Wornington Road School – A History

This article appeared on the Grenfell Action Group site

‘Kensal New Town’ was laid out in the 1840s following the successful devel­opment of Kensal Green. At first it had been intended that Golborne Road should cross Kensal Road and the canal, so as to connect North Kensington with Harrow Road. The Paddington Canal Company scuppered this plan by placing a footbridge over the canal instead. Had the original plan been carried out the whole Golborne area might well have developed in a radically different way. Instead it became geographically and socially isolated, was poorer and less fashionable as a result and deteri­orated into a notorious slum.

At that time the Kensal New Town/Golborne area was a detached part of the Parish of St Luke’s, Chelsea, covering about 140 acres and nicknamed Chelsea-​​in-​​the-​​Wilderness. In 1899 it was incor­porated within Kensington despite the Royal Borough’s objections – the real reason for which seems to have been the abject condition of its inhab­itants. In 1902 social reformer and statistician Charles Booth described Kensal New Town as “an isolated district, shaped like a shoe and just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.”

The first school in the area had been a Ragged School which opened in 1850. By 1865 it was housed in a small iron building next to the canal. It was built for £100 which was raised by the Ragged School Committee and included £50 donated by ‘a lady’. Ragged schools were founded all over the country to cater for the very poor, literally ‘ragged’, children. One ragged school, which was typical of many, had 260 children, of whom ‘seventeen had no shoes, twelve no body linen, 42 had no parents, 27 had been to prison, 36 were runaways, 29 had no bed and 41 lived by begging’.

The Factory Act, passed in 1867, excluded large numbers of children from paid employment so some rudimentary education had to be provided for them. Between the Great Western Railway and Portobello Road the growth of the population was so rapid that the school accommodation provided by churches and chapels was inadequate, and consequently two large Board Schools were built in Golborne. The first of these was Wornington Road School, which opened in March 1874. A second Board School was built in Middle Row and others followed in Portobello Road and Barlby Road.

The Board School in Wornington was built in response to the huge numbers of people, particularly young people, living at that time in the Golborne. The original building, on the site of the present day Kensington and Chelsea College, was divided into a Boys’, a Girls’ and an Infants’ school. A little later a school for the blind was added. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was the largest in London for that age group and, seven months after opening in March 1874, it was so overcrowded the School Board had to open temporary classrooms in the Golborne Hall nearby. Numbers continued to increase and by October that year there were 813 small children crammed into ten classrooms.

The building (shown in the picture above) was an imposing one, reflecting the new emphasis on education, but its location next to the railway with steam trains thundering past every few minutes was very trying to teachers and pupils alike. On January 25th 1908 the headmaster reported in the school log book: ‘Fog signals that might be heard a mile away have been used just outside the school on the Great Western Railway throughout the past fortnight. The noise is sometimes maddening.’

In the early days of the Wornington Road School pupil attendance was often poor because of the poverty of the area. Diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid fever, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough spread quickly through the tenement houses. The log books record periods of wet weather when some ‘were unable to come to school through the mud’, lacking good boots to keep their feet dry’. Pupils were kept at home if their fathers, many of whom had only seasonal work, could not afford the fees they were required to pay. In winter the classrooms were sometimes so cold that ‘the pupils could not write or draw till the afternoon’. In the harsh winter of 1895 the Headmaster wrote, ‘The frost is very severe and many seem to suffer from hunger’. By the 23rd February he was reporting, ‘We are now distributing between 30 and 40 free dinner tickets daily during the distress caused by the inclement weather’.

Starting in the 1930s the Council began a programme of slum clearance and estate building. This was inter­rupted by the Second World War and was slow to resume afterwards, with the result that rapacious landlords continued to prey on the locality’s inhab­itants until the early 1960s. The old Board School building was demolished in 1936 and replaced, by The London County Council, with a new school which, though lacking the aesthetic and architectural presence of the old building, had much better facilities. There was a library and the classrooms were equipped for subiects which included science, woodwork, metalwork and housecraft. The hall doubled as a gymnasium and next to it were changing rooms with showers.

