The Return of Parmiter’s School
Pupils of Parmiter’ School, which moved to Watford from Bethnal Green over thirty years ago, returned to the East End yesterday to honour Peter Renvoize, one of their benefactors who is buried in the churchyard of St Matthew’s. They were joined by members of the Old Parmiter’s Society of Bethnal Green for a service of rededication of the Renvoize family tomb which has recently been renovated. And I joined the excited throng as guest of Parmiter’s old boy Ron Pummell.
In his will of 1682, silk merchant Thomas Parmiter left two farms in Suffolk to supply income for “six almshouses in some convenient place upon the waste of Bethnal Green, and further, for the building there one free schoolhouse or room, wherein ten poor children of the hamlet of Bethnal Green may be taught to read, write…” Yet it was not until 1720 that his legacy had accrued sufficient funds, and the buildings in Grimsby St, off Brick Lane, were only completed in 1722.
In the nineteenth century, the school’s most generous benefactor was Peter Renvoize (1757-1842) who left £500 to Parmiter’s, plus £10 to the master and five shillings to each schoolboy, along with the wish that his family vault be kept “In good repair and condition.” By chance, Peter Renvoize’s tomb and that of his contemporary Joseph Merceron (1764–1839), were the only two graves out of eighty thousand buried here that survived the bombing of the church in 1940.
And thus you might think yesterday’s service of rededication of the tomb was a simple celebration of the enlightened altruism of the venerable Peter Renvoize, yet the truth is more equivocal. Peter Renvoize and his henchman Joseph Merceron were two of the most notorious characters in the history of Bethnal Green,whose activities included swindling the poor funds at St Matthew’s of £925 in 1819.
The ambivalence of the occasion did not go unacknowledged by Rev Kevin Scully, Vicar of St Matthew’s. In his welcoming address, he laid it out fair and square, outlining the notoriety of Joseph Merceron who was both church warden and owner of a number of disorderly pubs and brothels in Bethnal Green – before serving time in prison only to return to the role of church warden again.
“We’re quite famous for gangster funerals here,” admitted Rev Scully, referring to the Krays’ funerals that took place in his church and running his gaze provocatively along the rows of children,“we serve all members of the community and maybe some of you will be part of the criminal fraternity one day?” Then, lest he cast a shadow upon the day for the young ones, Rev Scully salvaged an uplifting moral from this dubious history, citing Peter Renvoize’s legacy to their school as a redeeming example of how “good comes out of bad.”
Once headmaster, Nick Daymond, had read from the book of Corinthians reminding us all that charity “Rejoiceth not in inquity, but rejoiceth in the truth,” and after we had all sung the school song we filed out into the church yard in the rain to peer at the tomb where Peter Renvoize lay buried beneath.
Afterwards, it was my pleasure to be introduced by Ron Pummell to some of his fellow members of Old Parmiter’s Society who had attended the school before it moved from Bethnal Green. Running through a distinguished list of former pupils, Ron mentioned Nick Leeson, the trader that bankrupted Barings Bank, who attended Parmiter’s after the school moved to Watford. “We always say, ”If he’d been a Bethnal Green boy, he would have got away with it,’” he joked.
Rev Gp Capt Donald Wallace rededicates the tomb of Peter Renvoize.
Ron Pummell, member of the Old Parmiter’s Society of Bethnal Green
The vault of Peter Renvoize
Peter Renvoize, school treasurer, who conspired to swindle £925 from the poor of Bethnal Green in 1819.
The tomb of the Merceron family – Joseph Merceron was church warden, magistrate and a notorious criminal of Bethnal Green.
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