St Paul's Whitechapel CE Primary School 'for the children of seamen'   school website

In the 19th century, St George-in-the-East and its various mission churches were active in building and running schools for the children of the area. With the coming of the Board (county, now 'community') Schools, this involvement was gradually lost. But in 1971, when the parish of St Paul Dock Street was joined to St George-in-the-East, and we became the parish of 'St George-in-the-East with St Paul', we were glad to acquire responsibility once again for a voluntary aided (VA) church school, whose history is told here in connection with its founder, Dan Greatorex - including his claim that it was at this school that the first-ever free and healthy school dinners were served. Left is the 'old' entrance; far right is the lower infants class in 1952, with Fr Joe Williamson in the background.

In a VA school, church authorities are the trustees of the building. The trust deeds and 'instrument of government' determine the church foundation, which provides the majority of the governors - who are variously appointed by the parish, deanery, diocese and the existing foundation governors. The governors appoint and employ the staff; decide the admissions criteria (in consultation with the local authority and the diocese) and offer places; determine the policy for religious education and worship; and have various other powers, such as to set school holidays (this is a live issue in Tower Hamlets, where most schools close for the two Eid holidays; after careful consideration, we do not, but encourage children to celebrate the festivals in school as well as with their families.)

We greatly value our links with the school, and take seriously our involvement with its governance. Alongside church members, Trowers and Hamlins whose London office was until recently near the school, and other firms in the city, provide governors who bring both expertise and real commitment to the task. The Rector leads weekly assemblies, and is constantly amazed by the confidence and thoughtfulness of the children. At St George's-tide, he sang 'When a knight won his spurs' and asked them what dragons we have to fight today. A year 4 hand went up - 'racism', she said without hesitation. And a year 2 pupil recently asked him 'what party will you be voting for in the election?' The fact that over 85% of the pupils are from Muslim families is not a problem - together, we take issues of faith seriously, and their knowledge of the Christian faith, and splendid Christmas and Easter presentations, would put many 'Christian-majority' schools to shame. They come to church twice a term for special services, as well as for curriculum activities. The school was judged 'outstanding' in all four areas of its most recent denominational inspection [compare the episode of 'Rev' on this subject!], and Canterbury Christ Church University regularly brings groups of aspiring heads to the school, which they judge to be 'inspirational' because the staff team is very strong (and, incidentally, has several male teachers and teaching assistants). Major building work was completed in 2011 [the picture right predates the new early years unit and glazed entrance], and was re-dedicated by the Bishop of Stepney in January 2012. All in all, the future looks bright.

The main school buildings - built on the site of the demolished Danish Church - are Grade II listed: the details are as follows

LBS Number: 206336     Date Listed: 27/09/1973    NGR: TQ3432080791
Listing Text:
WELLCLOSE SQUARE E1   4431 (Central Area)  St Paul's Church of England Primary School  TQ 3480 22/800
1869. Brown brick with white stone dressings. Red arid black brick window dressings.
iled roof. Gothic style. Western facade has 4 gables, outer 2 above staff houses.
Central clock tower with spire above entrance which has 6 cloister arches, centre 2 with stone string course gabled above, and with trefoil finials and tablets marking "Boys" and "Girls" entrances. 2 storeys, 4 windows, Gothic glazing bars and stone tracery. The listed buildings and the road surface of Wellclose Square form a group with Wilton's Music Hall, Grace's Alley.

The listing does not mention this group of carved figures [right], now painted over, in the eaves of one of the classrooms, presumably from Cibber's Danish Church.]