During the War the new school buildings were evacuated as children left London for the countryside. Protected with sandbags, it became an emergency centre for the Auxiliary Fire Service. Classrooms were turned into dormitories for the firemen and the school medical room became a Watch Room from which emergency calls were taken and fire engines dispatched to deal with fires in the nearby streets.

The school re-opened after the war and continued to be used for primary and secondary education. However, the frequent changes of use over the next 40 years reflected major changes in the area and in education itself. Golborne’s population dropped dramatically between 1941 and 1981. Early in the war there were estimated to be 21,000 residents, but the huge changes in the area’s housing meant that by 1981 the population had shrunk to less than 7000.

The Florence Gladstone School, which educated girls between 11 and 15, used the Wornington Road building from 1951. Then from 1958 it was the turn of the Isaac Newton Boys’ Upper School. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was still in the premises in the 1950s. When it closed, the Ainsworth Nursery moved in, but moved again in 1977 to the ground floor of Trellick Tower. The Isaac Newton boys moved out when their school was amalgamated with Holland Park Comprehensive in 1983.

Adult Education had expanded during the seventies under the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and as the number of primary school pupils dropped due to the decreasing local population, unused offices and classrooms at Wornington Road were increasingly used for evening and day classes for adults. Daytime and evening classes also took place elsewhere in the borough, in school buildings, day centres and old people’s homes. By 1972 there were four orchestras, two choirs, and special English and Maths classes for ‘people newly arrived in England who speak no English or wish to improve their English‘.  Among the many who benefited from this programme were Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who, at the end of the decade, were housed in the old Kensington Barracks in Kensington Church Street. At Wornington Road Fresh Start courses provided English and Maths for adults who had missed out on basic skills and the first ‘mature students’ were helped, via a pioneering Return to Study course, to prepare tor university entrance.

Wornington Road ultimately became the hub of Kensington and Chelsea College which subsequently opened additional premises in other parts of the borough with many thousands of students attending a wide range of vocational courses. The choice of subjects included hair-dressing, catering, film and media, fashion, acting and dance. Students could also prepare for careers in nursing, business studies, management or information technology. Established in its present form in 1993 when finance became available from the Further Education Funding Council, the Kensington and Chelsea College now runs many part-time courses and some Wornington students go on to higher education, while others retrain to acquire skills needed in a changing employment market.

Like much of North Kensington, the Golborne area is a multi­cultural community that includes residents of Afro-​​Caribbean, Portuguese and Moroccan birth or descent. Over the years, since its pioneering work with Vietnamese refugees, Wornington College has helped many students acquire basic skills in English. Child care is provided so that parents with small children can attend classes. Tutors encourage newcomers to persevere with studies so that they can become fully fluent in the language, are able to assist their children’s education and gain qualifications which will enrich their own lives and improve their chances of gaining employment or even a challenging and rewarding professional career.

There is a long and proud history at Wornington Road of providing education to some of the most impoverished and underprivileged citizens of London. This history is now under serious threat. The Wornington Road site has been sold to the RBKC Council. The Council intends to demolish the college building and redevelop the site as private housing. They have promised to retain part of the new development for educational use but without any guarrantee of how much educational space will be reprovided, no guarantee that the diversity and breadth of existing courses will be maintained, no guarantee that existing staff will keep their jobs and no assurances that the creche and other facilities will be kept in situ. If this proves true it will shame and dishonour the long and proud history that we have described in this blog.

The Grenfell Action Group do not believe that the future life chances of this community should be sacrificed, in the name of profit, on the altar of untrammeled redevelopment and regeneration which, like a cancer, is destroying communities throughout the length and breadth of this country. We will continue to do everything we can to speak truth to power, to make sure the Council and KCC know that we value and treasure our College, and that we will do all that we can to hold them both to account for their actions.

(N.B. We plagiarised most of the historical detail reproduced above from‘Tales of the Inner City, From Kensal Village to Golborne Road’  by Jerome Borkwood published in 2002 . We are extremely grateful to Mr Borkwood for this excellent source which we greatly admire and recommend wholeheartedly to any of our readers wishing to better understand the history of the Golborne.)