The History of St. Bartholomew's School

This brief history of the school, by May Yardley, first appeared in the October and November 1993 issues of Sydenham Life. Since this was written, a number of changes have been made to the school - the roll and buildings have both been expanded - but it still makes interesting reading and May Yardley was for many years a governor of the school. 

We'd love to hear from anyone who would like to bring this history up-to-date!

It is unusual for an infant and junior school within the State system to be able to trace its history far back into the past. St Bartholomew's Church School can do that, it can trace its history for 178 years back to its beginnings in 1815. Evidence suggests that it began as a 'dame's school' held in a cottage parlour in Lower Sydenham, probably for about a dozen children for whom their parents paid a small weekly sum. It is difficult for us to imagine a time when education was not compulsory in England and the majority of children just played in the streets or were set early to work and so grew up illiterate.

The dame's school was moved in 1832 to Upper Sydenham where had grown a village of larger houses. St Bartholomew's Church was dedicated in 1832 as a daughter church to St Mary's at Lewisham, with a curate in charge, and the school became a church school under the aegis of the new church. A corner site was found in Kirkdale on which a proper school building was erected. The school remained on this site for 136 years until 1968.

Boys and girls were taught separately and on this comparatively small site two houses were also built for a head master and a head mistress. Parents still had to pay small fees. The school must have been poorly built, probably for lack of funds, as according to the school records it was often under repair.

In 1854 the church ceased to be a daughter church of Lewisham and became the parish church of Upper Sydenham. Its first vicar was the Rev Charles English, whose tombstone remains just inside the lower church gate. He was a very enterprising man and in 1867 he had the old school building pulled down and a new one built which was described as being "handsome, suitable and commodious". It was a mixed school for boys and girls.

Many of us remember that building which remained in use for a hundred years until the school moved in 1968. "Commodious" by present day standards it certainly was not; several classrooms had to be reached through other classrooms, the hall was small and so was the playing space, and there was no kitchen.

There was a body of six managers (now, by law, the number was swollen to eighteen) who appointed the head master and the staff. The early log books are still in the school's possession. With all its building limitations, the school was always known for being hardworking, happy and well-conducted, a reputation maintained to this day.

In rebuilding the school in 1867, Charles English probably anticipated the Education Act of 1870 when it became compulsory for all children to attend school. The Sydenham school entered the state system but still retained its close links with the Church, which have happily remained strong until the present day. The official title of the school is St. Bartholomew's Church Voluntary Aided Primary School, and in the order of admission to the school, the first admissions are children of parents who attend the church. As in all dioceses, there is a Southwark Diocesan Board of Education which keeps closely in touch with all its church schools.

A new and lovely site was allotted to the school in the early thirties of this century, but it was not able to enter into its heritage for more than twenty years. The war intervened, during which no civic building was permitted, and immediately after the war the field was commandeered for the erection of a village of "prefabs" for those whose homes had been badly damaged or destroyed by air raids during the war years. So the school waited until at last the site was cleared and the inhabitants re-housed. The long expected building of the new school began. It was thrilling for staff in the old building to watch the rise of a modern school building with much larger and light classrooms, a library, a big hall, and kitchen quarters where school dinners would be cooked, beside the laying of the grass on the field and the making of two netball courts.

The foundation tone was laid by the Countess of Dartmouth and the school opened in 1968 with a service of thanksgiving. It is indeed fortunate in the crowded suburbs of South London to have good playing space, opportunities for growing small gardens and for nature study. A pond has been dug by fathers, with an area of wild growth around it. The school celebrated its twenty-fifth birthday on the present site this summer. (1993)

Under the 1988 Education Act, the governors and head teacher are responsible for the allotment of 80% of the annual budget allocated by Lewisham Education Authority. They are also responsible for covering the requirements of the National Curriculum and, as it is a Church Voluntary Aided School, for 15% of the building maintenance, towards which they ask parents for a contribution.

Because of the pressure from parents for school places, the governors decided to increase the size of the school by adding an extra half-stream of pupils. This means that each year the school will admit forty-five new pupils instead of thirty. We congratulate the governors on their enterprise and courage in raising the money to add the necessary new classrooms to the building. At an outdoor ceremony on 25th June 1993, in the presence of the school, the governors, the parents and many friends, a short service of thanksgiving and seeking God's blessing on the new wing was held. Miss Yardley, a former governor for many years, declared the new wing officially open and unveiled a plaque dedicating it 'Ad Gloriam Dei' and naming it the Yardley Suite.

Proposals will shortly be going in front of the governors to enlarge the staffroom and erect a brick-built administrative block for the Secretary. This will be funded by the Department of Education and, if it receives governors' approval, will be completed by March 1994.

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