr Christopher suffered a severe bout of illness, which kept him at home for four weeks. The couple lived in the house attached to the school. This was very convenient, for although his sickness prevailed for some time, he was able to pop in to school several times a week to see how things were progressing. In his absence the Assistant Master covered his duties.

Mr Christopher did not fully recover from the illness he protracted, and as the school broke up for Christmas he resigned from his position as Head of the School. The illness continued into the new year, and sadly Mr Christopher died on Tuesday 23rd January 1877.

On Friday January 26th 1877, Mrs Mary Christopher noted in the Girls School logbook, “In consequence of the death of my dear husband – late Head Master of the Boys School - the school has been conducted this week by the Assistant Mistress and Pupil Teacher.” A week later the children were given the afternoon off to take the opportunity of seeing Mr Christopher’s funeral. Mrs Christopher gave up her job six months later.

Note: Mr and Mrs Christopher had at least four children. Included in an October 1877 list of girl pupils are Kate and Alice Christopher, aged ten and twelve respectively. Both children were admitted in October 1874 as one would expect. In the corresponding list for 1875 we find eleven year old Mary.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

Corporal Punishment

The St Peter’s School logbooks of the Victorian era do not reveal a great deal about corporal punishment. Cases like the following from 31st January 1878 are few and far between. “Louisa Payne was sent out of her class by the teacher, and her mother very impudently came into the room and said, “her child should not have the cane but that I should cane her (the mother) first”.”
Another example from the Boys logbook of 11th September 1877, “Had to punish a boy named Walker for repeated laziness and troublesome conduct. [He] refused to hold his hand out when requested and as this was not the first instance of insubordination I deemed it necessary to make an example of him and therefore did not finish with him until he held out his hand. In the afternoon his father and another man called and informed me that the boy would be taken away and I should “hear further of it”.”
Far from being concerned, Mr Meech was only too pleased to see the back of the boy, adding “As I understand, the boy is very sullen and disobedient. This is decidedly the best thing that could have happened.”
One other example shows that being late for school earned you more than a mark in the late book. You may also have received a mark on the backside or the hand! This from19th June 1885. “A few boys were caned for coming habitually late.”
In England and Wales children were given corporal punishment up until the 1970s. We have the St Peter’s School Punishment Book from 1906 to 1962 which details all the corporal punishment meted out to children in school. New regulations were drawn up by the London County Council in 1905, and these had to be strictly adhered to. Teachers were not allowed to box children’s ears, cuff them round the head, shake them or make blows with the hand. A cane had to be used as the instrument of punishment, except in the Infants School, where a slap was thought to be sufficient.
Generally the Head dealt out the punishment himself, or delegated the task to another teacher. A cane was kept in the Headmaster’s office with the Punishment Book. After inflicting the punishment, sometimes as many as four strokes but usually two, the cane and book had to be returned to the Headmaster. Contrary to popular belief teachers did not have their own individual canes.
Eleven year old William Bond has the ignominy of being the first child to have his name recorded in the St Peter’s Punishment Book. Four strokes from Mr Down for “Talking and lying.”
Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

Bullying of Girls by Boys

Some children outside St Peter's School, Shaftesbury Street, 1905

Bullying other children and mugging is not just a recent occurrence. A recording in the St Peter's Girls School logbook for 12th April 1877 shows that on some occasions drastic measures were called for. Mrs Christopher, the Headmistress notes, “Several rough boys have all this week stopped the girls going out of school and obliged them to give up their pencils or anything else to which they take a fancy. I therefore sent to the Police Station requesting the inspector to let a policeman come round this way occasionally.”

Something similar happened during the Great Dock Strike of 1889. Headmistress Mrs Andrews wrote, “Had to let the girls go home at 4 o’clock because of a number of boys ‘on strike’ annoying the girls in the morning. Policeman stationed outside for remainder of day.”

Like the fire-fighters and tube workers today, the dock workers were striking for higher pay, and received the support of employees from other industries who also came out on strike. With nothing to do all day, some unscrupulous working boys hung around the school gates causing bother. These boys were probably 14 and 15 year old ex-pupils of St Peter’s.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

The Death of the School Mistress’s Son

In October 1869 Mrs Harriet Church, the Headmistress of the St Peter's Girls School suffered another dire calamity. Only six years earlier, her husband, the late Headmaster, died following a long illness. The School logbook, written up by Mrs Church at the end of each day, reveals that scarlet fever* had become prevalent among the families that lived in the vicinity of the school. Scarlet fever was a contagious disease that sometimes proved fatal. On Monday 11th October she writes, “Pupil Teacher from school nursing my own children who are suffering from it.”

