Parents of primary school age children in Dulwich are invariably perplexed by the apparently anomalous situation of having a totally separate infants' school (Dulwich Village CofE Infants School) for ages 5-7 from the neighbouring primary school (Dulwich Hamlet School) for ages 7-11. Not only that but each school has a different admissions policy, the former, being a Church of England school, gives priority to up to fifty children out of the ninety admission places, from families who live in the parish and who regularly attend the parish church (St. Barnabas). Within this number the school also offers some priority to communicant members of other churches outside of Dulwich for which Dulwich Village Infants is the nearest church school. The remaining forty places are offered to local children. Transfer from one school to the other at age 7 is not automatic and application to Dulwich Hamlet School must be made and children who attended the infants' school with an external church priority may not necessarily be accepted. The area from which local children may be accepted is calculated by the distance of the safest waking route and this can vary from year to year depending on numbers of children applying for entry.

The situation in Dulwich is not unique but it is rare; there is apparently only one other such instance in London. How this situation arose is examined under the Historical Background below. Both schools are administered by Southwark Council, but the infants' school, being voluntary aided receives only 90%of its funding from the local authority. It is required to raise the balance itself and is able to borrow money to make up the difference when considering major projects, from the Southwark Diocesan Board of Education which also advises on the spiritual ethos of the school and has its own inspector.

At present both schools offer a three-form entry and the Hamlet has made a commitment to reduce its class size from 32 to 30 by September 2005. In the past, teachers' unions set the class size still lower and when the extension to the Infants' was built on the other side of Dulwich Village, thirty years ago the size of its classrooms was designed to accommodate 25 children. However, an increased demand for places soon after caused class sizes to rise. In recent years the increasing popularity of Dulwich as a place to live has put even greater pressure on its schools and the right of appeal by parents of rejected children has also, on occasion, further pushed up class sizes.

There is another problem concerning education which also needs to be addressed. That is the government's requirement for local councils to provide working parents with child care facilities. Where can such extra provision be found to be available in Dulwich? At Dulwich Village Infants, the wish to have a nursery class has been an item on earlier governors' agendas since the 1930's and it was anticipated that when the 'new site' was occupied in the 1970's this might indeed be provided.

The contraction of both schools' admissions' areas means that it is no longer certain that children living within the St Barnabas parish boundary will be accepted by the Infants' school or in roads adjoining Half Moon Lane by the Hamlet. Even the end of Dovercourt Road is apparently a doubtful area. This has led to great difficulties for some families, especially those within the North Dulwich triangle, because the nearest alternative primary school, Bessemer Grange, is similarly oversubscribed. A part of North Dulwich, apparently, falls outside both schools' admission boundaries. Such is the desperation of parents to get places for their children that in recent years attempts have been made to use bribery to use an address within the catchment area to make an application for admission. Two children had to be removed at the beginning of the last school year at the Hamlet as false addresses had been given for their admissions.

The situation is not new but it does seem to have worsened. At a meeting of the Infants' school governors in the late 1980's, shortly before the arrival of LMS (local management of schools) a decision was made to explore the possibility of amalgamating the Hamlet and the Infants School outside of local authority control but as a Church of England JMI (junior, mixed and infants) voluntary aided school. The outcome was surprising. The Southwark Diocesan Board of Education was alarmed at such a notion and was at pains to point out the expense of acquiring outdated and expensive-to-run buildings which the Hamlet occupied.

There is however a case for re-visiting this proposal. Together, the Hamlet and Dulwich Village Infants' occupy a very large site which because of the history of their foundations in no way utilises the space potential offered. Under one banner as a JMI, be it a county primary, a voluntary aided church school or a independent school directly funded by the Department of Education with some serious money for development it would be in a position to offer a four-form entry and nursery provision. Both schools meet the government's criteria, as successful schools for enlargement and investment.

There is a case for holding a Public Meeting to review public primary education in Dulwich. Perhaps the Dulwich Society is the right body to convene such a meeting.

Dulwich Village Infants' and Dulwich Hamlet School - the historical background

In a chicken and egg situation the Infants' school can be found to have arrived first! In 1830 a well-meaning and determined local lady, who might easily have stepped from the pages of George Eliot's Middlemarch, persuaded the Master of Dulwich College, who since1741 had been given the task of overseeing the Dulwich Reading Schools, founded by James Allen and later renamed the Dulwich Free School, to open an infants' class at the school.

