Schools: Coborn School

Page 290

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 1, Physique, Archaeology, Domesday, Ecclesiastical Organization, the Jews, Religious Houses, Education of Working Classes To 1870, Private Education From Sixteenth Century. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1969.

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Prisca coborn or Cobourne (1622-1701), the widow of a Bow brewer, left property at Bow, Stratford, and Bocking (Essex) to maintain a school for not more than 50 poor children at Bow; the boys were to learn reading, writing, and accounts, and the girls reading, writing, and needlework. The master and his wife were to receive £50 a year and the balance was to be used for placing out the children. She left it to the discretion of her executors either to maintain a separate school or to add the Coborn revenues to those of the Jolles school, which was originally a grammar school but by 1711 was teaching only reading, writing, and arithmetic. (fn. 1) The two schools are shown separately on Gascoigne's map of Stepney (1703), Mrs. Coborn's free school being on the north side of the road between Bow church and Bow bridge. The schools appear to have been amalgamated later, but in 1809 the Coborn trustees, anticipating an increase in the revenues of the charity, applied to the Court of Chancery for leave to erect a new school and school-house. The new buildings, on a site to the west of Old Ford Road, (fn. 2) were opened in 1813, but their cost considerably exceeded the estimate and the trustees had to seek parliamentary powers to sell part of the estate and to grant building leases. (fn. 3) The resources of the foundation remained so strained that by 1819 the biannual gifts of shoes and stockings to the children had been discontinued, the payment of apprenticeship grants had been suspended, and it was proposed to reduce the salary of the master, Charles Champnes, Curate of St. Mary's, from £100 to £80, and that of his wife from £60 to £50. There were no boarders and no foundationers, but about 70 boys and 30 girls were taught in association with the National Society. (fn. 4)

By 1869 numbers had risen to 250 boys and 170 girls, but it was still organized as a National school. In 1873 a new scheme was prepared under the Endowed Schools Act to reorganize the school in order to give secondary education to 200 boys and 200 girls. The Bocking estate was sold and part of the proceeds used to purchase and extend a building in Tredegar Square known as Stepney Grammar School. The school did not prosper in its new surroundings, and by 1884 was in financial difficulties; two years later the girls' school was closed and the master's salary reduced, but as the decline continued the Charity Commission decided to strengthen the Coborn foundation by amalgamating it in 1891 with the Coopers' Company's schools under the name of the Stepney and Bow Foundation. (fn. 5) The Coopers' Boys' School took over the Tredegar Square building, and the Coopers' Girls' School at 86 Bow Road was renamed Coborn School, moving to new buildings at 31-33 Bow Road in 1898. Miss Jessie Winifred Holland, headmistress 1903-10, married Sir William Foster, historian of the Coopers' Company and its schools, and was herself the authoress of a short history of Coborn School. (fn. 6) Miss M. G. Philpot, headmistress 1929-56, was awarded a C.B.E. for her services to education. In 1951 the school was granted voluntary aided status, and in 1963 there were over 540 girls on the roll. In 1963 there were plans to remove the school to a site in Essex.


  • 1. P.C.C. 3 Hern. The school archives are to be found in Coopers' School.
  • 2. A tablet erected in 1813 to the memory of the foundress was incorporated in a wall of Messrs. Bryant and May's match factory: Brymay Mag. Summer 1951.
  • 3. Act for Incorporating the Trustees of Prisca Coborn's Charity, 56 Geo. III, c. 30 (priv. act): preamble includes summary of Chancery proceedings.
  • 4. 2nd Rep. Com. Char. H.C. 547, pp. 133-6, App. 297-300 (1819), x-B.
  • 5. Ret. Endowed Char. Lond. H.C. 394, pp. 606-9 (1897), lxvi (2); see p. 293.
  • 6. Lady Winifred Foster, Notes on Hist. of Coborn Sch. to which the present writer is indebted.