On Thursday two schoolchildren were taken ill with the disease. Three more children were sent home the following day having become very ill. Over the weekend Mrs Church contracted the disease herself and was absent from duties on the Monday. She left the school in the hands of her second daughter Harrietti and Mr Crampton, the Master of the Boys School. She returned later in the week to pen the sorrowful words “My dear child died.” continuing, “Miss Pound kindly conducted school on Thursday and Friday.”

Studying the corresponding logbooks of the Boys School we discover that Mr Crampton made a similar recording. “The death of the Schoolmistress’s elder son and the prevalence of the disease from which he died (scarlet fever) determined the managers to close the school for a few days.” In fact the fever in the neighbourhood had become “very alarming, and the attendance has consequently suffered.” Within a fortnight “the cases of fever [were] more numerous.”

The committee ordered that Mrs Church be allowed a month’s holiday to mourn the tragic loss of her dear son. As a mark of respect, both Girls and Boys schools were closed for a week.


Note: * Once upon a time scarlet fever was a very serious childhood disease. Today it is easily treatable with antibiotics. The symptoms begin with a fever and sore throat that develops into chills, vomiting and abdominal pain. A rash develops on the neck and chest and then spreads around the armpits and groin. It is spread by direct contact with an infected person or by droplets exhaled by an infected person.

Copyright: Jack McInroy © 2010

Walworth and St Peter’s Church and School – 70 Years On

Written by Paul D. Olsen in 1993

Mabel Morgan, my mother, was one of seven children born to Alfred Morgan and his wife. I only knew six. The youngest, Sydney, volunteered for the army in late 1917 – he was still under eighteen. Before the end of the war, less than a year later, he died as an undernourished prisoner working in the Kaiser’s coalmines. Mum’s grandad had come from Rhyll, in North Wales; drawn to London like so many country folk by the hope of a better living. All his son, Alf, could find was a job as a butcher’s assistant in the Walworth Road.

They lived in a tiny rented house in Merrow Street and the space for the nine of them was further reduced because hard-working Grandma turned her front room into a ‘corner shop’. There my mum had her first lessons – in being polite to the customers; learning how to screw sugar paper into the blue cones that were used to hold anything not actually liquid. There she did her first sums; working out the change to be given. Grandma was one of the ‘deserving poor’ – never defeated by overcrowding and poverty. She ‘never owed a penny’. She filled eggboxes with earth and somehow coaxed a few scarlet runner beans to grow in their sunless backyard.

Grandad’s job gave them the perks of a decent joint, most weekends. My mum would tell how she would sit with him as they roasted it before an open fire, turning on a spit. A bowl beneath would catch the fat which she had to spoon back over it to stop it drying out. A real treat was to have a crust of bread dipped in the tasty juice which oozed out.

All the children went to St Peter’s – they were a church going family – except the most devout of them, my mother. I think St Peter’s was too full for her entry and she went to the great barracks of a London Board School, ‘Michael Faraday’s’ just down the road. But she loved her school, all the same. Surprisingly, perhaps, it had its own school song – just like Eton! Sometimes she would burst out: “O Michael Faraday we praaaaise thee.” She did exciting things in Nature Study – and, because her Dad was known to be a butcher, she brought a bag of real bull’s eyes in for a lesson on vision.

She gained an early love for poetry and learned by heart long extracts from Tennyson. When, forty years later I was peeling potatoes for her, she would declaim how Arthur returned Excalibur to the Lake, where it was seized by an “arm, clothed in white samite: mystic, wonderful”. Although it was not a Church school she also learned that “Charity suffereth long and is kind, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” To me, the astonishing thing is that all this happened before she was twelve, for, then she was given the Certificate of competence – and left school!

In 1927, when I was four, and my twin sisters, just two, we moved into the new flats in Liverpool Grove, opposite to the rather stately Rectory. There they had that unknown luxury – a garden you could play in. For a time there was even a small collection of birds and animals. St Peter’s had always been ‘High Church’ and, in my mother’s childhood, ruled by a firm but loving priest. His enterprise extended to taking groups of young lads walking in the Alps, as well as mounting parish excursions to Epsom or Southend. In our days the Rector was Father Reakes; tall and reserved, you were as likely to see him in cassock and biretta, striding down East Lane market as leading Evensong, or possibly Benediction among unearthly clouds of incense. My mum said that the Rectory children were allowed either butter or jam on their bread. We had the luxury of both.