The Infants' School

Mary Ranken was a spinster and lived with her wealthy cousin and his wife at Belair. With the help of a number of friends who either volunteered or were press-ganged into helping with the infants' class and also with a wide range of other charitable enterprises in the Village, she made her educational enterprise a success. At the beginning, the Infants' class was considered a seperate entity to the Free School and was inspected by the National Society in 1840. However, over time it became an integral element of the Free School.

The new infants department together with the existing two classes of the Free School, one for boys and one for girls, each with a class of sixty pupils, continued until 1842 when the Dulwich College Grammar School, opened in the building still standing at the corner of Dulwich Village and Gallery Road. It was built to provide education for local boys to enable them to obtain apprenticeships in worthy trades. As a consequence, the boys' class moved from the Free School (now the site of Wates Estate agents and the adjoining house in the Village) across the road to the Grammar School where they joined the Lower Division. The removal of the boys from the Free School allowed the girls to enjoy the full benefit of James Allen's endowment of 1741 which was composed of the rent from four houses in Kensington Church Street. The Infants' department was still being supported by Mary Ranken and her circle. Her influence at the school now widened to include the girls' class and she became the school's virtual manager. She collected up to £70 per year from local subscribers and distributed the money in the form of clothes in an award ceremony twice a year according to the number of tickets gained by the children for industry, regularity and good conduct.

Forced changes

Great changes came in 1857 when Parliament reformed Alleyn's College (popularly called Dulwich College). The Grammar School was closed and the staff paid off. Two new schools, under the name of Dulwich College opened in the former Grammar School building; the Lower School for sons of the industrial classes, and the fee-paying Upper School. The twelve poor scholars continued to be chosen annually and were taught in the Lower School. The final clause of the Dulwich College Act 1857 prescribed that the funds from James Allen's endowment of the Free School were to be placed in a separate account to be called the Dulwich Girls' School Account.

Mary Ranken's energetic and valuable role in the life of Dulwich Village Infants' School ended with the implementation of the new Act and the death of her cousin which required her removing from Dulwich. The management of the wide list of charitable enterprises she started, together with the Dulwich Girls' School were all lumped together in what was called the Dulwich Local Charities. As far as the school was concerned the new Act required it to be administered three Trustees; the chairman of the newly formed College governors, the Master of the College and the College chaplain. It was the Chaplain, who acted as the local vicar (Dulwich was still a hamlet, the parish of St. Barnabas was not created until 1890) who oversaw the school and was chairman of the Dulwich Local Charities.

Protest and progress

Numbers had dwindled in Dulwich Girls' School; a combination of competition with a number of private schools which had sprang in Dulwich and Camberwell and also because of the poor state of its accommodation. While the Master and the Chaplain realised that the existing curriculum and school buildings were together insufficient and obsolete and were agreed that new buildings were necessary, a difference of opinion over the question of the infants' class in the projected new school arose. The chaplain (Rev. John Oldham) wished to retain the mixed infants' department as an integral part of the school but the Master (Canon Alfred Carver) felt all the income from the endowment of James Allen of the Kensington property would be needed for the girls' school alone, if new buildings with potential for enlargement were to be provided.

In the end it was the Charity Commissioners who ruled that the Act of 1857 intended the James Allen foundation to support a girls' school only.

Meanwhile the parents of the infants' department were becoming increasingly concerned over the conditions in which the children were being accommodated. Ninety children were being educated in a small low-ceilinged room at the Free School which was considered very over-crowded and unhealthy. In 1861, a meeting chaired by the Revd. Oldham, resolved to try to raise funds to build a new infant's school capable of holding 150 children. Room to spread out at the Free School had been hampered by the opening of a National School for boys in the building by the newly formed Dulwich Local Charities committee (made up from the local gentry and also chaired by Oldham).

