St Mary's CofE Primary School

History of St Mary's Church and School

St Mary's Church stands in the heart of Islington. It is said that, over 1,000 years ago, Islington began here.  Originally named Gisella's Don, Islington first appeared with the original St Mary's Church in approximately 650 AD.  Literally located on the highest part of the area (what we call Upper Street), the modern Islington grew from this central location.  Today, we continue to be a hub for several tube and train lines, bus networks and a centre of excellence for business, art and design.  It is one of the most diverse and culturally relevant parts of the country and our children take full advantage of it!

History of the School

The school was formed as a charity school for poor children in 1710, at a time when only rich children went to school. The pupils were taught in a large room above the west porch of St. Mary’s Church on Upper Street.

There were 24 boys and 20 girls, they were given clothing, board and education. Boys at that time were taught how to read and write, while the girls learned how to sew.

The school moved premises several times over the coming years, and was divided into different branches. In 1859 a new school building was opened at 6 Little Cross Street, now known as Shillingford Street. Within a few years, there were nearly 500 pupils enrolled.

Children at St Mary’s learned reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. They sat on hard wooden benches, and there were up to 80 children in a class.

In the early 1900s, children left school when they were 14. Some of St Mary’s children left to become domestic servants, or to work in a tobacco factory. This is recorded in the school’s 1908 Admission Book.

St Mary’s stayed in the Little Cross Street building for nearly 100 years, until World War Two. On September 1st, 1939, 200 children were evacuated to four villages in Cambridge. They were taken there by the headmaster, Mr T.H.Cox. However it appears they soon returned to London.

There were local air raid alerts in March 1943, and very few children went to school. On June 29th, 1944 a flying bomb fell in Hayman Street. St Mary’s school was so badly damaged that it was razed to the ground. Three pupils died in the attack. The day after the bombing, the children were moved to rooms at William Tyndale School.

St Mary’s Punishment Book shows there was a lot of corporal punishment in the late 1940s and 50s. Pupils were hit on the hand or the bottom with a cane. Children were punished for eating chewing gum, being late, licking tops off milk bottles, annoying teachers and using bad language.

St Mary’s remained at William Tyndale until 1962, when the school needed repairs. The children then moved to Canonbury School, where they had no proper cloakrooms and their teachers didn’t have a proper staffroom.

In 1966 a new school was built in Fowler Road, where it is today. The foundation stone was laid on May 19th, Ascension Day, by the Lord Bishop of London.

St. Mary’s School was officially opened on July 6th, 1967 and the Lord Archbishop of York cut the ribbons. The headmaster was Mr. E. W. Mallion.

The chosen hymn for the day began like this –

“We build our school on thee, O Lord; To thee we bring our common need.”

St Mary’s was founded upon Christian values serving the local community.

This legacy lives on in you.

What makes you very proud of our school history and our school today?

St Mary’s church has seen dark times – plague, fire, persecutions and war. But St Mary’s church, like our school has always trusted in God. Both St Mary’s school and St Mary’s church still stand strong, working with others to serve our local community and beyond.

How do you let your light shine?

Historic Information about St Mary's Church, London's oldest church