The Forest Gate Industrial school story

Friday 23 May 2014

One of the most popular items on this site has been the reproduction of the Forest Gate Times account of Christmas Day in the (Forest Gate) Workhouse, 1896 - see here, last December.

Newham maternity hospital -
former industrial school - in 1970s
We are following it up, as promised, with a general history of the Forest Lane establishment, and next week will present a very graphic newspaper account of its most tragic moment - a fire on New Year's day 1890 - in which 26 of its pupils were suffocated.

Many uses

The school was erected in 1852-54 by the Whitechapel Board of Guardians, and since that time has undergone several changes of ownership and uses, including as a workhouse, general and then maternity hospital.  It is currently a residential development - Gladys Dimson House.

The building was initially constructed to provide a school for boys some distance from the choked inner districts of East London.  It was used as an Industrial  school from 1854 to 1906, formally becoming part of the Forest Gate School District in 1868.

Children parading outside Lambth's industrial
school, similar to Forest Gate's c 1905
It was converted to  an annex to the Poplar Workhouse between 1908 - 1911, when it was bought by the West Ham Union (Poor Law Guardians), which then reopened it in 1913 as a workhouse infirmary.  The site was  converted, yet again, into the Forest Gate Sick Home between 1913 and 1930, by which time it had 500 beds for maternity, mental and chronic sick cases. An extension with 200 beds was added in 1931. It formally became the Forest Gate Hospital (maternity) from 1929 - 1973.
The hospital suffered severe bomb damage in 1940 and new maternity wards were built in 1950.

After a period of disuse, it has been sensitively restored to become residential accommodation, for the last quarter of a century. The principal building still retains its mid Victorian institutional appearance. It is a brick range, 15 bays long, with three storeys
The 1890 fire was undoubtedly the most significant event of its century and a half plus history. There had been a number of fires in Industrial Schools throughout England in the 1850's - 1880's, and so, in 1882 the Local Government Board urged local Poor Law Guardians to make proper fire escape provisions.


The fire in Forest Gate in on New Year's day 1890, however, when two dormitories were destroyed and 26 boys under the age of 12 were suffocated lead to the government taking more urgent action.

It issued a binding circular to all Boards of Guardians urging the importance of leaving dormitory doors unlocked at night, conducting fire drills and establishing voluntary workhouse fire brigades, maintaining telephonic communications with fire stations wherever possible and providing fire escapes.

The disaster caused similar institutions to review fire precautions and stimulated interest in 'scattered home' instead 'barrack' schools. Poplar Poor Law Union continued to maintain the school until 1906, when the children were transferred to a new school at Hutton, Essex.

Bomb damage

The second World War provided more dramatic moments for the establishment (by now a hospital) It was hit directly, or collaterally on five nights/days during the war. These were on 2 October, 1940 (hit by high explosives); 9, October 1940 (suffered collateral damage); 15 October, 1940 (high explosives); 9 December 1940 (incendiary bombs); 3 March 1943 (collateral damage) and 29 Jan 1944(hit by a flying bomb).

Bomb damage to maternity hospital,
9 December 1940
Although there was considerable damage as a result of these actions, thankfully,  they resulted in only one direct death, Elizabeth Sinclair, aged 61 - on 2 October 1940. The photo below shows a limited amount of damage to the hospital (mainly windows) following the bomb two months later, on  9 December 1940.

Although the Forest Lane institution was this area's largest visible connection with Poor Law and workhouse institutions, there were other, notable local facilities.

Dilapidated maternity hospital,
just before conversion into flats

Other local workhouse connections

From 1870 -75 the Forest Gate District School operated a training ship called The Goliath, moored on the Thames.  This provided pauper boys from the District with instruction in all aspects of seamanship to help equip them for entry to the Royal or Merchant Navy. The scheme was highly successful, although,  in another appalling tragedy affecting the Forest Gate workhouse institutions, it was destroyed by fire on 22 December 1875, with the loss of 23 lives.

Its replacement, The Exmouth, was moored off Grays in Essex and continued the role. This, however, was managed by the Metropolitan Asylums Board. It took boys from all over London, and from the 1890s, from beyond the capital. By this time it was training as many young boys for navy life as all other similar institutions in rest of the country, together.

Boys training on HMS Exmouth, photo
undated, but early 20th century
The Forest Gate Industrial school was not the first of its kind in Newham.  The Stepney parish of St George's -in-the East established an industrial school at Plashet in 1851 - 52, at the junction of Shaftesbury Road and Green Street (see figure) for its pauper children.

St George's Industrial School, Plashet
It  accommodated 150 boys and 120 girls and 80 infants. In addition to the school rooms and dormitories it had a wash house and a laundry. Animal husbandry was taught to girls and boys alike in the farm complex on the girls side of the establishment. This included piggeries, a stable and cow-houses. Other detached buildings on the site included a bailiff's house, a porter's lodge and an infirmary.