The poet Isaac Rosenberg was the son of Barnett and Anna, Lithuanian Jewish immigrants who had settled in Bristol, where he was born in 1890, before moving to the East End. From 1897-1900, when they were living at 47 Cable Street, he was a pupil at St Paul's School: to their disappointment, there were no places at the Jewish Free School when they arrived from Bristol, but Isaac appears to have flourished here, and the school regime in those days was quite enlightened, in respect to accommodating Jewish pupils and allowing their absence for the high holy days (and also with regard to corporal punishment). There is more detail of these years in Jean Moorcroft Wilson Isaac Rosenberg - The Making of a Great War Poet: a New Life (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2007) from which this contemporary drawing of the school is taken. A change in family fortunes forced a move to Jubilee Street and he attended Baker Street School, where Winifreda Seaton was an inspiring teacher. He showed great talent for drawing and painting - the head Mr Usherwood arranged art classes at Stepney Green Art School - and he began writing poetry. Morley Dainow, the librarian at Whitechapel Library, encouraged him and guided his choice of reading. But money was short, so he left school at 14 and became an apprentice engraver at Carl Hentschel's firm in Fleet Street. However, he managed to attend evening classes at Birkbeck College, winning prizes for his nude studies in pencil and then in oils. Aged 21, he won a scholarship at the Slade and was able to study full-time. Ill health, exacerbated by London smog, forced a rest cure, first in Bournemouth then with his sister Annie in Cape Town, whence he returned when war was declared, earning the £15 fare from a painting commissioned by Sir Herbert Stanley. Most of his paintings were lost overboard in a storm in Cape Town harbour, and back in London he struggled to make ends meet, despite finding increasing fame as a poet. Just before he signed up in the army in 1915 he published 'Youth', a small collection of poems. Having continued to write poetry in the trenches, Private Rosenberg 22311, 1st King's Own Royal Lancasters, was killed in action on a dawn patrol on 1 April 1918. He was the only one of the major war poets to come from a deprived background [see here for the connection of a curate of St Paul's with Wilfred Owen.] Here, here, and (from the War Poets Association) here are further accounts of his life and significance. The group of local Jewish writers and artists, which included the painters Mark Gertler and David Bomberg, is now known as the 'Whitechapel Boys'.

Here are three self-portraits - the first from 1915 now in the National Potrait Gallery, the third sketched in France - and three photographs (one with his brother Elkon in 1917) from the Imperial War Museum.

Below are manuscripts of the poems Spring, and (written on Salvation Army notepaper) Daughters of War.

Rosenberg's poem The Jew describes the racism he experienced, not at school, but in the trenches:

    Moses, from whose loins I sprung,
    Lit by a lamp in his blood
    Ten immutable rules, a moon
    For mutable lampless men.
    The blonde, the bronze, the ruddy,
    With the same heaving blood,
    Keep tide to the moon of Moses.
    Then why do they sneer at me?

The blue plaque is on the outside wall of the Whitechapel Gallery. In 1995, when the British Library was relocating, a bundle of 34 letters and 18 draft poems was discovered among the papers of former curator and fellow-poet Laurence Binyon, who had been Rosenberg's mentor; they were published as Poetry out of my Head and Heart. There are currently plans to erect a statue - possibly at Birkbeck College - and mark his forthcoming centenary in other ways.


When the Second World War broke out, Docklands was a prime target and many children were evacuated (though many of them later returned). The school was used as a fire station. Right are images of firemen entering Wellclose Square from Ship Alley, and a '14Y Heavy Unit' driving into the playground.

Some scenes from I was a Fireman, also released as Fires Were Started, were shot in 1942-43 around the school. It is the story of a day in the life of an Auxiliary Fire Service unit (a volunteer service set up in 1938) tackling a Docklands munitions factory at the height of the Blitz, and was the work of the innovative director Humphrey Jennings (1907-50) [right on location], who used AFS members (including Cyril Demarne) rather than professional actors. Produced for the Ministry of Information by the Crown Film Unit (until 1940 the GPO Film Unit), as propaganda, it has acquired iconic status in the annals of social realism. Dilys Powell in the Sunday Times called it moving and terrifying. Lindsay Anderson wrote in 1954 that Jennings was the only true poet the British cinema has yet produced. After the Battle (no.161, August 2013) includes this more detailed article [far right] about the film and its background.


In 1977 the Children's Rights Workshop  - a London-based voluntary group with aimed to extend the intellectual, emotional and material choices available to children, including their literature, produced Mother Goose comes to Cable Street: Nursery Rhymes for today (Kestrel 1977, and a Picture Puffin in 1980), selected by Rosemary Stones and Andrew Mann, with illustrations by the well-known local figure Dan Jones, who still lives on Cable Street. Here is the endpaper, which is set in St Paul's playground.

The school's own website is
here. Here are a few recent press and other stories from the school.

from The Times, 5 December 2008

Pick and mix: Case study
Three quarters of the children at St Paul’s Whitechapel Church of England Primary School in East London are Muslim. They and the other pupils at the 200-strong school learn about Islam and have a weekly assembly taken by the local vicar [sic]. Darren Rubin, the deputy head, said the children were all excited about Christmas and about the Muslim festival of Eid ul-Fitr. “We work in a big Muslim community and what we look to do is celebrate that,” he said. “Seventy-five per cent of children will be off for Eid. They learn about all religions and their festivals. We have lots of children from different backgrounds and they all learn from each other.”  Most parents at the school are of Bengali [or Somali]  origin and the school runs English classes for those whose second language is English. St Paul’s selects on the basis of faith and gives priority to children whose parents attend the local church. It also gives preference, however, to pupils whose parents are of another faith and have chosen the school because of its religious tradition.

