A Brief History of the Old Schoolhouse

Erected in 1848 as Hornsey Infants’ School for St. Mary’s Parish, the Old Schoolhouse, designed by architect John Henry Taylor, is now the home of the Hornsey Historical Society. Although the society moved into the building in 1981, the Old Schoolhouse has a long history.

The three Rs

Located at the edge of Hornsey Village, the National Infants’ School was surrounded by fields and farmland. Church of England infant schools such as this one were started because of a belief that groundwork in the three Rs, Scripture and Moral Instruction would guide children through schooling and throughout life. With land provided by the Rector of Hornsey, Rev. Richard Harvey, the construction of the school was finished in a year.

The original building

The current building covers only a fraction of the original school where the Schoolroom had an attached house for the school mistress with a kitchen, bedroom and sitting room each containing a fireplace. Roughly 80-100 children were taught in the Schoolroom. Organised by the mistress they were divided into smaller groups led by monitors and later in the century by ‘pupil teachers’ (teachers in training).

With increasing annual funds from the government, Hornsey Infants’ School flourished as an efficient and successful school, commented on by Her Majesty’s Inspector as ‘an infant school, so almost all here can read.’ The school continued to flourish until the Education Act of 1870 saw a change to the school system. Hornsey School Board was set up in 1875 to fill the gaps in provision and large elementary Board Schools were built in Hornsey.

Holy Innocents’ Church

Holy Innocents’ Church was erected in 1877, situated next to the Hornsey Infants’ school on Tottenham Lane. This church, built in a new parish for the ever growing population of Hornsey, needed its own infants’ school. In 1884 a larger St Mary’s Infants School was opened in Hornsey High Street behind the Boy’s School to accommodate the ever larger population of Hornsey village.

Changes in education

In 1885 Holy Innocents’ Church took over Hornsey Infants’ School and it became Holy Innocents’ Infants’ School. Despite this link with the new church and growing parish, the school suffered financially in the 1880s due to increased competition from the local Board Schools and the burden of teachers’ salaries. Relying on donations and funds raised through renting out the school for parish activities the school declined.

School in difficulties

In addition to this, the 1891 Act providing free education for all children aged 5-13 meant that Holy Innocents’ Infants’ School had to abolish fees in 1893. The financial problems continued and conditions in the school were poor. Toilets were unhygienic and children were crammed into rooms that were too small for the numbers of pupils. It was decided, after a damning report from a HMI inspector that the school would appeal to the National Society for financial aid.

Although the Society was unhelpful, granting a sum of only £20 for work that would cost roughly £250, the refurbishment was finished in 1900 after fundraising by the clergy in the local area. Attendance grew due to the increase in space leading the Vicar of Holy Innocents’ to claim that it had a higher attendance than any other infants’ school in Hornsey.


Taken over by Hornsey Education Committee in 1903, the relationship between the church schools and the local authorities was strained. Closure of the school was proposed in 1907, but never went through. In 1923 the school was leased to Hornsey’s Local Education Authority with a caretaker living in the old schoolhouse.


In 1927, Rokesly Avenue Infants’ School, which had places for up to 480 pupils, was opened practically opposite smaller Holy Innocents’ Infants’ School. This caused Holy Innocents’ Infants’ School to shut down after 86 years of educational provision. The school and the site itself were sold by the Church in 1935 to Hornsey Borough Council for £2,100. The teacher’s house and annexe were demolished and the main space was converted into public shelter and toilets.

New uses

By 1977 the shelter and toilets that had been created by the Council had become vandalised and derelict. However it was not until 1979-1981, when the building was converted into the headquarters for the Hornsey Historical Society that the building received much needed refurbishment.

On the 19th January 1981 the terms of a lease to the Society were accepted by the Council and the building was formally opened in the presence of the Mayor of Haringey on 17th October. At last the Hornsey Historical Society has its headquarters, a rarity among local history societies.

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