Hackney Downs School

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Hackney Downs School was a comprehensive secondary school, located near Hackney Downs off the A104 north of Hackney town centre, in the London Borough of Hackney.


Grocers' Company's School

It was founded in 1876 as The Grocers' Company's School. On its transfer to the London County Council in 1906 the school was renamed Hackney Downs School (formerly the Grocers' Company's School).

Grammar school

As a grammar school, it won an excellent reputation, with alumni including Nobel prize-winning playwright the late Harold Pinter, fellow playwright and actor Steven Berkoff, 1960s tycoon John Bloom, and athletics administrator Sir Arthur Gold. Many famous medical men attended including kidney transplant pioneer Ralph Shackman and pioneering nutritionist John Yudkin. Four current members of the House of Lords are former pupils: (Lord Levy, Baron Peston, Lord Feldman, and Lord Clinton-Davis). It had 600 boys with a sixth-form entry by the early 1970s.


In September 1974, it became a comprehensive school, and inherited more than its share of the problems of this deprived inner-city borough. It had voted to become comprehensive in 1969. Just before its closure, over 70 percent of the boys spoke English as a second language, half came from households with no-one in employment, and half the intake had reading ages three years below average.

Decline and closure

Things came to a head in the 1990s, when the school made national news by being described by the then Conservative government as the 'worst school in Britain'. Eventually, as a result of direct government pressure, the school was forced to close in 1995.

The decision remains controversial to this day, opponents of the closure pointing out that Hackney Downs was singled out for special treatment by the government (presumably pour encourager les autres) and that its academic results were not significantly worse than many other inner-city comprehensives, especially considering the problems it had inherited, including the steady 'decanting' of problem pupils—who had frequently been expelled from their original schools—to Hackney Downs.

Later use of the building

The site of the old school is now occupied by Mossbourne Community Academy, founded by Sir Clive Bourne, which opened in 2004.

While the school buildings of both the original Grocers' Company's School and Hackney Downs School have been replaced by the new Mossbourne Academy, the Old Boys of Hackney Downs continue their interactions as alumni through The Clove Club, which meets regularly, has its own website, and sponsors a very active email group called The Clove eGroup (on Yahoo), and featured on The Clove Club website.<ref name=CL>The Clove's Lines: The Newsletter of The Clove Club: The Old Boys of Hackney Downs School 3.2 (Mar. 2009): 32.</ref>

Histories of the School

An official history of the school, written by the historian Professor Geoffrey Alderman (who was a pupil there 1955-62) was published by the Clove Club in 1972. In 2012 Alderman published an updated history: Hackney Downs 1876-1995: The Life and Death of a School, in which he took the story to the school's demise, using hitherto unpublished material.


Notable alumni

Hackney Downs School (1974-95)

  • Dalton Grant, high jumper

Boys' grammar school (1906-74)

