Local Treasures: Free School

There are many other amazing places near the museum that you may like to walk past if you live locally – why don’t you tell us about your favourite? (We might even do a feature on it if you do!)

Perhaps you have walked past this building and wondered about it? Well, wonder no more!

Free School Frontage (C) Tianna Laverock 2020

Founded in 1613 by Peter Hills and Robert Bell, it is thought to be the first elementary school in London. The school was opened originally to be for eight sons of Mariners from the parish.

Many names have been attached to the school; it was first named Free School. In the 18th century new funds were gathered to allow for more pupils, admitting girls to the school as well.

Original photograph from The Daily Graphic on 26 Feb 1912. This picture by Khalil Mohammed during the statue renovations Feb 2016.

The original building was on the north side of St. Marychurch Street adjoining the church. In 1795 the school purchased the house on the other side of the road from Richard Vidler and that is the building pictured. The building dates to about 1700. About 150 boys were taught there by the end of the 19th century. Some records say that girls ceased to be educated there in 1836, however this photograph from 1912 implies otherwise.

The figures you can see at first floor level are of a young charity boy and girl, and are made of Portland Stone.

A few years ago the Bubble Theatre around the corner displayed the child figures when they were taken down to be completely refurbished.

Charity Girl, pre-renovation, photograph by Khalil Mohammed 2016


Charity Girl, post-renovation, photograph by Khalil Mohammed 2016


Charity Boy, pre-renovation, photograph by Khalil Mohammed 2016


Charity Boy, post-renovation, photograph by Khalil Mohammed 2016

There are similar figures on a Victorian school just north of Hatton Garden.

Article by volunteer Tianna Laverock, with additional detail by Khalil Mohammed and Gill Howard.

If school is very much on your mind at the moment, here are some STEM resources you may find useful from STEM Learning.

What would you like from us at this time? More links to resources, stories about the local area, stories around our collections?

You can contact us via social media ( Twitter/Instagram/Facebook ) or by email: hello@thebrunelmuseum.com

We look forward to hearing from you!

If you are local (you work or live in Rotherhithe), we would appreciate a comment on (or a thumbs up to) our application to the local council for a project grant. The project focuses on the original tunnel shaft to install heating and lift access in this charismatic space in particular to give more flexibility all the year round. It will make it possible to deliver key activities in all seasons to support wellbeing, engagement with young people and developing skills in the engineering sector, especially for women. You can show your support for the project here – they will ask for some details to verify that you are local, however there is no cost to you.

To support the museum, please use Amazon Smile rather than the main Amazon portal if you shop there, as they make a small donation to us (that costs you nothing) for any purchases when you nominate the Brunel Museum as your chosen charity.

The Brunel Museum

If you are a fan of the museum and able to help us keep this vitally important historic site and much-loved community hub open, please help us overcome the effect of the COVID 19 crisis. We need your support to help us to continue to deliver our core learning and engagement aims, focusing on the story of the Brunels and how their achievements remain so relevant to our lives today.

Make a donation using Virgin Money Giving