In a flat in front of St Peter’s School lived my Aunt Edie, Mum’s oldest sister – and her six daughters; my lovely cousins. They would call to take me to the Children’s Eucharist and we would rush, breathless up the great steps to be inside, before the church bells stopped, so that we could claim our stamp. This went into a kind of Bible Stamp Album and the sermons for the week were built round the picture on the stamp. Outside, Walworth was sooty and somehow permanently grey – even on a hot summer day. Inside the church, with its white and blue and gold, angels on the walls and around the altar, and always a hint of incense, was a touch of Heaven. My mum’s eldest brother, Alf, like his dad, was a church warden there for thirty five years. He was a clerk in the City and, for many years walked daily in and out on foot – saving his tram fare. Under the church was the Crypt, which was a social centre where I went to my first boys’ club. In the 1939-45 War it became the local Air Raid Shelter until the bomb that hit the church and destroyed the altar area also blew down into the crypt, burying people alive. Alf was a lucky survivor, pulled from the rubble the next day, with a broken leg which left him with a limp all his life.

In September 1927, aged 4, I was taken to join the Reception class at St Peter’s. [School registers actually record: Admitted to St Peters: 10 Jan 1928. Removed: 28 Nov 1930. Father’s name: Lars Olsen. Birth: May 1923. Address: 8A Liverpool Street.] A lovely, motherly lady, called Mrs Tinkler, took us in hand. She led us through the narrow cloakroom where each of us had his peg. We tiptoed past the room of Mr Spinks, the Headteacher, to Class 1. There was a large open fire in one corner, which warmed only those within range. All round the top of the wall were letters and pictures of the Alphabet, whose sounds we chanted each day. “A is for Apple – Ber is for Ball”. After lunch on that first day I sneaked off home, through the dusty shrubs of the churchyard and was spotted by a neighbour, the only child, playing in front of our flat. I protested that I’d done school! But it was no use. I was hauled back – and sixty five years later I’m still “at school”.

My favourite time was at the end of a long afternoon. We lay our heads on the desk while Mrs Tinkler read something like ‘Three Little Pigs’. I can still feel the tension until they all got into the house of bricks. We started making our letters in small tin trays, with a thin layer of sand in which we had to show that we flowed in the right direction. As a natural left hander I did it all the wrong way round. No nonsense about that! I was made to use my right hand instead. We did simple body exercises in the playground – but what we liked most of all was creeping furtively up behind our teacher in ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf?’ Left to myself I gravitated towards the prettier little girls, like brunette Rose Perry or blonde Phyllis Embleton. Their games were so much more enterprising than ours – skipping, handclapping, ‘statues’ and so on. Sometime in May was Empire Day, a great excuse for coming to school dressed up as a native of one of those of the world coloured red – of which almost nothing is left.

The next year took me into Miss Nicholson’s. She was tall and angular. As someone who found learning rather easy I had a hard job not to be teacher’s pet. My worst moment was once when, at the age of five I was put out in front to be ‘in charge’ of the class while she briefly left the room. ‘Arry Winter challenged my tiny authority and I duly ‘shopped’ him when the teacher came back. He threatened to ‘get me’ on the way home – and I had to run very fast to escape the consequences of ‘grassing’. We learned our Times Tables from large sheets on the wall and graduated to writing and numbers on slate boards with a slate pencil, which needed a damp sponge to clean it off. It may have been my left handed tendencies that me add up my sums properly – then lose marks for writing the answer down back to front!

At Christmas this year we put on a concert for parents. All the partitions were opened up to throw three classrooms together and a stage was rigged up one end. We infants had to mime Nursery Rhymes and I – perhaps slightly less Cockney than the rest had to learn the lines to introduce each act. What I really wanted to do was to get out of the impossibly creamy white suit I was forced to dress up in and be the Spider that frightened Miss Muffett – but that privilege went to my buddy, David Withers.

The year after we left the security of the ‘Girls and Infants’ playground for the wilder world of the ‘big Boys’. They included huge fellows of fourteen years! I was in Miss Longbottom’s class. She was a gifted teacher – firmly in control of dissident seven year olds, while retaining a nice humour about it all. The best sort of teacher. I can’t recall anyone having fun with her name! Now we actually started writing on paper and with pen and ink. I made a poor job of the copying the ‘copperplate’ example line at the top of each page of our Writing Books. But I greatly enjoyed Reading and Story Writing. I found Craft rather tedious – after a year I’d not finished the raffia mat for my mum! Miss Longbottom had me marked down as a candidate for the Christ’s Hospital Public School scholarships awarded by the LCC for this, former City School; but it was not to be.

