Mary Datchelor School


Above: The decorated wrought iron above the school gates in Camberwell Grove.

Many of us who live in London can remember our school days and the well known grammar schools at the time. The really brainy boys went to Dulwich College, a school that is still going strong today. The really brainy girls went to James Allen Girls’ School, in East Dulwich (otherwise know by the acronym JAGS), also still operating from the original site.

Other well know grammar schools were: St Olave’s (for boys), then in Tooley Street, now moved to Orpington; Alleyn’s (for boys), still in Townley Road, East Dulwich; Wilson’s (for boys) founded in Camberwell in 1615, now relocated to Sutton; Prendergast School (for girls) moved from Rushey Green to Hilly Fields; Askes (two schools, one for boys and one for girls) remain in the side streets near New Cross; and Mary Datchelor (for girls). The latter school is the subject of this article.


Above: Detail of Mary Datchelor from the previous picture.

Mary Datchelor was a lady who had lived in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft, in Leadenhall Street, in the City of London. Her ornate monument is still to be seen on the back wall of the interior of the church. She died in 1725 and left quite a large sum of money in her will to found a new school for boys within the City. For some reason, her will was not acted on and lay unnoticed until 1871 when the value of her bequest had greatly increased.

By 1871, however, less and less people were living in the City and therefore there were only a few boys who could have attended the new school. It was therefore decided to use her money to benefit a poor area of London and, instead of founding a boys’ school, use the money to found a school for girls!

This was done and the school was founded on 24 October 1878 in a grand building that was erected in Camberwell Grove. The school was well known and well respected. As the political climate in school education changed in the 1970s, the administration came under pressure to become co-educational or lose its state funding. The headmistress (only the third one in over 100 years of the life of the school) was very much opposed to the change and threatened to close the school rather than comply with the new orders. As a result the school was closed in 1981.

The fine building remains and has been converted for use as appartments. The ornamental wrought iron gates, in front of the school, remain in position but the bust of Mary Datchelor, the founder, has been removed from the top of the ironwork. Whether the bust was stolen or is held somewhere else in safe keeping is not known. A photograph of it, taken while the building was still a school, is shown in this article.


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9 Responses to Mary Datchelor School

  1. Sylvia Hall says:

    I would like to reach the old girls club


  2. Verna Makins says: will get you to the Old Girls Club in its present form. I was a pupil in the ’60’s.


  3. Laura Woodruff says:

    This isn’t quite right. There was never any pressure to become co-educational; the problem was that the school was too small, on the Camberwell site, to go comprehensive. The Clothworkers’ Company decided to move the school to a new site in Sutton, as Wilson’s had moved in 1975. In 1979, however, the incoming government stopped the school-building programme, so Datchelor closed.

    There were four headmistresses in Datchelor’s 105-year history, not three: Caroline Rigg, Dame Dorothy Brock, Rachael Pearse, and Enid Godwin.


  4. mary nash (ball) says:

    I remember there being pressure at the time (I left in 1967) and understood that refusal to become co-ed and the subsequent loss of state funding were the main reasons why Datchelor closed. So sad that they had to make this choice. I think most of the debates etc happened during Miss Pearse’s headship who was the third head. She was a great woman.


  5. Thank you for your comments – most interesting.


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