Undated plans for the Plashet Industrial school
Although in open countryside at the time of its construction, the school became engulfed in urban sprawl by the 1890's, as a result of the rapid population growth in the area. It closed in 1927 and the building was converted into the Carlton, later ABC Cinema and several shops. These closed in 1983 and the site is now a car park.

Carlton Cinema stood in Green Street.
It was built in 1927 on the site of the old
St-George's-in-the-East industrial school
and was built in an exotic "Egyptian" style
using decorative tiles. It stood until the 1980s,
when it was demolished. For a time it was called
the ABC Cinema. The rear of the site is now a
car park although there are still
shops along the Green Street frontage.
St George's was one of three such schools in East Ham. Another was St Nicolas RC school, Gladding Road, Manor Park. It was opened in 1868 in the Manor House (one of the Fry family's homes) and was closed in 1925 and sold to the Co-op. The third East Ham Industrial school was St Edward's RC, opened in 1875 at Green St House (the Boleyn Castle).  It closed in 1906 and is now part of the West Ham FC grounds.

Manor House, Manor Park, 1864. The manor house,
which gave Manor Park its name, stands north of
the Romford Road near Gladding Road and Wanstead
flats.In 1866 the house was purchased by the Roman
Catholic church and converted into the St Nicholas
Industrial School for boys. In 1925 the property
was purchased from the church by the London
Co-operative Society, who used it for offices and a
milk depot. The Co-op funeral service is still located
there. The house itself and some of the site has been
converted into residential accommodation.


  1. Two members of my family were taken into the St Georges Industrial School, Plashet. Their names were Leon and Elizabeth Puccini. They were orphaned about 1874 and taken away from their sisters. One such sister Catherine was sent as a home child to live in Canada. I wonder what happened to Leon and Elizabeth, there are no records with their names such as marriage or death. I wonder if their names were changed.

  2. My Great Grandfather Charles Hipkins was 12 at the fire of 1890 and was awarded the Silver Medal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Life from Fire. 2 Staff and 1 other possibly boy were awarded silver medals. I have more detail and photographs if anyone wants them (

    1. Hello, I live in Gladys Dimson House and I'm interested in more details and photos of the survivors.

  3. Elizabeth Gradosielska Olsson23 February 2018 at 13:25

    Interesting article, a lot of history on that building. My 5 brothers and sisters were born here in the 1950-70s.
    I was recently in the park in the grounds, small but very nice with wooden carvings, ponds etc.

  4. Oh, I'd also like to be notified of any reply :-)

  5. My Grandfather (John Robert Downs) was in Forest Gate School in 1895/96. I wonder if anyone has info from that time or even photos. Would be grateful for any info. Thanks, Jo-Anne

  6. My 3x gt grandfather and his siblings were in Forest Gate school sent there from St Pancras workhouse, their first admission was on the 7 March 1857 when 2 of them were sent to the school and then on the 24 Aug 1857 their brother joined them there, on the 11 Jun 1861 2 of them were readmitted to the workhouse aged 12 and 13 then on the 15 July their brother my 3 x gt Grandfather was also readmitted but then left straight away aged 14 to join the army where he served until 1902 mainly in India where he later died in 1924. This article was interesting and would love to know any more information regarding where school records might be located. The family are a mystery arriving at the workhouse in St Pancras in 1856 but with no record of their existence prior to this date including births etc....thanks for creating the article...

  7. Please contact me on and I can supply you with a great deal of information

  8. My Father's mother, Emma Jones nee Farmes,/Farmer, was born circa 1857. On her marriage certificate she states that she didn't know her parents but can remember being left at Forestgate Essex when very young. She was reasonably well educated for the times and worked at finishing work for Tailors. She joined the CofE Girls Friendly Society and corresponded with a lady/friend called Edith Chapman most of her life until during the First World War there was no response to her letters. Edith Chapman was her sponsor and arranged for her immigration to Warwick near Brisbane Queensland Australia in 1884. I would dearly love to find out more about her early life. She now has Great Great Great Grand Children living in Australia.

    1. Try looking at the 1871 census, under "Industrial Schools (Whitechapel),Church St Ward, West Ham, West Ham Union". The file ref is: RG10/1633. The whole 700 or so people living in the school are listed. If your relative is there - you are in luck (unlike them)! I am publishing a book on this institution in a month's time. Watch this space for details!

  9. Thank you, John! No relatives - I live in what's now called Gladys Dimson House. I've found bits of melted glass out in what is now the back garden - from The Fire, I bet. Is your book available yet?

  10. Published 26 August. £12.99 from Newham Bookshop - and all other good book sellers! More details to follow - soon!

  11. 3 of my relatives went here. Poor Irish immigrants from Whitechapel, abandoned by their father and their mother living in a workhouse.


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