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

Read more East End history on OurBow.


  1. Hi Gina, I had the same teachers in the 50’s and also there was Mr Jackson the headmaster.
    Some of the kids in my class were, Frances Adnams, Irene Philips, Roger Washbourne,
    Sidney Bootle, Lennie Sinclair. Sir Michael Caine always says, we weren’t poor, we
    were underpriveleged. Too right, Michael…………………..

  2. Hi all,

    I’m doing a bit of the old genealogy tracking at the moment and a vague conversation with my dad involved one of his aunts being married to a school keeper, somewhere in East London.
    I’ve just found that my grandaunt’s husband, Stanley Chandler, was a school keeper there back in 1939 and they lived on site.
    His name was Stanley Chandler but I doubt theres anyone out there who would remember him. But in saying that, at this stage I have no idea how long he worked there so I guess it’s not impossible that he could have been there through the 50’s.
    He passed away in 1962.

    Cheers everyone

    1. I went to this school (then Devons Road School in the 50’s. My 2 older sisters and brother went there too. I loved it. Our teachers were Mr. Islip, Mr. Woolly and Miss Gadd. Miss Allan, the rector’s sister, from the Lighthouse Baptist church , was our reception class teacher.
      The playground for the juniors, was on the school roof.
      There were around 48 of us in my class; a boy called John Newland and l passed the 11 plus and went to grammar school from there. We lived opposite the school in a little road called Chiltern Road. I think the houses we lived in were all pulled down and replaced with a skyscraper. It was a happy school – we didn’t know we were poor! ???

    2. I was at the school from 1946 until 1951 and can remember the caretaker at that time. He lived on the school premises. The caretaker’s house was to the right of the school. Can’t remember his name but he was a short man, who often chased me out of the playground after hours.

    3. Hi mate, I was there from 51 to 56 and the old caretaker was Mr. Hooper.
      If I remember rightly he had a limp and couldn’t catch us kids.
      We would play football at the far end of the playground and when we saw him coming we would
      shoot down the side of the school and climb the gate into Knapp Road.

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