Miss Longbottom later married and became Mrs Sturton

My sisters and I caught every disease that was available. Dr Moore, the wise old man who had ‘seen us all into the world’, was in and out of our house all the time. Each time my mum’s face grew longer as she went to her savings box to find another five shillings for her visit. My dad, a chef in a London hotel, was well paid for those days. But even with £5.00 a week coming in, the doctor’s bill for three or four visits was a nasty shock. I recall his first question always, “Have his bowels moved?” If not it was Syrup of Figs or, worse still, Liquorice Powder –‘gunpowder’ we called it, and it had just that explosive effect. The crunch came when I was so ill that a ‘second opinion’ was called. The grown ups mumbled secretly in corners, and before it was dark I was a Contagious Disease – Scarlet Fever – and whisked away to the Dartford Fever Hospital, isolated from family contact. It ought to have been traumatic, but it wasn’t. Once I started to convalesce (I picked up Diptheria while I was there, too) I enjoyed the daily company of a Ward of lively London boys and girls. I still recall responding to a ‘dare’ to kiss the prettiest blonde in the Ward, while the Sister’s back was turned! After that coming home, after three months absence, was almost an anti-climax. So my parents had had enough. A rash of new houses was covering the Outer London Suburbs. These were supposed to be ‘bracing’ and healthy – and after those impenetrable fogs which could cover the inner city days of choking days on end I don’t doubt that they were.

Still, it took about a year more to find our terrace house in East Barnet, and I was getting old enough to be allowed out to explore the streets of Walworth. For choice I would take the Sunday walk with my girl cousins along the banks off the Surrey Commercial Canal, to watch the barges loading with timber imports. Next best was to go down to Uncle Will’s forge. There were more horses in London than in the country still, and Will Crawford was the local Farrier [a maker and fitter of horseshoes]. I would be placed where there was no risk that the great cart horses would kick back – as they did from time to time even with Will – and watch the sparks fly at the anvil, and wince as the hot shoe bedded into the huge hoof and acrid blue smoke filled the air. The Costers had stabling near Phelp Street and the Pearly Kings and Queens rallied there before going in convoy to Epsom for the Derby. I envied one coster kid whose pram-wheel trolley was adapted to be pulled by a goat, and he rattled along in as smart a turnout as ever any prince.

I forget the moment in the year when we set out a Grotto in front of our flats, with shells and flowers to decorate – and invite the pennies of passers-by. I’m sure the Guy, in November, is as popular now as he was with us. With the pennies he raised for us we let off our own Crackers and Catherine Wheels in the Yard behind the flats – but where the Telephone Exchange (I think?) is now behind our flats was for many years a waste ground, and there we had a huge community bonfire, made with greengrocers boxes.

The Walworth Road was a danger to kids, even then, and I took years off my mother’s life by leaving her skirts (she had twin sisters in hand!) and dashing, just in time, in front of a Tram. I got a memorable smack to relieve her feelings when she knew I had survived! Once the workmen were lifting the tarred blocks of wood which, I think, reduced the vibration of traffic on the road alongside the granite setts in which the rails ran. They were excellent burning on our our open fires and we were allowed to take as many broken ones as our sack would hold. East Enders [sic] had a taste, then for shellfish and jellied eels and there were a number of these shops nearby; pease pudding was another cheap delicacy. More than just the East Lane street market flourished on different days, off the main road. I liked the stalls best after dark in winter when the carbide gas lamps hissed and flared to light up the scene and I always wondered why the canvas roofs of the stalls did not go up in flames.

Phelp Street, where Uncle Alf and Aunt Jenny lived, actually had small gardens.[Register records No.2 Phelp Street in 1911. Children at St Peters from 1905: Clara and Arthur. Previous address No.6 Brettel Street] Jenny was a wonderful lady – who never threw anything away, and as she also had a passion for Jumble Sales she acquired quite a lot too. Behind the house Alf erected a ramshackle structure of corrugated iron and glass fanlights where she did her washing and kept her canaries or lovebirds. But it was an antique store of old household goods kept since her mother’s time; useless but never disposed of. Beyond this was a patch of ground, some twenty feet by twelve, where she grew all manner of plants, for she had wonderfully green fingers. No horse and cart passed her window without her rushing out to check if Dobbin had ‘obliged’, and if he had, she would be straight out with her coal shovel and bucket to transfer the treasure to the manure heap. This had a special fascination for me because there her tortoise chose the gentle warmth as a place to hibernate. On a bright Spring day I always wanted to dig down to see if he was ready to emerge but Jenny fiercely protected his peace and quiet. Next door to Alf lived Ted Broadribb, the Boxing promoter, who saw fighters like Len Harvey or Tommy Farr to the British – or even the World Heavyweight Championship. Once I saw Tommy drive up in what few in Walworth could own – his own motor.

