Elementary school (opened 1900) with caretaker's house, higer grade school (opened 1901) and secondary school annexe (opened 1906), by CJ Dawson for the Ilford School Board and Urban District Council.
Reason for Listing
Christchurch School, comprising a series of buildings of 1899-1906 by CJ Dawson for the Ilford School Board and Urban District Council, is recommended for listing at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: an impressive cluster of school buildings, carefully arranged and consistently detailed so as to form an unusually satisfying group;
* Historic interest: a striking illustration of the transformed state of elementary schooling in the wake of the 1870 Education Act, and of the expansion in secondary education that followed the 1902 Act, it also offers a particularly good example of the work of one of London’s suburban school boards.
The Elementary Education Act of 1870, steered through Parliament by the Liberal MP William Forster and thus known as 'Forster's Act', established for the first time a system of national, secular, non-charitable education for children between the ages of 5 and 13. A driving force behind the new legislation was the need for a literate and numerate workforce to ensure that Britain remained at the forefront of manufacturing and commerce. Moreover, the extension of the franchise to the urban working classes under the 1867 Reform Act also alerted politicians to the need - in words attributed to the then Chancellor - to 'educate our masters'. The Act made provision for elected school boards to be formed in areas in which the current provision (usually on the part of the Church of England and the Nonconformist denominations) was inadequate; these boards were then empowered to levy a local rate in order to take over and improve existing elementary schools or establish new ones to make up the shortfall. The inner parts of the capital (the future County of London) were served by the first and largest of these boards, the School Board for London, which, under chief architects ER Robson and TJ Bailey, carried out an enormous school-building programme resulting in hundreds of new schools whose design strongly influenced the work of other education authorities across the country.
The capital's outlying districts and satellite towns - 'London over the border' - formed smaller boards, each typically responsible for just a handful of schools. Ilford, a large Essex village on the London-Colchester road, already had a number of small church-run elementary schools in 1870, but dramatic suburban expansion around the turn of the century (its population grew from 7,500 in 1881 to 78,000 in 1911) made the situation urgent, leading to the establishment of the Ilford School Board in 1893. Christchurch School, opened in 1900, was the fourth of the seven new elementary schools built by the board, and the adjacent higher grade (i.e. senior elementary) school, opened the following year, was the first of its kind in the county. The 1902 Education Act transferred the responsibilities of the school boards to new council-run Local Education Authorities, which were empowered for the first time to establish secondary schools. The higher grade school was reconstituted as the Ilford County Secondary School, with further facilities added in a new building of 1906.
All the buildings on the Christchurch site are the work of the board's architect CJ Dawson (1850-1933). Dawson was a native of Barking, where he also served as district surveyor. He was responsible for a number of schools in these and the neighbouring districts (e.g. Cleveland Road and Highlands in Ilford, North Street and Westbury in Barking, and the High School for Girls in Walthamstow) as well as a number of civic and religious buildings in Barking including the public offices and library (later the magistrates' court), the Friends' Meeting House (now a Sikh temple), and the chapel at Rippleside Cemetery.
MATERIALS AND DETAILS: the buildings are of London stock brick with bands and dressings of glazed yellow brick and terracotta, plinths of blue engineering brick and roofs of Welsh slate. They are built in a lively polychromatic style influenced by Dutch and Flemish Renaissance architecture, and strongly recalling TJ Bailey’s contemporary work for the School Board for London (SBL). Unifying features include the use of boldly striped brickwork, round-headed windows and extravagantly shaped gables on the upper floors (the lower floors are of stock brick with plainer segment-headed windows), and the distinctive treatment of the stair-towers, which have rows of small mullioned windows and terracotta-faced parapets dipped in the centre.
LAYOUT: the school occupies a large rectangular island site bounded by Melbourne, Balfour, Christchurch and Wellesley roads. The two principal buildings are the elementary school (opened 1900) at the north-east corner of the site, and the higher grade school (opened 1901) on the south-west boundary facing Melbourne Road. Two smaller buildings complete the group: the secondary school annexe (opened 1906), end-on to the eastern Balfour Street boundary, and the caretaker’s house facing north-west onto Wellesley Road. The site is surrounded by walls and railings, with gates and gate-piers at various points.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: this is a tall, three-storey building on a deep E-plan, its elevations (like those of its three neighbours) treated in a lively polychromatic style influenced by Dutch and Flemish Renaissance architecture, The most formal elevation is the north-west front to Wellesley Road. This is of five bays, each with three windows and each surmounted by a big shaped gable; the outer bays project slightly and have scrolls, oculi and pointed finials. Sharply projecting cornices divide the storeys, and the pitched roof is crowned by a lead-covered timber cupola and a series of tall banded chimneys. The south-east elevation has projecting outer wings formed by the stair-towers and their attached cloakroom blocks; the entrance doorways here have moulded lettering in their semicircular tympana, with those leading to the boys’ school on the second floor raised atop short flights of half-moon steps. The middle block, set well back between these wings, contains the assembly halls and has a polygonal central bay rising through all three storeys. (The single-storey staffroom block in front is an addition.) On the south-west return elevation is a marble plaque dated 1899, giving the names of the School Board members and those of the architect and builder.
