"The way it used to be?"
St Michael's School, 1852 to the Present.


The history of the school is an extract from a booklet written, edited and produced by Teachers and Pupils at the school. A9 St Michael's School 1996

In 1565 Sir Roger Cholmeley had founded a boys Grammar School in Highgate, and in 1733 the Highgate Girls Charity School had been established by Mr Edward Pauncefoote in Southwood Lane. In 1833 a National School for boys and girls was built next door in Southwood Lane, to accommodate increasing numbers of children who could not get into the Grammar School (which now charged fees), or the Charity School (which was too small). The Highgate National school held 160 children but even so it was overflowing; an 1850 Inspector's Report criticised the accommodation, drainage, heating, ventilation, and play-space - the boys' play space was too small, and the girls had none. The children played in the street, and there was no house for the Head Teacher. The site was too small for any improvement. Thus it was that in 1850 a "numerously attended Meeting" got together in emergency session and issued a memorable statement:


Local magistrate and educationalist Harry Chester was a key organiser and fundraiser, bringing in a crucial £1,400 grant from the Privy Council. The London Diocesan Board, "though unable to make a grant", gave its "cordial approval". The citizens of Highgate, Muswell Hill and Kentish Town gave generously, from the pennies and farthings from the Grammar School boys, to the £400 of Miss Burdett Coutts who then lived at Holly Lodge. The purchase of 4 acres on North Hill from the Bishop of London for £135 went well; but there were then "great difficulties" arising from a late decision to move the school back from the road to its present site, and having to buy access land and build deeper foundations. In July 1852 the St Michael's National and Industrial School was opened at a total cost, including equipment, of £6,700 - rather more than the £3,000 originally estimated, and very much more than he £500 it cost to build the old National School. The architect was Anthony Salvin, and the result was a model school which became quite famous in its early years. As Joan Schwitzer has said  "For a decade the school was a showplace. Lord Mansfield chaired the Annual Meetings when the grounds were thrown open to subscribers and parents. Lady Burdett Coutts ... came to call ... Local maiden ladies helped with the teaching." In 1857 an Industrial Act was passed giving grants for Boarding Schools for the care of children in need, the main object of which was to provide training (as a begging-letter from the 1850 St Michael's Sub-Committee put it) of "elder girls in Household-work, Washing, Cooking &c ... [with] boys in Out-door pursuits, and qualified for employment, as Cottagers, Farm-Labourers, Gardeners, Mechanics, or Emigrants". There was considerable scope for this type of work in the large houses of Highgate, and the great support shown by the Annual Subscription Lists makes it clear that the wealthy inhabitants were very willing to support such a worthy cause, and incidentally provide themselves with a regular supply of excellent domestic servants. So St Michael's in its early years took in boardersas well as day pupils; it is not known when precisely the boarders were given up. From the 1860's the school gradually transformed itself (says Joan Schwitzer) into "a more conventional elementary and finally primary school, albeit with unusually spacious playing fields, play-grounds,  resident staff accommodation and garden plots which were still being cultivated for annual prizes in the nineteen forties."

The buildings themselves consisted of Boys', Girls' and Infants' Schools, or schoolrooms (see Plan). The Infants' Schoolroom was under the dormitory area: originally the dormitories were occupied by staff and pupil teachers, but they were then converted into 16 cubicles for room should be as comfortable and pleasing as possible, with a few bright maps, a few good diagrams, a few well-chosen texts on the wall. Texts such as "Our God is a consuming fire" and "All liars shall burn in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone" are to be avoided. The school should provide washing facilities, but not on a large scale as the children should come to the school with clean hands. There should also be small gardens, a pigsty, rabbit hutches, beehives, hen runs and a wash-house and laundry. The children should be encouraged to make and classify a natural history section, learn drawing and have the opportunity of practising music, vocal and instrumental." By the end of the century the school had settled down to its average number of 200 pupils, which it maintained until extra classrooms were added after the 2nd World War. There was one pupil teacher for the boys, two in the girls' room, and one infant teacher. In 1890the curriculum included Drill, History, Geography and Singing. The infants had Object lessons on such things as Air, Water, or Nature. This syllabus was probably not much different from the original and is in its essence is still continued today (with, or course, many additions). The main change is that the teachers no longer expect the children to help maintain the school!


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