The History of All Saints’ School goes back even beyond the foundation of the church. The Rev. William Bartlett, a 28 year-old man, fresh from his first parish in Winchester, established a church and vicarage on the site where now stands the Parish Church of Holy Trinity. From here he ministered to the poor and destitute, reserving a special affection for the children, for whom he supported an infant’s school, Sunday School, Night School for Youths and a new school that he opened for ninety boys and girls in South Road – latterly to be named “All Saints’ Primary”. The school opened in 1867 under a ‘trained and certified teacher from Battersea and from that time forward church and school have been inextricably linked. Indeed one of the first additions to the fabric of All Saints’ Church following its consecration was the ‘Good Shepherd’ window given by fellow teachers and friends in memory of Lewis Reuben Stone, schoolmaster of the parish for twenty-three years.
Reverend Pickering, the first Priest of All Saints’, was a staunch supporter of Church Schools. Indeed both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Churches had long considered that the day school was necessary in every parish to fulfil the Church’s obligation to educate and secure education in the precepts and doctrines of the Christian religion. However, religious schools could never cover the country and the Education Act of 1870 provided Board Schools where the voluntary schools were inadequate or non-existent. This meant that, for the first time, schools that did not teach religion of any kind were in receipt of grants. Of course, the Boards could order the teaching of religious instruction, but it should not be the teaching of formulas distinctive of a particular denomination, and a conscience clause, enabling the parent to withdraw the child from such teaching, was compulsory. Hardly surprisingly therefore, Pickering had trouble with the Act. He regarded the situation from the point of view that he had no objection to the School Boards provided that they taught “his religion”, and were comprised of members of the Church of England. He believed that the religion taught in the state schools could never satisfy the principles of church people, and that they must be ready, if they valued Church Schools, to support them themselves. In March he wrote thus in the Parish Magazine:- “If parents would give one shilling for each child in attendance at the schools, over £150 would be raised……there are many more who could easily do more than this.” He got little support for any of his ideas in the local press…..“Easily – forsooth, let Mr. Pickering himself try with an income of say £1 a week, or less, which sum would represent the total earnings of many of those to whom he appeals. Working men would indeed be fools if they lent themselves to support in any way the present system of effete, inefficient and denominational education obtaining in Wimbledon. They have at least the right to FREE education and should not submit to any such extortion!”
Life in South Wimbledon at the end of the 19th Century
The local press was well aware of the poverty that prevailed in the streets that encircled All Saints’ Church and, along with that poverty came disease. Cases of scarlet fever, diphtheria and typhoid were commonplace, especially amongst the young, where the infant mortality rate was running at an alarming 150 per 1,000. Conditions in South, Deburgh and Wandle Roads were likened to those in Poplar. Here occupants were living in rooms averaging 10′ square, without benefit of either garden or bathroom. The law clearly stated that no more than two adults and two children should occupy any one room, but often two families shared the accommodation, thus destroying the fundamental principles of life in which a “man’s home should be his castle.” Indeed, at 87 Deburgh Road, six boys and girls shared a room 11′ by 8′ 6″, and this was, by no means, an isolated case. By 1908 conditions were not much better and there was a high incidence of malnutrition at the Haydons Road School. Cases of ringworm, scarlet fever and diphtheria kept many away from school. The number of visits made by the nurses tell their own story. Nurse Mellor paid 196 visits in North Wimbledon – in South Wimbledon Nurse Hobart paid 2,711. Many thought it outrageous that such conditions should be allowed to prevail and sought a “Town Meeting” to get something done. Ralph D. Ford, a resident of Rayleigh Road, had been particularly struck by the case of a girl who had arrived in such a famished state at the Queens Road School, that the mistress had been obliged to feed her there and then. He writes:- ” the trouble exists at this moment…unless some action is taken we shall drift on.” Reverend Bell (Pickering’s successor at All Saints’) joined the board of the newly-formed Guild of Help, a body that sought, not to enter into competition with charities that already existed, but to bring into use existing agencies.
But, despite their hardships, the children of the schools were always enthusiastic participants in the various events organised by the church, giving displays that included gymnastics, country dancing and maypole dancing in the summer. There was also great enthusiasm for the celebrations of state, and Empire Day was always marked in the schools with interesting and often ambitious displays. In May 1909, the girls of the Haydons Road Girls and InfantsSchool dressed in costumes personifying Britannia, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and sang patriotic songs such as “Rule Britannia”, “A Song, a Song, a Song for England” and “Our Glorious Empire Day.” Other children represented the Colonies and brought gifts characteristic of those country’s products – tea, wheat, gold. silks, fur etc., – which they presented to Britannia. Then, prior to a march past and the saluting of the Flag, Reverend Bell spoke to them of the privilege of belonging to the Empire and called for “three cheers” for the boys and girls present who would become its citizens – citizens who would, five years hence, be called to fight alongside their colonial brothers in one of the worst conflicts of modern times.
There were other treats for the children. The school attendance officer – normally an awe-inspiring functionary – became a “fairy godmother” at the annual treat for the poorest children of the Wimbledon Elementary Schools when over a thousand children, many shoeless and dressed in rags, would join in a programme of tea and entertainment. In 1912, although only £80 was subscribed to the funds – a sum deemed to be woefully inadequate in a wealthy suburb – the children consumed 4 cwt. of cake, 80 quarterns of bread, 32 lbs. of butter, 10 gallons of milk, 28 gallons of tea and 56 lbs of sugar. As they returned to their homes, each was given a bag of oranges and buns – a gratuity prompting one lad to remark, “Lumme Jim, if this ain’t better’n school.” It was probably better than anything they knew and, although there were now some signs of improvement, especially in their health, much ground still needed to be covered. Inspections during house to house visitations revealed some 165 rooms to be infested with vermin, and infant mortality remained high – South Wimbledon returning the worst figures of 139.1 per thousand for Trinity Ward, and 116.5 per thousand for South Park Ward. Teeth presented one of the greatest problems, the task of convincing patients of the need for attention being particularly arduous. In the case of ringworm, the problem was exacerbated by parents who insisted on children having their hair cropped by hairdressers ignorant of their condition. This, of course, merely ensured a thorough and efficient spread of the affliction, the net result being that the School Medical Officer’s report of June 1912 noted that the total loss of attendance over the past year due to ringworm amounted to 109.97 years!! Another scourge was tuberculosis, with many children being described as “pre-tubercluous” and likely to join the ranks of the consumptives as they grew older. On the horizon however, loomed the spectre of something much worse. It was reported in Lancashire that doctors there were becoming anxious about the incidence of a disease in children that, if not fatal, left its victims stricken down with crippling of the muscles and paralysis. The medical profession called it “the unpronounceable disease”, we know it now as Poliomyelitis.
In 1913 the first ‘school clinic’ opened in Wimbledon, and now free treatment meant that minor ailments that would otherwise have gone untreated, or developed into something far more serious, could be dealt with at an early stage. Many of the problems caused by recurrent skin diseases and those affecting the nose and throat could be alleviated. More important still were the benefits to dental hygiene, where trouble often went undetected until tooth sockets turned septic and gave rise to far more serious disorders. Some however, regarded the clinic as a threat to parental responsibility and treated it with indifference. Yet eventually, when properly worked, it came to be regarded as just the opposite, and the long term benefits of its work were considerable. School attendance improved and money was saved in the costs of hospital treatment and in days lost due to illness. The greatest beneficiaries however, were the children, for whom improved health and happiness was beyond price.