In 1863, with no real progress achieved and the College being criticised for dragging its feet in providing a site, a public meeting was held at the Greyhound to discuss building a new infants' school by public subscription. As before, it took a determined woman to take control and Mrs. Oldham became the driving force behind the campaign, motivating parents and well-wishers alike. Funds were raised and the present Infants' School was opened two years later

How the Infants' became a Church School

In 1904, following implementation of the 1902 Education Act, Dulwich Village Infants' School officially passed from the control of the Dulwich Local Charities Committee to the London County Council as a 'Non-provided public elementary school'. It would be managed by four Foundation Managers of whom the Vicar of St. Barnabas was always to be one. The Dulwich Local Charities had already effectively been taken over by the new Parish of St Barnabas in 1892. In 1911 the first extension of the building was undertaken to increase the roll to 250. The parish of St. Clement's, East Dulwich, assisted with funds for the manager's share of the cost. A further extension to provide a hall took place in 1927 and in 1945, a vacant site on the other side of the Village was earmarked for further extension. Because of shortage of funds it would take over 30 years for that extension to be realised.

How Dulwich Hamlet (Girls) began

A new schoolhouse for Dulwich Girls' School finally opened in 1867, two years after the Infants' School and next door to it. It had the same architect and it was designed in a style sympathetic with its neighbour with which it was connected by a cloister. In 1878 its name was changed once again, to James Allen's Girls' School in a clear attempt to impress the Charity Commissioners who were at the time considering a number of schemes for the Alleyn charity and were under pressure to extend to girls the benefits of endowments originally enjoyed solely by boys. JAGS campaign was successful and the present JAGS buildings opened in East Dulwich Grove in 1886 and the school became part of the Alleyn Foundation.

By this time Dulwich Girls School/JAGS roll had increased to 141 girls and although it was only classed as an elementary school with an anticipated leaving age at 12, many girls were remaining at the school to age15-16 and in a few cases until 17! Fifty-seven girls transferred to the 'new' JAGS in East Dulwich Grove and in order that the remaining 84 girls should not be dispersed, the school building in the Village was immediately hired (later purchased) by the School Board for London to be named Dulwich Hamlet School (Girls).

Dulwich Hamlet School (Boys)

So if you are still with me dear reader, you may ask the question - "what about the boys?" You will recall that the Dulwich Local Charities had opened a National Boys School in the old Free School building in 1860 with a roll of 50. So popular was this new school that places had to be reserved for children of the Hamlet of Dulwich following an influx of boys from the neighbouring parish of St. Stephen's. Does this begin to have a familiar ring? In 1871, the Dulwich Boys' School was offered the Grammar School premises which had become vacant, by the College Governors, due to the opening of Charles Barry Jnr.'s grandiose Italianate Dulwich College and the Lower School's (later called Alleyn's School) subsequent move into the rooms vacated by them in the Old College building (now occupied by the Dulwich Estate offices). The Dulwich Local Charities Committee, anticipating there would be changes created by the 1870 Education Act declined this offer.

With its limited curriculum numbers dwindled at the Boys' School and the JAGS governors surrendered the lease of the old Free School building they had occupied since 1741, in 1882. The boys' school limped along for another year or so until its pupils were absorbed into Dulwich Hamlet School (Boys) which opened in 1884 with a roll of 40 but with a projected roll of 240. By 1887 the boys were able to enter what is today known as the Turney building, the girls occupied their own new building with the original JAGS building becoming a Housewifery Centre for the girls. The corrugated iron huts which initially housed the fledgling boys' school while building took place were later used by the LCC for teaching boys woodwork and other technical subjects as well as by the school for evening classes for pupils who left school at 14 to return for technical instruction or classes for the Civil service examinations.

Dulwich Hamlet Girls and Boys amalgamate

Up until World War ll, the leaving age for boys and girls was 14, although bright pupils might gain scholarships at 11 to proceed to a grammar school. On return from evacuation and following the passing of the 1944 Education Act, Dulwich Hamlet Boys and Girls Schools were amalgamated into one school and the leaving age reduced to 11 in order for all children to proceed to secondary education. The boys and girls were taught in separate classes in years 5 & 6 but in 1947 pressure for places at the school meant a register of 57 boys and girls in each of these classes!

Brian Green is the author of 'To Read and Sew - James Allen's Girls' School 1741-1991' and was Deputy Chairman of the Governors of Dulwich Village Infants School from 1978-90.

Go to top