How the School Began
Originally, the children in Bow went to five small schools each made out of tin. One of these five schools was called All Hallows School and its Head Teacher was a Miss Clara Grant. In 1905 however a new school was built for the children who went to the five tin schools and on June the 19th Clara Grant marched them all down to it together. The new school was called Devons and Clara Grant was given the job of Head Teacher. In an old log book it is recorded that, ‘everyone was thoroughly delighted with their light, clean
Who was Miss Clara Grant?
Clara Grant is known as a pioneer in education in the East End of London. She was born in Wiltshire in 1876 and from an early age dreamed of becoming a Head Teacher in London. When she achieved her ambition and became a Head Teacher she challenged the dull way that a lot of children were being taught at the time. She also cared deeply for the welfare of the local people in the East End who were very poor. She sat on many Education Select Committees and campaigned for free school milk.
In 1911 Clara Grant set up the famous Fern Street Settlement. Children would come to the settlement barefoot and freezing cold and for a farthing they would receive a surprise bundle of toys and other items known as the Farthing Bundles. In more recent times, the children were charged a halfpenny and there are people alive today who remember receiving their Farthing Bundle! It was because of this that Clara Grant became known as The Bundle Woman of Bow.
In 1913 demand for the ‘farthing bundles’ was so great that the arch was introduced so that only the younger, smaller children would benefit. Above the arch it read, ‘Enter all ye children small, none can come who are too tall.’ Later a ‘penny shop’ was set up for all those too tall to be allowed a bundle.
The War Years
Clara Grant’s work at the Fern Street Settlement continued throughout the First World War (1914 – 1918). Even Queen Mary sent some things from Buckingham Palace to help make up the Farthing Bundles. 700 men and boys from the East End of London fought in this war. 260 of them never returned home.
Twenty one years later, in 1939, Britain was at war again. As a result of the heavy bombing in London during the Second World War many of the children from Devons School were evacuated to Oxford. Life in Oxford was very different for them. They went to a school called Summertown Infants’ School. Here they had grass and flowers in the playground and two apple trees. The children were allowed to pick and eat the apples and drank fresh milk from the farm every day. In a message to the children’s parents the Head Teacher of Summertown, Miss E.J. Marshall says,
“You cannot compare the well-ordered lives the children are living here with the lives of those running wild in London.”
In January 1949 Clara Grant was awarded an OBE for her services to Education. She died in a few months later at the age of 82. A huge number of people turned out for her funeral and she is buried in Bow Cemetery which is not far from the school.
Her Memory Lives On
The work of the Settlement continues to this day, though its work has changed over the years, it still has children and the community at its heart! In 2014 Clara Grant was recognised by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets for all her work and a purple People’s Plaque was placed on the wall outside the Settlement in Fern Street!
The school was renamed The Clara Grant Primary School in April 1993 in her honour. In 2011 a group of children from the school went to Wiltshire to work with a group of children from Clara Grant’s first school called Chapmanslade. Together they composed and played music to celebrate her life and performed their composition at the opening of the Frome Festival in the Merlin Theatre on Friday 8th July 2011.