2008 - Let's Read Together
Year 6 pupils made a DVD for parents with ideas and suggestions to help parents get involved with the children's reading skills. It was distributed throughout the borough, and to church schools around the diocese.

8 June 2009  
'Sing Up' - children (in yellow) performing with other school and adult choirs at The Barbican

 20 May 2010
The Olympic mascots Mandeville and Wenlock were unveiled at the school; they have attracted some criticism, but the children managed to be positive about them, and in the process have learned about Olympic history.

June 2010
The 'famous atheist' Prof Richard Dawkins visited the school to film an interview with the Revd Jan Ainsworth (chief education officer of the Church of England) for a BBC programme shown that autumn.  He was shown round by some of the pupils, and was very impressed by what he saw, and clearly surprised at the multi-faith context of a church school, and the fact that, true to its founding principles, it continues to serve all the children of its local, and deprived, community. In the event, only a few seconds of the filming was used, because it did not fit his hypothesis about Christioan ghettos; instead, he turned to his local schools in Oxford.

10 November 2010

Once a week, for the past 10 years during term time, around 40 members of staff from law firm Trowers & Hamlins have left their Tower Hill offices for the short journey to St Paul's Whitechapel C of E Primary School. Here, they have spent their lunch hour helping some of the children to improve their reading, comprehension and fluency in English. The firm has lent considerable support to St Paul's in other ways over the past decade, including funding for school trips, building projects and not least, the expertise of Partner, Ian Graham who has been chair of the board of governors for the past five years. This lengthy relationship, described by Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership Director Mike Tyler as 'a model corporate partnership', was celebrated recently at a special reception at the firm's offices. As well as its involvement with St Paul's, Trowers & Hamlin volunteers have been regular supporters of the EBP's Getting Ahead work-related learning programme. Trowers & Hamlin Partner, Ian Graham said We have an excellent relationship with St Paul's. The children are fantastic, they really enjoy the interaction with their Reading Partners. The Headteacher Terry Bennett and all his staff make us feel very welcome when we are at the school. The reading scheme is a great way for people from our firm to get involved in supporting the local community.

Christmas 2010 & 2011
Each year Trowers and Hamlins sponsor a competition to design a Christmas card, and give prizes for each year group, with an overall winner whose design becomes their corporate card which they send out to all their contacts. The winner in 2010 [left] was Zarin Ahmed of year 6 (who also played the central role of 'Innkeeper's Wife' in the school Christmas production); the firm made donations to Macmillan Cancer Support and Red Crescent. The 2011 winner was Fahmid Ahmed of year 4, and donations were made to Macmillan Cancer Support and Médecins Sans Frontières.

January 2011
The National Society's newsletter includes this picture from our school, as part of an article about making banners for its bicentenary service in Westminster Abbey on 14 October (though that is not actually what these girls are doing!)

Stills from the school feature in the video montage at the entrance to Church House Westminster.

January 2012
On 10 January the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney, rededicated the school, marking the end of a long period of building work. Staff and pupils coped magnificently with the disruption in its various phases, and governors worked energetically with the diocese and the contractors to ensure the best possible results. We now have state-of-the art facilities for all children, from early years to year 6, in premises which have built imaginatively on the historic site and provide an inspiring environment for teaching and learning. Here is the Bishop's prayer of dedication, and photos (courtesy of East End Life).
God of past, present & future
In your presence in our world you offer us the wild hope, against all the odds, of human flourishing.

Thank you for this school, for its presence and engagement in its community, for its people & its purpose. 
Thank you for all who have worked so hard to make the refurbishment of this school possible.

We give thanks for the community that has inspired it,
  for the architect’s eye that conceived it,
  the designer’s hand that developed it,
  the craftsman’s skill that brought it to birth,
  the manager’s experience that has overseen it
  and for every gift, freely offered, that has given it life.

And now we ask you to bless this building as a place of
  welcome & hospitality
  education and development
  creativity & imagination
  meeting & encounter
  justice & human dignity
  fun & laughter.