The side streets were still pretty safe for us kids. The pace of horse and cart gave time for you to retrieve your ball – or even take a ‘single’ from your cricket wicket chalked on one lamppost to the one on the opposite side. These were Gas-lamps, lit by a man with a long pole who turned them on at dusk. A horizontal bar at the top permitted him to lean his ladder safely while he changed a gas mantle – and also provided us with a kind of metal tree branch up to which one of the older boys would clamber and fix a rope for us to swing on. We did have an off-street playground. It was Faraday Gardens. The gardens were completely covered with concrete and all that grew there was one of those Victorian roundabouts, which swayed excitingly as you climbed on, and a huge Maypole thing with chains onto which you hung and swung your feet off as you hurtled round. For the girls and us smaller kids a safer concrete area was Saltwood Grove, where Auntie Edie later had a ground floor flat, and where we could whip our tops or play ‘off-ground he’ [probably the same game as Feet off London] on the drain covers or skip to those age old chants: “Salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper – I spy Peter hangin’ out the winder – shoot – bang – fire.” Not for years later did I date this back to Winston Churchill’s handling of ‘Peter the Painter’ and the ‘Sydney Street Siege’. Another [game], which may have passed on was: “1, 2, 3 a-lary, my ball’s gone down the airy – don’t forget to give it Mary- not to Charlie Chaplin.” Chaplin, the kid who had made good was our hero.

My first film-going was in the cinema nearby, in the Walworth Road, where I saw Chaplin, and also the cowboy star Tom Mix doing some amazing things on the back of his white horse. A different sort of fun was running out into the street on a Sunday afternoon at the sound of a bell. It might be the Muffin Man, with his tray on his head or the man selling Shrimps and Winkles by the ‘pint’. I learned to ‘winkle’ the latter out of their shells with a pin, discarding the ‘hat’ – but I found them just as rubbery and tasteless as I have later found French snails.

Of course there was widespread poverty in Walworth. When Will the Farrier died young of Tuberculosis, his widow had a desperate struggle to bring up six girls alone. Unemployed miners or legless ex-soldiers begged in the streets. The man with the monkey on the barrel organ livened up the markets. Out of work my Uncle Wally paid for his beer at the ‘Lizzie’ [The Queen Elizabeth Public House] by banging out honkytonk tunes on the pub piano. When, unemployed, he failed to keep up his Union Dues he could never get back into printing. But, for a child, Walworth could be a much happier place to grow up in than you might think when you look at the old black and white photos of ragged children and worn-out women in the drab streets. Out in my suburb I did to everyone’s surprise – fulfil Miss Longbottom’s ambitions for me. I got ‘the Scholarship’ to the local Grammar School, and much later one to Oxford. I came out of the War as a Naval Officer to teach and become in 1963, a Grammar School Head – so I know, at 70 what I owe to St Peter’s.


Paul Olsen was born in May 1923 and left St Peters School with his twin sisters Gwyneth and Eveline in November 1930. He eventually won a scholarship to a Grammar School in Barnet where his family had moved to following his young life in Walworth. He later went on to Oxford University and was a Naval Officer during the Second World War. After the war he became the Head of a Grammar School. His pupils included Chris Patton one time Governor of Hong Kong and the controversial playwright Dennis Potter. His second school was a Comprehensive, from which he retired as Head in 1982 aged 59. He then ran a private Kindergarten with his wife in Burnham on Sea in Somerset. When St Peter’s School was featured in an article in the Times Educational Supplement in March 1993, he took the opportunity to write to the School encouraging the Head teacher (Wynn Evans) and staff in the work. He also included his memoirs (six pages of typescript reproduced above) which are a great addition to the history of St Peter’s School and the local area. Although he only spent three years at St Peter’s, leaving at just seven and a half years of age, the school left its indelible stamp on him. “By the sound of it” he said, “I would recognise the school today as exactly the one I left.”

Jack McInroy