Clara Grant School, Knapp Road, Bow

Clara Grant School, Knapp Road, Bow

Do you remember Knapp Road School?

Bill Hawkins emailed us to ask, if anyone remembered Knapp Road School.

A walk to Knapp Road told me that it is now called The Clara Grant Primary School, and a quick bit of research produced an absolute deluge of fascinating local history.

School Board for London

Visually it looks like one of the many sturdy School Board for London buildings which have lasted so well. High on the wall a plaque reads Devon’s Road School, 1905. The SBL (colloquially LSB) was setup following the 1870 Elementary Education Act. The SBL built 400 schools like this one between 1870 and 1904 – quite an achievement. Then responsibility passed to the London County Council, but there was obvious continuity. The board was elected democratically and from the off in 1870 all ratepayers, including women, could vote in a secret ballot for the board. That 1870 board had three women on it, including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Many caring, influential and can-do people served on the School Board for London.

Clara Grant School, Knapp Road, Bow
Clara Grant School, Knapp Road, Bow

The aim of the SBL was to provide sufficient school places for London’s poorest children. By the late 1880s they were educating 350,000 pupils. The London board had passed a by-law in 1871 compelling all parents to have their children educated from the ages of 5 to13. That didn’t work too well as school attendance wasn’t free until 1891. Additionally poor children were working, either helping their mothers with outwork, such as making matchboxes on the kitchen table, or simply in employment.

Geezer Ted Lewis (1929 – 2017) told me how he came to leave school at 11 during WW2. He was evacuated to a village in Devon that had a church run school which only took infants and juniors. So Ted went to work on a farm, which he enjoyed. He’d previously spent all his boyhood summer holidays hop picking in Kent, and had gained some experience.

Ted Lewis tells how he left school aged 11.

Clara Grant

Clara Grant was born in 1867 to a reasonably well-off family in Wiltshire. She trained to become a teacher at Salisbury Diocesan Training College, and her first post was at a small Wiltshire church school in 1888. Motivated by her Christian faith, she became the head of a school in Hoxton in 1890. She set out to help the most deprived children in London. Ten years later she became head of a tin school at Bow Common (All Hallows). When the splendid Devon’s Road School in my photos opened in 1905 she was headmistress of the infants.

Clara Grant listed at Devon's Road School 1910
Clara Grant listed in 1910 PO Directory as infants’ mistress at Devon’s Road School

Clara was up to speed with the latest ideas on child development. She was influenced by the work of Friedrich Froebel who invented the kindergarten. This considered the whole child – health, physical development, emotional well-being, the environment and other factors as important.

Fern Street Settlement

Fern Street Settlement London Dec 2019
Fern Street Settlement London December 2019

The Settlement Movement began with the 1884 founding of Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel. This socially reforming movement brought rich and poor together in one place. Wealthy volunteers brought donations, culture, education, and provide daycare, and healthcare to the struggling poor. Clara Grant worked at Toynbee Hall for a while, and this influenced what she did next. In 1907 she opened up her own terraced house in Fern Street, which backed onto Devon’s Road School, as a small settlement. By the 1939 PO Directory (below) you can see that it now occupied 3 houses.

Clara Grant listed as Fern Street Settlement Warden 1939
Clara Grant listed as Fern Street Settlement Warden 1939

Margaret MacMillan established the first school clinic in London in Devon’s Road School in 1908. Clara organised hot breakfasts for her young pupils, paying for porridge, milk, bread and butter. She also gave them proper clothes and boots. The Settlement provided healthcare, a dentist, a library, and organised a thrift club. Clara Grant is famous for the farthing bundles of toys which the children queued to get. From 1908 a worker and nurse would visit every baby born to families in the area once a month for a year who were connected to Devons Road School.

Clara Grant received an OBE in 1949, and died soon after aged 82.

Does anyone have any memories of going to school in Knapp Road to share with Bill?

Knapp Road 1939 from London PO directory
Knapp Road 1939 from London Post Office Directory


  1. I went to Devons between 1959 and 1965. It was a great school, just a few minutes walk from our house in Fairfoot Road. Mr Jackson was the headmaster. My two favourite teachers were Mr Bond and Miss Purton. I also remember playing on the roof! I was in the the football and cricket teams. Some of my team-mates were Stephen Pluck, Eddie Chapman, George Lucas, Robert Thorpe and Jimmy Jones. I have wonderful memories of Devons. Bow was a great place to grow up.

  2. Tony I went to the school during the war , And we often played on the top playground , Unless there was an air raid on , The we used the shelter . But it was a really good school . and had some really great teachers

  3. Ann Targett Thank you , I do remember your family , Although it was 70 years ago . I used to love living in Sumner House , , In those days it was a different world , once again thank You Bill Hawkins

  4. I went Devon’s in the 70’s I think my headmaster was Mr Gordon, best teacher ever Mr Poonwassy and in contrast the absolute worst was Miss Lewis she was a proper cow

  5. I went to devons school and I returned and worked ther for 32 years I retired in 2018 my children went to the school my mother went to the school and my aunt moved clara grant from the tin huts to devons school lots of memories for the family

    1. Susan . When I went to the school . Mr Goode was the headmaster . And we had a Miss Harvey and a Mr Jarvis , But the one Teacher I remember was Mr Coates , I think he was ex Royal marine , and he was our PT teacher , And he trained a group of us to do PT at the festival of Britain site on the south bank . But as I say thank you for the information , Bill Hawkins

  6. Thank you for the information about Knap rd /Clara grant school . I used to live in Sumner house just around the corner from fern st Where we used to go for our bundles of cards and toys , when I was a child , I left The school dec 1951 ,. But I still remember the teachers and headmaster with affection ,Those were the days , Once again , thank youfor all you help , And a happy new year to you all Bill

    1. I went to Devons school. I was there late 70s and left early 80. I remember Mr Gordon with his brown suede shoes. He did like us singing hymes in assembly. Mrs Cannon was the worst ever. She used to hit across the knuckles with a ruler. That has stuck with me for 40 odd years now. Mr Gardiner, mr bond, mr green who fancied miss brown!!! Wow the memories are still there. Going to devons school was great looking back. Only school in east london with a playground on the roof!!! I used to live in gayton house which was the flats opposite the school. Happy memories.

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