The interiors are typically spartan. Each floor was in effect a separate school: infants on the ground floor, girls on the first and boys on the second. Each school comprises a large assembly hall with classrooms along one side and short corridors at either end leading to further classrooms, cloakrooms, washrooms and stairwells - an arrangement reflecting the 'Prussian system' adopted by the SBL during the previous decade. The halls have wood-block floors and exposed ceiling girders; the classrooms have glazed timber doors with overlights to the hall and corridors, as well as narrow interconnecting doors. There are tiled dados throughout, now painted over. Above the cloakrooms are mezzanine floors containing head teachers’ offices, each with a small triangular oriel window overlooking the corridor below.
HIGHER GRADE SCHOOL: this is another big three-storey building, similar in style and scale to the elementary school, but (as befits its senior status) somewhat more grandiose in overall effect. The main elevation is to the south-west, facing Melbourne Road. Here again the outer bays project, and have hipped roofs with big gabled half-dormers; early photos show these with semicircular Diocletian windows, since enlarged. The middle five bays are given a giant arcade encompassing the ground and first floors, the dividing piers canted and topped with big terracotta scrolls. Above is a deep cornice, and above that a low attic storey with (inserted) rectangular windows surmounted by a hipped roof with three dormers; their crowning pediments have been removed, as has the cupola atop the roof-ridge. On either side are lower two-storey wings with flat-roofed single-storey porches in front; that to the right contains the boys’ entrance, but the girls’ entrance to the left has been rebuilt. The playground (north-east) elevation resembles that of the elementary school, but with the stair-towers set back rather than forward, and with tall triangular half-dormers bearing strapwork decoration rising from the second floor. The centre block again has a polygonal middle bay, here marking the head teachers' offices (this has been raised by an extra storey). In the roof above is a big dormer bearing the date 1900. Two stone plaques on the return elevations record that the Higher Grade School - 'the first to be erected in the county' - was 'promoted' by the Ilford School Board between 1896 and 1899, and opened by the Bishop of Barking on 22 June 1901.
The plan repeats that of the elementary school on the ground and first floors (the boys’ and girls’ schools respectively), with classrooms and corridors flanking large assembly halls, and stairs, cloakrooms and washrooms in the outer wings. The second floor originally contained more specialist facilities: classrooms for drawing and physics, a lecture room and, in the (now altered) central part above the halls, a large chemistry lab. The interiors and their fittings likewise closely resemble those of the elementary school.
SECONDARY SCHOOL ANNEXE: this is a two-storey building, visually subordinate to the adjacent Higher Grade School, but with a similar external treatment; shaped gables and big round-headed windows on the upper floor, stock brick and segmental windows below. The north-east front has an odd, slightly asymmetrical pattern of fenestration, with three irregularly-spaced half-dormers breaking through the eaves line; the original tall banded chimney-stacks have been truncated. The south-west front is more regular, with a pair of gables flanked by low stair-towers. The main entrance (now blocked) with its heavy keystone surround is off-centre to the right. The east return faces the street and has a side entrance and a stone plaque that commemorates the building's opening in August 1906.
The internal plan is simple. On the ground floor there are three classrooms connected by a longitudinal corridor which also gives access to the stairwells. The upper floor repeats the same arrangement but with a single large classroom (once the cookery room) in the centre part.
CARETAKER'S HOUSE: this, the smallest of the four buildings, originally served a dual function, containing both living accommodation for the resident caretaker and, on the second floor, a cookery classroom. Access to the domestic quarters was from Wellesley Street, where the building is set back within a small garden; on this elevation, the near-symmetry of the three-storey right-hand part with its big central half-dormer is disrupted by the placement of the stacks, the slightly off-centre front door and the short set-back wing to the left. On the playground side is a projecting two-storey porch-cum-stair-tower, by which the pupils gained access to the cookery room. The building was flanked by two single-storey brick sheds, originally open play shelters; the right-hand (north-east) one survives intact and is included in the listing, but the other has been rebuilt as classrooms within its old outer wall, and is excluded. (A further shed, now roofless and also excluded from the listing, can be seen in the north-east corner of the playground.)
This building's interiors were not inspected. Originally they comprised kitchen, parlour and scullery on the ground and first floors, connected by a separate newel stair, with the cookery classroom on the floor above.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: high brick walls alternate with spiked railings around the periphery of the site, punctuated at certain points by square brick gate-piers with domed terracotta tops inscribed, variously, BOYS, GIRLS and INFANTS.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.