In this place may individuals be cherished and communities renewed;
may young people be valued and foundations for living be laid carefully and well.

So may God bless, consecrate and make holy all that happens here
 † In the name of the Creator, Redeemer & Sustainer of us all.

I now declare this building blessed, rededicated, and fully open for business!

The plaque in the entrance hall reads

The new and refurbished school buildings
were dedicated on 10 January 2012
by the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, Bishop of Stepney
Many people helped to make this possible
Thanks be to God for the life of our school
Ian Graham
Chair of Governors     Canon Michael Ainsworth Rector     Terry Bennett Headteacher

Remember also Edith Wyeth, governor and friend of the school for many years

February 2012
On 9 February the Evening Standard included this report, by Mark Blunden:

Children create drama out of supersewer crisis
Pupils at St Paul's School in Whitechapel performed a drama for Phil Stride, head of the Tideway Tunnel project, showing the devastating effect that concreting over King Edward VII Memorial Park would have on them.There are 220 pupils at the school, most of whom live in flats with no outdoor space. St Paul's does not have playing fields so the children walk for 10 minutes to the riverside park to take part in sports and run around.

Thames Water plans to construct the £4.1 billion, 20-mile tunnel to collect sewage discharge triggered by rainfall. It says 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage overflow into the river each year. But it means creating an access road at the park to allow cranes and lorries to access a foreshore shaft.The SaveKEMP campaign group want the works relocated to a nearby brownfield site.

The children, aged five to 11, wrote the play with the help of headteacher Terry Bennett and his deputy Darren Rubin. In the play, A Space for Me, the children enacted a scene from ordinary life in Tower Hamlets showing a family whose only escape from a cramped flat is to a nearby park. But when the children get to the park they find a sign that tells them it is closed due to the sewer works.

After the performance, the children stood around Mr Stride and listed the reasons the park should be saved and handed over a 10,500-signature petition against the construction plan. Mr Bennett said the children wanted the play to be their response to the Thames Water consultation. He added: We rely on the park to take classes out to do games and sports outside. We don't have grass area, just a tarmac playing ground and ornamental garden. If the park closed, we'd have to go to Victoria Park or Mile End, both of which are a bus or Tube ride away.

But Mr Stride was unmoved by the children's pleas. He said: The children did an excellent job describing to me how important the park is. I explained that although I did not want to stop them using their park, we had to do something to tackle the storm relief sewer overflow underneath the park that annually discharges 784,000 tonnes a year of sewage into the Thames and added This is really important feedback that is very valuable in helping us understand the community's strength of feeling about our proposals.

April 2012

See here for the school's participation in the educational website of The Sun 'Hold Ye Front Page'.

November 2012
Deputy headteacher Sarah Meares writes:  Our school was offered the opportunity to work with a poet from the Poetry Society a month or so ago. The poet, Coral Rumble, came into school and worked with our year 5 children to write poems about 'Friendship Trees'. Different poets worked in several different schools around the country on the same subject and their poems were given to another poet who worked on them to produce a poem to go around the bottom of the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. Following Coral's visit, I had a call from the Poetry Society asking us if we'd like to take 3 children to Norway to see the tree being felled in the forests around Oslo. So, early on Thursday morning, I took Yassin, Faridah and Aysha to Oslo for an overnight trip. We were very well looked after by a lady from the Oslo Mayor's Office who showed us round. This included a trip to the Edvard Munch museum to see 'The Scream', a night in a hotel in Oslo and then on Friday we were taken to the forest to watch the tree being felled. We met the Mayor of Oslo and the Mayor of Westminster Council who had travelled to Norway to take part in the ceremony. After the tree was felled we were taken to the British Ambassador's residence for tea and then made our way home again. It was such an exciting experience for our children and I was so proud of them - they coped incredibly well in so many strange and exciting surroundings.

May 2013
'This is an outstanding school...'
Having been judged 'oustanding' in the section 48 (denominational) inspection earlier in the term, the OFSTED inspectors gave the same verdict in each of the four categories - achievement of pupils, quality of learning, behaviour and safety of pupils and leadership and management. The pictures are from East End Life; the full report is here.

16 May 2014
Jamie Oliver launched 'Food Revolution Day' at the school - which is one of three pilot schools he has chosen to work with on healthy growing, cooking and eating:  a large number of pictures here.

Back to Dan Greatorex |  Back to St Paul Dock Street