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At The Old Schoolhouse

July 12, 2018
by the gentle author

Nestled beside the Lea Bridge in Clapton is this attractive old schoolhouse built of Kentish ragstone in the eighteen-forties by Arthur Ashpitel and gifted in perpetuity by his family for the education of the children of Hackney. Yet his splendid Grade II listed building, which was conceived in a spirit of philanthropy and constructed with good quality materials as an act of belief in the necessity of education, has fallen into neglect in recent years.

Next week, the old schoolhouse reaches a nadir in its fortunes when – in contravention of the wishes of the Ashpitel family – it goes up for auction to the highest bidder. In disregard of the benefactors, the building was first sold off in the twenties and its fortunes have spiralled ever since. So I write today in the hope that someone with vision and resources will read this and be inspired to rescue the forlorn old schoolhouse and cherish it as it deserves.

Battered wooden hoardings surround the site at present and you step through to be confronted by the imposing front wall which gives the impression of a chapel for learning, with its steep pitched roof, trefoil window and ogee arch. The entrance leads directly into the schoolroom which extends the length and height of the building with an attractive open roof of wooden beams and a large fireplace at the far end. Beyond lies modest accommodation for the teacher, extending over two floors liked by a single staircase. The dereliction of these spaces is pitiful when so many people need homes.

Arthur Ashpitel was born in Hackney in 1807, the son of architect William Hurst Ashpitel who as Surveyor to the Parish of St John played a significant role in the development of Hackney in the nineteenth century. Arthur was educated at Dr. Burnet’s School, which is now Sutton House, before training as an architect under his father. In 1845, he built the church of St Barnabas at Homerton and his career was notable for distinguished architecture in the creation of public buildings with a social purpose. Arthur was buried in 1869 in the family tomb in the churchyard of St John-at-Hackney Churchyard.

The old schoolhouse was once part of the everyday lives of the boatmen and bargees who made up the floating population of the River Lea – known to the Victorians as ‘watergipsies’ – providing free education for children with transient lives. A bell hung on the side of the building facing the River Lea to summon the pupils to their classes.

In recent years, Clapton Arts Trust has been in negotiation with Vision Homes, who own the old schoolhouse and developed the adjoining site, resulting in a commitment by the developer to lease the building to the Trust for use as a River Heritage & Arts Centre. The Heritage Lottery Fund supported a feasibility study, but this spring just as the Trust was poised to submit a full bid to the Fund for restoration – and despite a petition of over a thousand local people – Vision Homes obtained planning permission to redevelop the old schoolhouse into two flats and then put it up for auction.

There are public viewings today between 2:45 – 3:15 pm and on Tuesday 17th July 12:30 – 1pm

Click here to learn more information about the auction on Thursday 19th July

The teacher’s house

Main entrance

The schoolroom

The schoolhouse before the land at the rear was redeveloped and the hoardings went up

The Old Schoolhouse, 142 Lea Bridge Road, Clapton, E5 9UB

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. Charlotte Browne permalink
    July 12, 2018

    How sad that this beautiful building has been so neglected – a cynical person might wonder if this was deliberate – as to have fallen into this state and become easy prey for developers. Let’s just hope that it will be bought by someone with at least a sympathetic eye, and restored in such a way that it will eventually be cherished.

  2. Barbara Elsmore permalink
    July 12, 2018

    How sad it is that we do not appreciate and cherish a little building like this hidden from us in plain sight.

  3. July 12, 2018

    If ever there was a misnomer then “Vision” Homes is one. What Philistines they must be that they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

  4. Greg Tingey permalink
    July 12, 2018

    I photgraphed this for the “Images of England” collection, as it isn’t too far from where I live.

    Is there no legal redress aginst this vandalism & what are Hackney Council doing about it?

  5. Annie permalink
    July 12, 2018

    I visited the schoolhouse a few years ago, there was hope of it being used as a community centre (I can’t remember details now) it was lovely to see inside the place as I had passed by a few times – sadly nothing came of it.
    So sorry the family’s wishes are not being honoured, we can only hope now that it’s purchased for a good use and, at least, it won’t be derelict anymore.

  6. April ashton permalink
    July 12, 2018

    From your photographs this old school house appears to be one of those fast disappearing London treasures hidden away in a sylvan location. A Heritage centre would seem to be a totally appropriate use with maybe some rental revenue from other parties supporting london’s fascinating historical past , which would help offset ongoing expenditure. Going for development is again a sad refelection of a day and age where so often lack of integrity and greed pervade.

