VICTORIAN SCHOOL'S HISTORY UNCOVERED; Research Reveals Unique Co-Operative Community

Article excerpt

Byline: NICOLA JUNCAR

TRACES of a lost school from Tyneside's Victorian past have been uncovered.

The primary school opened in Wallsend in the early 1870s and was a direct result of the residents' wishes to improve social conditions for families.

The discovery was made by the North East branch of Workers' Educational Association (WEA), which is celebrating its centenary this year.

The WEA found the school was run by the then Wallsend Co-operative Society and was inspired by the social philosopher and educator, Robert Owen, whose cotton mills were also home to the world's first infants' school in 1816.

Nigel Todd, regional director of the WEA, said: "With the money they made from their Co-op grocery business, the society members decided to tackle poor housing and a lack of schools.

"Towards the end of the 1860s they started building dozens of terraced houses to rent to members of the Co-operative Society. "In true Co-op fashion, they chose street names drawn from their own movement, including Equitable Street, Provident Terrace and Mutual Street which still exist today."

Their next step was to open a school and this took place on July 1, 1872, at a public ceremony in the school room, which was a new church hall leased from the Primitive Methodists on the corner of Equitable Street and Blenkinsop Street.

Around 130 children, drawn from the neighbouring streets, enrolled at the school for five to 12-year-olds, which was managed by the Co-operative Society's education committee.

Mr Todd, who helped conduct the research, said: "We started looking for information about the school that was in some ways a forerunner of modern co-operative schools. …