Schools: Davenant Foundation Grammar School

Pages 293-294

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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Davenant Foundation School

Gules three escallops between seven crosses crosslet fitchy three one two and one argent within a border argent charged with eight lows of flame proper [Granted 1962]

The Davenant Foundation Grammar School was founded and endowed in 1680 by Ralph Davenant, Rector of St. Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel, Mary his wife, and Sarah his sister-in-law. (fn. 1) Ralph and Mary Davenant declared their intention of maintaining a schoolmaster to give free instruction to forty poor boys of the parish in reading, writing, ciphering, and the principles of the Church of England. In the same document Henry and Sarah Gullifer undertook to provide for the education of thirty poor girls; a schoolmistress was to teach them the catechism, reading, knitting, plain sewing, and any other useful work. Davenant died before buildings could be erected, but in March 1686 a licence was obtained from the Bishop of London to build the school on a detached part of the burial ground of St. Mary's about a quarter of a mile east of the church. (fn. 2) In 1701 an unknown benefactor gave the foundation £1,000, expressing the wish that the children might be clothed as well as educated. (fn. 3)

During the 18th century the school, which enjoyed an income of over £500 a year, appears to have accepted children at the age of eight, educated and clothed them to the age of fourteen, and then apprenticed them to masters or mistresses who were of good character, Anglicans, and in useful trades. (fn. 4) Between 1783 and 1830 the school received a score of gifts totalling over £5,000. Of these the most munificent was the sum of £1,000 from Luke Flood, a former treasurer of the trustees, the interest on which was to be distributed annually among such old boys as were able to furnish proof that they had completed their apprenticeships satisfactorily and attended divine worship regularly. (fn. 5)

In 1806 Bell's monitorial system was introduced with the help of Bell himself, who visited the school daily in the September of that year. Bell chose a dozen of the best and cleanest boys and appointed them monitors, two to a class; the best of all was made usher. Another boy was sent from the Sunday school at Swanage (Dors.), where Bell lived, to assist. (fn. 6) The results drew enthusiastic comments from the trustees and led a number of clergy and educationalists to visit the school. (fn. 7) Among the latter was Mrs. Trimmer, who declared herself pleased, but added that the noise was greater than she had expected. (fn. 8) In 1813 a Whitechapel branch of the National Society was formed and opened schools in St. Mary Street (fn. 9) immediately to the west of the existing school. These later became known as the Davenant schools, while Davenant's original foundation took the name of Whitechapel Foundation School.

The introduction of Bell's system led to an increase in numbers from 60 to 100 boys and from 40 to 100 girls. (fn. 10) To accommodate this increase a new building for the Foundation School was erected in Whitechapel Road in 1818, the cost being partly met from gifts of £500 from a coachbuilder called Lewis and £300 from Samuel Hawkins. (fn. 11) Annual expenditure fell from £690 in 1816 to about £600 in 1836. In each year clothing was the biggest item (£310, £281). Salaries accounted for about £140, shared in 1816 between a master (£100), and a matron (£38), and in 1836 between a master and his assistant (£100) and the assistant's wife (£40). In 1836 the sum of £44 was spent on apprenticeship fees for 12 children, and £25 was raised by the sale of the children's work, including stockings knitted by the boys. (fn. 12)

In the 1850 s, through the efforts of Canon William Weldon Champneys, Rector of Whitechapel, and other trustees, various charities were amalgamated to form the Whitechapel Foundation Commercial School. Buildings were erected in Leman Street, and the school opened in 1858 with 50 boys, soon increased to 200. The curriculum included the principles of Christianity, Latin, French, German, and such other languages and sciences as might be considered expedient, and the fee was £3 a year. (fn. 13) In 1888 the Commercial School and the boys' department of the Foundation School were amalgamated; the combined school was carried on temporarily in the cramped Leman Street premises, and the Whitechapel Road building was converted to provide a chemical laboratory and workshops. Elementary schools for boys, girls, and infants were continued in the Whitechapel Society's building in St. Mary Street. (fn. 14)

In 1896 the Leman Street premises were closed on the completion of a new hall and classrooms behind the Whitechapel Road school; further extensions were made in 1909. (fn. 15) In 1928 the name of Davenant was restored shortly before the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the foundation. The school was granted voluntary aided status in 1953. Because of the decreasing child population of the area it was decided to move into Essex. In 1963 the building of a new school at Loughton was begun, (fn. 16) and the school was scheduled to move in September 1965.


  • 1. Com. Char. No. 664 (E.S. no. 954), approved 30 July 1891; cf. p. 290.
  • 2. 32nd Rep. Com. Char. (pt. 2), H.C. 140, pp. 551-2 (1837-8), xxvi.
  • 3. Ret. Endowed Char. Lond. H.C. 394, p. 767 (1897), lxvi (2).
  • 4. Stow, Survey of Lond. ed. Strype, ii. 46-47.
  • 5. Cutting (c. 1819) in Stepney Pub. Libr., source of information stated to be Revd. Daniell Mathias, then rector of the parish.
  • 6. Ibid.; 32nd Rep. Com. Char. (pt. 2), p. 556.
  • 7. R. Southey, Life of Andrew Bell, ii. 164-9.
  • 8. J. B. E. (J. B. Evans, headmaster 1934-42) and R. R. (R. Reynolds, headmaster 1944-54), Davenant Foundation Sch. (priv. printed), 11. In 1958 Mr. Reynolds (then clerk to the governors) was kind enough to answer a number of the present writer's questions.
  • 9. Southey, Bell, 170-5.
  • 10. Renamed Davenant Street.
  • 11. Rep. Sel. Cttee. on Educ. of Lower Orders in Metrop. H.C. 498, p. 50 (1816), iv.
  • 12. 32nd Rep. Com. Char. (pt. 2), p. 555; cutting (c. 1819) in Stepney Pub. Libr. Still standing in 1963 as 179 Whitechapel Road; claims that this is the 1686 building extensively altered are not supported by the architectural evidence.
  • 13. 32nd Rep. Com. Char. (pt. 2), pp. 558-9.
  • 14. Schs. EnquiryCom. [3966-VI] H.C., pp. 460-4 (1867-8); Ret. Endowed Char. Lond. (1897), p. 759; D.N.B. x. 36.
  • 15. They were not reopened after the Second World War (Lond. Schs. Plan 1947, p. 109). Buildings briefly described in Pevsner, Lond. ii. 426 as 'the former Davenant School'. Ret. Endowed Char. Lond. (1897), pp. 770-1, 778-80.
  • 16. Ret. Endowed Char. Lond. (1897) pp. 778-9; Evans and Reynolds, Davenant, 16.
  • 17. West Essex Gazette, 22 Nov., 20 Dec. 1963.