1862 - 1907
The St Clement Danes Holborn Estate Commercial Grammar School for Boys was opened in newly built premises in Houghton Street, close to St Clement Danes church, on 4th August 1862. The first Headmaster was the Rev W J Savell and the first boy on the register was 12 year old William Peyton, the son of a local confectioner. By the end of the first academic year there were 104 boys on the roll, all from the local area. The average ages of entry and leaving were 8-9 and 13-14 respectively, although some boys were admitted at 7 years of age. The school was initially organised into 4 classes.
One of the main objects was "useful learning" as schools were being called upon to turn out large numbers of clerks for the expanding banks, railways, civil service, insurance companies, industrial companies and merchants, many of whom were based in the Holborn area. Most pupils came from the families of local tradesmen or minor professionals and there were a substantial number of overseas origin reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the area. The majority of pupils were recorded on leaving as going into "business" - probably the family business.
From its earliest days, the school enjoyed a good reputation and had good reports from formal inspections. In 1866 it was seen as a "modern, endowed, non-classical middle school of the second grade " (ie with a leaving age of 16-17). In 1877 it was singled out as being one of the four middle class schools in London that was doing good, useful work.
However, changes to the population of the local area, as large parts were cleared of residential housing to make way for extensions to the Law Courts and the new Kingsway thoroughfare, gradually led to a decline in the number of pupils and by the time the Rev Savell retired in 1894, the school was in a difficult situation. In fact, the Rev Savell himself petitioned the Governors for closure. This was not accepted but the uncertainty meant that he was not replaced and the school survived under acting headmasters for the next five years. The extension of scholarships to a wider area gradually brought in more pupils and in 1907 a new permanent Headmaster, Mr W P Fuller, was appointed to lead the school into the future.
Memories from the period taken from the 1951 brief history of the school written by Senior Master William Hadley:
Mr G J Davey, pupil from 1879 until 1887 and later a Governor:
At that time the school was surrounded by the slums of Drury Lane and boys attending the school had to pass "old women sitting on doorsteps, smoking clay pipes, nauseous odours emanating from the doorways ...... near the school was a row of sheds, the windows of which were so near the ground that passers-by could see the inmates in bed in one room and often a donkey and a barrow stabled in the next".
The masters, four including the Headmaster, wore silk top hats and the boys wore mortarboards. These attracted the attention of the local youths who often stoned the school, making police protection necessary for the scholars.
The two most important subjects in the curriculum were Divinity and Latin, especially Latin grammar - for were we not a grammar school? English was a bad third; Science and Maths were merely also-rans and French was considered just a nuisance. The four masters were each armed with the all-powerful cane which was in frequent use.
Sport was largely considered a waste of time and there were no organised games until 1882 when cricket was played in Regents Park and football on Clapham Common. The players had to transport their own goal posts the four or five miles from Houghton Street to the Common.
Mr Davey remembered an interesting custom following the annual prize-giving. The boys assembled in the classrooms and all, even the youngest, were served with mugs of wine and cakes from large baskets.
In 1889 the school narrowly escaped being destroyed by fire. The caretaker detected a strong smell of gas and went into the Headmaster's study with a lighted candle. The explosion hurled him along the corridor and he was found unconscious on the front doormat. He suffered severe burns and spent six weeks in hospital. The explosion did cause a fire but prompt action by the fire brigade prevented serious damage.