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Saint Matthews School High Town

Saint Matthews Primary School June 2010
Saint Matthew's Primary School June 2010

By 1870 about a quarter of Luton’s 20,000 population lived in HighTown and it's immediately surrounding areas. A school was badly needed for local children in the High Town area. The Saint Matthew’s Schools were created by the Church of England in Wenlock Street. Their creation coincided with the creation of the Saint Matthew’s HighTown ecclesiastical district, which would become a full ecclesiastical parish in 1877 [P132/5/1]. John Dony in his History of Education in Luton states that the wooden church bought from Woburn to serve as the church in HighTown before the erection of the current Saint Matthew’s church was used as also a school. This opened on 1st August 1870 and had two departments one for boys, the other for infants - the education of girls still being considered a secondary consideration. 

The log book for the boys’ school cannot be traced, but that of the infants’ school gives valuable information.  Mildred French was head of the infants' school until April 1873 when she gave up, and no one was in charge for the next eight months. The Bishop of Ely (in whose diocese Bedfordshire was at the time) laid the foundation stone for the new schools on 23rd July 1873. They were built in great haste and opened by the next Bishop of Ely on 16th January 1874. The new school opened with two departments, one for the girls and one for the boys. Meanwhile until August 1874 the infants’ school continued in the old wooden church until the government inspectors declared it could no longer be recognised as a school. On 26th August 1874 therefore, the infants transferred to the new Saint Matthew’s School, which, consequently, was rather overcrowded.

The conveyance of the site of the new schools [P132/18/1] occurred on 12th August 1873 when John Boyle, William Stuart the younger and Charles Stuart, trustees acting under the will of John Crichton Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute (who had died in 1848) conveyed two pieces of land for £68 to the Vicar and churchwardens of Luton, Saint Mary (the area being part of that parish until 1877). The first piece was described as a corner piece bounded on the south-east by Wenlock Street, on the north-east by land of the Marquess of Bute, on the north-west by the second piece of land and on the south-west by a new street intended to be called Havelock Road. The land had a frontage to Wenlock Street of 136 feet and to Havelock Road of 80 feet and measured 40 poles. The second piece was described as being bounded south-east by the first piece of land, north-east and north-west by other land of the Marquess of Bute and south-west by Havelock Road. This piece had a frontage of 56 feet to Havelock Road and a depth of 136 feet and contained 28 poles.

As noted above, the school began as three separate schools, all run by the Church of England: a mixed infant’s school and separate junior schools for boys and girls. In 1903, following the Education Act of 1902 the schools became the responsibility of the education committee of Luton Borough Council, though in co-operation with the Church of England. Just before the First World War the school buildings were expanded.

The third of the great Education Acts was that of 1944 which established the principle of County Primary Schools for children up to the age of 11, at which time they took an examination to determine the nature of the secondary school they would attend until they were 15, the most academically able going to grammar schools, the rest to secondary or secondary modern schools. The act also created two types of successor to the public elementary schools - the Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools. Voluntary Aided schools are those in which the Local Education Authority funds the school but the governing body is independent, they are usually Anglican or Roman Catholic schools. Voluntary Controlled schools own their own buildings whilst the staff are employed directly by the governors. In 1947 the boys’ and girls’ schools amalgamated to form Saint Matthew’s County Primary Junior School, the infants’ school becoming a County Primary Infants’ School. The schools were voluntary aided until 1949 when they were fully taken over by the Local Education Authority and ceased to have any further direct relationship with the Church of England.

The 11+ was discontinued by Luton Borough Council in 1964. Junior schools now fed into local area high schools which took pupils from age eleven to age sixteen, after which time those wishing to continue their education went on to a new Sixth Form College. In 1968 Saint Matthew’s Junior School amalgamated with Hitchin Road Junior School on the site of the former Stockwood High School for Girls in Charles Street. This move was because the old Victorian premises in Wenlock Street were no longer adequate. It was decided to build two new schools, one for the infants and one for the juniors on that site. Work on the new school began in 1974 with the new infants’ school opening the following year. The new junior school was opened in the early 1980s, the school moving back from Charles Street which was taken over by the Local Education Authority for teacher training.

In 2006 Saint Matthews Junior and Infants Schools came together to form Saint Matthew’s Primary School. The school was officially opened by Northamptonshire, Sussex and England slow left arm spinner Monty Panesar, a former pupil. A year’s building work followed to join the two former school premises into one. This school currently [2011] has children ranging in age from three to eleven and is undergoing more building work to create new classrooms for an extended number of pupils.