The building once known as Star Road School, now Fulham Prep. opened in January 1880. However the log books, preserved in the Hammersmith and Fulham Archives, show that the boys’ department existed four years earlier.
As one of the new London Board Schools, it occupied temporary premises in May Street. On the 24 January 1876 the Headteacher 29 year old Richard Cranfield welcomed 117 boys and seated them at the nine long tables.
His charges were regarded by the Inspectors as ‘belonging to the most neglected class of a very low locality’, and the immediate task for Cranfield and his sole assistant was to impose some sort of order and to encourage regular attendance.
The latter proved extremely difficult. Pupils stayed home when the weather was too hot, too cold or too wet. Attendance varied between 75% and 82% but there was massive truancy on 5 November when the boys went collecting pennies.
The Head asked pupils to take letters to the absentees’ homes, but this plan rebounded on him. One parent attacked him violently claiming that her two sons had been abused for trying to deliver his messages. While a policeman subdued her, Cranfield nervously suggested that her boys had learnt a valuable lesson: not to volunteer in future.
Far more serious was the annual outbreak of smallpox. Measles and diphtheria also claimed young lives.
The school had the active support of the Vicar of St Andrew’s and other dedicated people from the area. Inspectors praised the progress made but found the premises totally unsuitable, commenting especially on the poor ventilation. After 18 months the Board gave Cranfield his own portable lavatory, which he found ‘very acceptable as the weather is extremely warm’.
The increasing size of the school allowed the Head to have two assistant teachers and two pupil teachers, all of them appointed by the Board. In March 1877 Cranfield urged the Board not to retain Henry D as a pupil teacher because he had proved himself ‘incapable (not unwilling)’. Nothing was done.
The following year parents complained about Henry D’s frequent use of corporal punishment. Because of the Board’s bureaucracy Cranfield could not deal with this himself; he told the parents to complain to the Divisional Committee, who passed the matter to Head Office. The mandarins sent the case back to the school’s managers, who put Henry on six months’ probation.
The Head tried transferring his pupil teacher to another school but Henry only lasted a week before reporting back to Mr Cranfield . At this point another troublesome character appears in the log, James Shipton, a deadly foe of Henry:
‘November 1878 James Shipton is still very troublesome. He has been placed in a class quite removed from his supposed enemy but is just as much complained of by his fresh teacher.’
By the end of 1879 the new premises in Star Road were ready for occupation by boys and (separately) by girls. Cranfield was not college trained and could not continue as Head, but opted to stay on as an associate teacher. After ‘much hesitation’ Henry D was also retained. Within a week the new Head described him as ‘of but the slightest assistance’. Cranfield must have guessed what would happen next. A week later the Head wrote:
’Henry of no use whatever to myself. Sent him to Mr Cranfield.’
After damaging the school bell (and not informing anyone), Henry was reprimanded for (literally) kicking a boy out of his classroom. He seems at last to have twigged that he was not wanted, for he took extensive and unofficial leave – to the Head’s relief:
‘He is much disliked by the boys and is quite incapable of taking any class in the school.’
Finally in May 1880 came the long awaited letter that Henry would not be returning. The school thrived without him as these pictures show. True the boys’ class of 1895 (Hammersmith and Fulham Archives) had appalling spelling and was making no headway with singing. The teacher resigned at the end of the year.
However the girls in the 1903 photo belonging to Mrs Elinor Ball were more musical and really impressed the Inspectors:
‘Order and tone are good … and the instruction is in many points creditable to the staff. Needlework is taught with special success and the singing deserves praise.’
The Headmistress was Cranfield’s wife Ellen.
Morgan Phillips, Grateful researcher