  • Geoffrey Alderman, historian
  • Arnold Allen CBE, Chief Executive from 1982-4 of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA)
  • Alexander Baron, writer
  • Morris Beckman
  • Steven Berkoff, actor, playwright, director
  • Prof Gerald Bernbaum, Vice-Chancellor from 1993-2001 of London South Bank University, and Professor of Education from 1974-93 at the University of Leicester
  • John Bloom, 1960s tycoon
  • Eric Bristow, World Champion darts player
  • Air Vice-Marshal Reggie Bullen CB GM
  • Sir Stanley Burnton, Lord Justice of Appeal and Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford
  • Sir Michael Caine (Maurice Joseph Micklewhite, Jr.), CBE, actor (attended in 1944-1945, when he was evacuated to King's Lynn during World War II)
  • Roland Camberton, writer
  • Frank Cass, publisher
  • Stanley Clinton Davis, Baron Clinton-Davis, Labour MP from 1970-83 for Hackney Central
  • Ivor Compton, founder of the Hall of Cards chain which later merged with Hallmark Cards
  • Dr Paul Dean CB, Director from 1977-90 of the National Physical Laboratory
  • Prof Cyril Domb, physicist, Professor of Theoretical Physics from 1954-81 at King's College London
  • Maurice Evans (actor)
  • Basil Feldman, Baron Feldman
  • Frederic Sutherland Ferguson, bibliographer
  • Prof Maurice Freedman, Professor of Social Anthropology from 1970-5 at the University of Oxford
  • Abram Games OBE, graphic designer
  • Norman Ginsbury, playwright
  • Sir Arthur Gold CBE, Chairman from 1988-92 of the British Olympic Association
  • Dr Michael Goldstein CBE, Vice-Chancellor from 1992-2004 of Coventry University, and Director from 1987-1992 of Coventry Polytechnic
  • Arnold Goodman, Baron Goodman, Master from 1976-86 of University College, Oxford
  • Prof Douglas Gough, Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics since 1993 at the University of Cambridge, and Director from 1999-2004 of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge
  • Prof Abraham Guz, Professor of Medicine from 1981-94 at the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School
  • Efraim Halevy, former head of Mossad
  • Prof William Harold Hutt, economist, and Professor of Commerce and Dean of the Faculty of Commerce from 1931-64 at the University of Cape Town
  • Frank Cyril James, Principal and Vice-Chancellor from 1939-62 of McGill University, Canada
  • Brigadier Sam Janikoun OBE
  • Maj-Gen Stanley Joslin CB CBE, Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations from 1959-64 at the Ministry of Power
  • Leon Kossoff, painter
  • Stephen Latner, Managing Director from 1998-9 of Warburg Dillon Read
  • Dr Gerald Levene, dermatologist
  • Michael Levy, Baron Levy
  • John Lewis, Labour MP from 1945-50 for Bolton and from 1950-1 for Bolton West
  • Sir Ben Lockspeiser, cancelled the ground-breaking Miles M.52 supersonic project (its important features later re-incarnated as the Bell X-1), and first President of CERN
  • Dennis Lyons CB, Director from 1965-71 of the Road Research Laboratory
  • Sir Leonard Millis CBE, Director from 1939-74 of the British Waterworks Association
  • Prof Cyril Offord, Professor of Mathematics from 1966-73 at the London School of Economics (LSE)
  • Stamley Orman, Director of Missiles from 1978-81 at the AWRE, and Chief Weapon System Engineer of Polaris from 1981-2
  • Fuller Osborn, (the first) Chief Executive from 1965-78 of Northern Rock Building Society
  • Jerry Pam, Hollywood Agent and Member of the Finance Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; publicist of Sir Michael Caine<ref name="MC">"MC" (Michael Caine), "A Message from Evacuee Maurice Micklewhite", The Clove's Lines: The Newsletter of The Clove Club: The Old Boys of Hackney Downs School 3.2 (Mar. 2009): 16. Print. (Sent by Michael Caine to Jerry Pam for publication in this issue.)</ref>
  • Prof Keith Pavitt, of the Science and Technology Policy Research
  • Maurice Peston, Baron Peston of Mile End, English economist, Professor of Economics from 1965-88 at Queen Mary College, and father of Robert Peston
  • Harold Pinter, CBE, CH, and 2005 Nobel Laureate (attended from 1944 to 1948; evacuated to Cornwall during World War II)
  • Lt Col F. J. Roberts, editor of the 'Wipers Times'
  • Norman Rose, biographer of Sir Winston Churchill
  • Prof Ralph Shackman, Professor of Urology from 1961-75 at Hammersmith Hospital
  • Sir Alfred Sherman, journalist
  • Barrie Sherman, trade unionist
  • Prof Colin Shindler, First Professor of Israeli Studies in the UK, SOAS
  • Prof Aubrey Silberston CBE, Professor of Economics from 1978-87 at Imperial College London, and father of Jeremy Silberston
  • Prof Barry Supple CBE, Professor of Economic History from 1981-93 University of Cambridge, and a former Director of the Leverhulme Trust, and father of Tim Supple (attended from 1942 to 1949)
  • William Warbey, Labour MP from 1945-50 for Luton, and from 1953-5 for Broxtowe, and from 1955-66 for Ashfield
  • Maurice Wohl CBE, businessman
  • Henry Woolf, theatre director
  • Prof John Yudkin, Professor of Nutrition from 1954-71 at Queen Elizabeth College, known for finding links between sweet food and coronary heart disease

Grocers' Company's School (1876-1906)

  • F. Britten Austin, playwright whose book The Drum would be made into The Last Outpost
  • Sir Robert Barlow, businessman, former Chairman of the Metal Box Company
  • Prof Raymond Wilson Chambers, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature from 1922-41 at University College London
  • Cecil Vandepeer Clarke (1888-1961) engineer, inventor and soldier.
  • Prof Millais Culpin, Professor from 1931-9 of Medical-Industrial Psychology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine





  • O'Connor, Maureen, et al. Hackney Downs: The School That Dared to Fight. London: Cassell, 1999. ISBN 0-304-70710-4 (10). ISBN 978-0-304-70710-2 (13). Print.
  • Watkins, G. L., ed. The Clove's Lines: The Newsletter of The Clove Club: The Old Boys of Hackney Downs School. Print. (Some issues are accessible online at the website of The Clove Club.)
  • Watkins, G. L., ed. 'Fortune's Fool': A Life of Joe Brearley: The Man Who Taught Harold Pinter. Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, Eng.: TwigBooks, 2008. Print.


External links

  • The Clove Club ("Founded in 1884") – Official website of "The Clove Club: The Old Boys of Hackney Downs School, formerly The Grocers' Company's School – founded by The Company in its corporate right, in 1876."
  • Social Change and English, 1945-1965 - Hackney Downs is one of three schools in London that are included in this Leverhulme Trust-funded project about the teaching of English in the period 1945-1965. The project is collecting oral histories from former teachers and pupils at the school.
  • EduBase

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