• The History of the School 1
  • The History of the School 2
  • The History of the School 3
  • The History of the School 4

The History of the School

The Urswick School is looking forward to celebrating its quincentenary in 2020 making it one of the oldest schools in the country.

The school underwent a name change in September 2011 which no longer saw it referred to as Hackney Free and Parochial; its official opening was held on Thursday 29 April 2012 celebrating the new building and the new name. Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York honoured the school by unveiling a commemorative plaque at our official reopening.

Urswick has around 850 pupils on roll and approximately 100 teaching and support staff. The school is named in honour of Christopher Urswick, the rector of Hackney from 1502 to 1522. He was said to be a priest of great integrity and personal friend to Henry VII. Many accounts claim Urswick saved Henry's life before he claimed the throne. Christopher Urswick was responsible for building the church house that initially housed the school in 1520.

During the 16th century the church created many schools for children with parents who could not afford to pay any fees: Hackney Free School was established to provide free education initially starting with twelve Hackney boys. In 1714 a Parochial Charity school was established to educate and clothe thirty boys and twenty girls. Eventually the free school and the parochial school joined together in 1722 to form Hackney Free and Parochial School. Children were taught how to read, write and basic mathematics. The boys were allowed to spend more time learning mathematics whilst the girls spent most of their time doing needlework.

The Free School was held in a Church House and the Charity School in a rented house in the churchyard. The Charity school was financed largely by sermons. Temporarily closed in 1734 but revived with Stephen Ram as treasurer in 1738, it later joined the free school in 1772. The premises was situated in Plough Lane, Homerton, until 1811, then moved to a new two-storied building. The central pediment was situated in Paradise Fields (later Chatham Place), then Bridge Street (later Ponsford Street).

After moving temporarily in 1856 to Chatham Place, the school finally settled in a new building on Paragon Road and was financed by benefactors and subscribers. It was named Hackney Free and Parochial Charity School, adopted under Chancery decree of 1842, to remove doubts about legacy to Hackney's 'free' school. The Isabella Road building opened in 1896, replacing the Chatham Palace building. It was later rebuilt in 1937 and used as a voluntary aided school.

After bombings caused damage to Paragon Road in WW2, the building was designed by Howard V. Lobb and rebuilt as the first post-war Church of England secondary school to be completed in London. The school on Isabella Road became Hackney Free and Parochial Junior School which is now known as St John and St James Primary School. In 1963 a second building on Lansdowne Drive was also used to educate the children. Eventually enough money was raised to expand the building on Paragon Road. Since 1994 all students have been taught in this building.

The school underwent a £17 million rebuilding programme, on the current site, which was completed during 2011. The first phase of the new building, which includes dedicated suites of rooms for the teaching of English, Mathematics, Science and Technology, was completed during 2010. Urswick were the winners of the People's Choice Award at the Hackney Design Awards 2012. The judges commented: "The effect [of the buildings] is calmly uplifting. The planning is simple, rational and efficient with a series of atrium spaces allowing light and views down to the ground floor and along the corridors."

In 2015 we opened a school museum to celebrate our rich and varied history.

Sedgwick Awards

The Sedgwick Awards Service is Hackney’s oldest school awards, dating back to 1820. Every year, 15 Year 11 students, aged 15 to 16, are presented with a Sedgwick medal. This tradition started after Harry Sedgwick, a church warden, left £500 to the school in his will, to be used to buy silver medals for eight girls and seven boys. The awards are now supported by The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.

Some Notes About The School’s History (1900-1915)

A recently discovered archive reveals some pre World War I Inspection Reports and School Accounts.

On 21st March 1901 the Board of Education wrote to the school with the ‘Annual Report of Inspector’. Queen Victoria had recently died, on 22nd January 1901, and so a rubber has been used to replace the word ‘Her’ Majesty with ‘His’ Majesty several times in the typed part of the report.

The Rector of Hackney in 1901 was The Rev, The Hon Algernon G. Lawley, who the report has been addressed to.

The School contained 189 children ‘age over 3 and under 15’. The School was paid a grant for each pupil, though this depended on average attendance.

The report states:       

‘The Head and Assistant Teachers are earnest and painstaking, and the School is fulfilling the promise it gave of improvement. The children are for the most part intelligently interested in their work, but there is still noticeable inattention’.

In 1900 £275:13:2 was spent on salaries (this is £275 13 shillings to a pound and 12 pence to a shilling). The previous year, 1899, £302 had been spent on salaries. There is no explanation for the reduction of £27 the next year – perhaps there were ‘cuts’ even then!

In a letter dated 6th June 1900, the school apologises for being overspent: ‘The School has been put to exceptional expense for drains etc. The Managers made a great effort to raise money for this special purpose. The voluntary contributions showing an increase of over £100 as compared to the previous year’. The total cost of the drains was £146:1:3.     

The Metropolitan Borough of Hackney, under the 1891 Public Health Act, actually inspected the ‘drains and water closets’ of the Infants Parochial School, Paragon Road in March 1905 (water closets or W.Cs are the toilets).

The School Accounts 1901, itemise the spending of £17 on books and stationery, £56 on apparatus and furniture and £40 on fuel, light and heating.

The Principal Teacher for the St John at Hackney Infant School was Mary Cowen (DoB 14/03/1869) who had joined the school on 01/01/1900. There were six teachers employed by the school. In the report all of them are described as ‘obedient, diligent and attentive to duties’. The Principal Teacher lived in a school house.

In a ‘Report for Managers’ written in 1912 by an Inspector from the London Diocesan Church Schools Association, the school is referred to as Hackney Free and Parochial. The Infants Department is described as ‘again excellent’. In June 1915 an Inspector ‘observed the teachers at work’ and reported ‘the children are happy and love their religious instruction’.

This part of our archive ends in 1915.

Richard Brown, Headteacher since 2008.