  7. July 12, 2018

    Would Lord Sugar of Clapton be willing to consider saving this beautiful building in his old neighbourhood for something purposeful?
    His ‘vision’ came to the rescue of The Hackney Empire. It’s worth a try.

  8. pennyp permalink
    July 12, 2018

    What a lovely building. I don’t have the money to rescue it but hope that someone else with the means and foresight will buy it. It is cruel that beautiful buildings built for philanthropic purposes end up as development sites in our rapacious age.

  9. Juliet Jeater permalink
    July 12, 2018

    I cannot understand how the original wishes of the benefactors can be contravened in this way. Is there no legal underpinning for terms such as ‘left in perpetuity’? There are many cases now of homes designated for poor or social housing where the original wishes of the benefactor have been over ridden by housing and other providers. How come?

  10. July 12, 2018

    What a beautiful building, and what a sad story. I sincerely hope someone who can appreciate it buys it.

  11. daphne steele permalink
    July 12, 2018

    I have nothing to add as it has all been said before – let’s hope that someone with money can come forward and save this and put it to educational use as was intended and now ignored.

  12. Michelle butler permalink
    July 12, 2018

    Sadly like the West pier all it takes a mysterious fire or some roof tiles removed
    Building like this need more protection ..

  13. Helen Breen permalink
    July 12, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, I agree with all above – how sad that this treasure may soon pass into oblivion. Reminds me a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) about an abandoned New England schoolhouse of the same period.

    In School-days


    Still sits the school-house by the road,
    A ragged beggar sleeping;
    Around it still the sumachs grow,
    And blackberry-vines are creeping.

    Within, the master’s desk is seen,
    Deep scarred by raps official;
    The warping floor, the battered seats,
    The jack-knife’s carved initial;

    The charcoal frescos on its wall;
    Its door’s worn sill, betraying
    The feet that, creeping slow to school,
    Went storming out to playing!

    Long years ago a winter sun
    Shone over it at setting;
    Lit up its western window-panes,
    And low eaves’ icy fretting.

    It touched the tangled golden curls,
    And brown eyes full of grieving,
    Of one who still her steps delayed
    When all the school were leaving.

    For near her stood the little boy
    Her childish favor singled:
    His cap pulled low upon a face
    Where pride and shame were mingled.

    Pushing with restless feet the snow
    To right and left, he lingered;—
    As restlessly her tiny hands
    The blue-checked apron fingered.

    He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
    The soft hand’s light caressing,
    And heard the tremble of her voice,
    As if a fault confessing.

    “I’m sorry that I spelt the word:
    I hate to go above you,
    Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell,—
    “Because, you see, I love you!”

    Still memory to a gray-haired man
    That sweet child-face is showing.
    Dear girl! the grasses on her grave
    Have forty years been growing!

    He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
    How few who pass above him
    Lament their triumph and his loss,
    Like her,—because they love him.

  14. daphne steele permalink
    July 12, 2018

    Another sad example of neglect ( and a fire) is St Marys Lodge in Lordship Road, Stoke Newington, the last detached 1840s villa left in the area and now just a shell and roofless

  15. Richard Smith permalink
    July 12, 2018

    What a shame!

  16. Vanda permalink
    July 12, 2018

    If only I had the money to restore / renovate it to its former glory and make it my home.

  17. L.B. Sims permalink
    July 13, 2018

    A gift in perpetuity ‘to the education of the children of Hackney’. Restoration of this building to its former glory is possible. What a wonderful project to restore it as a ‘Victorian School’ use it for historic recreation lessons, and in the evening for community education and live music.

    This Cornerstone of Education links all the way up the River Lea, to Freat Amwell Ware and the Bargee Riots.

    Once a fine spot for Eel fishing!

    #SocialHistory #Heritage #Waterways

  18. April 16, 2024

    This is a time warp post as I am writing a blog post about my great grandfather, Charles Humphrey who lived in School Nook, which I believe ran alongside this delightful little school. When I last looked on Google Maps, the entire building seemed surrounded by high boarding, impossible to see what was happening behind it. Before that, it seemed to have a sign saying it was some kind of testing centre.
    My maternal grandmother was born in School Nook so it’s a special place for me. I’ll do some research………

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