These photographs were kindly sent to us by Darien Goodwin. The portrait is of his father, Eric, who was at Mina Road Boys Central School between 1917 and 1921. The class photographs are of the first form (Eric top row, far right) and the top class (bottom row, far left). According to the system in central schools, the first form boys were aged 12 and the top class 15 (called fifth year in my time and year 11 these days).
Schools like this were selective elementary schools and some, including Mina Road (it seems), were very successful. Although they had a vocational emphasis, academic subjects were taken seriously, including, according to Eric’s reports, the ‘English subjects’, Mathematics (Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra), History, Geography, Science and French.
We know a bit about the school around this time from Herbert John Bennett’s I Was a Walworth Boy (London: Peckham Publishing Project, 1980). At least in his slightly earlier day (1913-16) the headmaster was Edward P. Paul who in the first assembly explained the school motto, Agi quod Agis, ‘What you do, do well’. ‘I do not think he was liked by the masters. There was certainly little affection from us boys’ (32).
A Mr Dawes is remembered with respect and affection: ‘[Dawes] had seemingly realised that the best prospects for us boys from working class families lay in our entry into the Civil Service, and he specialised in putting his boys through the Boy Clerks examination.’ The attraction was the promise of a pension to escape ‘the insecure world of poverty that surrounded me’. Dawes’s friendliness is remembered; he used to play football with the boys (33-34).
Perhaps someone can even today tell us who were the teachers in the photographs.
‘Mina Road School was not a large school. There were only six classes but in addition to the six classrooms [there were science, art and woodwork facilities]. Next door [he seems to be referring to the layout of the playgrounds] was a girls’ school and contact between the two was forbidden.’ There was a school production, though whether it was Shakespeare is not clear (32).
The building is the one that’s still there on the site of what is now Walworth Academy. I wonder when the tiered seating was taken out?
Mr Bennett had ‘no regrets… [It was] a good school with some wonderful teachers’ (9-10).
One can indeed imagine the well-turned out boys in the photos, in their jackets, waistcoats and ties, being receptive to a good education, especially when the size of the class reduced from about 41 at the start to 15 in the final year. They look quite ready for good clerical jobs. (If you were going into a trade, would there have been any point in staying for a fourth year?)
I suppose one can’t judge by such photographs but it doesn’t strike me as an unhappy school.
The National Archives at Kew, by the way, have inspection reports on this and the girls' school from the 1930s. Both are highly praised.