The boys behind the Godwin artwork (1)

Friday 3 May 2024

Last year we were fortunate to be given a unique volume of over 40 paintings, drawings and pieces of caligraphy created by boys at Godwin Elementary school at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries and we featured the work here.

We were inspired to find out a little about these mainly young teenage boys and have managed to create a small, potted, biography or each, using mainly family history websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past.We will feature these biographies (in alphabetical order of the surnames) over three posts, and within each provide a little background that will give some context to the boys and their work.

In this, the first of these, we provide a snapshot of Godwin school at the time, using primarily the school's log, from which we have provided previous posts here, here and here

In the second in the series we will provide a brief biography of their fascinating art teacher, Henry Earle, and in the third we will try and draw some strings together about the social class and life chances experienced by the boys.

 Godwin school at the turn of the C19th/C20th

One of the pieces of caligraphy, announcing the origin of the artwork in the volume of boys' work

The school was established in 1883 and by the time these illustrations were made, the boys' department had a roll of around 500.  It was divided into three departments, boys, girls and infants. It is not known how large the classes were, but the school routinely received good reports from its annual inspections by HM Inspectors.

We have had access to the boys' department diary, from its inception until the late C20th. What follows is a broad account of life at the school when the artists featured in this article were active, taken from that diary.

The school log noted on 11 Nov 1891 that “Bernard Biddle was found smoking on coming up the stairs. When spoken to, he was both insolent and insubordinate and the master has punished him. The lad has been several times to the truant school and it is only by isolation that his influence can be kept from contaminating the other lads similarly returned and other boys inclined to truancy.”

Bernard was the older brother of Ernest, whose biography appears below. It would seem that Ernest did not suffer too much from his brother’s wayward behaviour.

17 Jan 1894 HMI report: "The school fully maintains its high character for intelligence and accurate work. The tone and discipline are excellent".

12 Sept 1894 The numbers still high 506 were present this morning. (ed: having trebled in a decade).

8 Feb 1895 HMI report: "The department fully maintains its high character for intelligent methods of teaching and neatness and accuracy of work. The tone and order are excellent.”

24 Jan 1896 HMI report: “The tone of the school is excellent and all of the work thoroughly good.”

3 Nov 1896 New school at Whitehall Place opened (This later to become Forest Gate Community school). Several boys living in this neighbourhood have gone to this school.

26 Jan 1897 HMI report: “The energy, thought and devotion given to the work, especially by the headmaster, deserves the greatest praise.”

11 Jan 1898 HMI report: “The school is conducted with much energy, devotion and intelligence.”

Photo of Godwin school children, dated 1898. Some of the artists featured in this article may even be among them

7 Jan 1899 HMI report: “The school has done a good year's work ... the doing of some homework by the older boys is a good feature.”

3 May 1899 "This evening the choir that took part in the Stratford Music Festival (ed: This was founded by John Curwen, in Earlham Grove - in 1882, see here). gaining second prize was entertained at tea (ed:probably led by teacher Harry Earle). In the evening the parents of the boys were invited to a concert given by the choir. The whole passed off very pleasantly and both boys and parents were delighted."

2 Feb 1900 HMI report: "The written exercises, singing and class subjects deserve much praise”

2 Mar 1900 "The school was closed today, to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith" (ed: significant development in the Boer War).

21 May 1900 The school was closed today, to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking. (ed: significant development in the Boer War).

1 Feb 1901 "In accordance with (ed: School) Board instructions, the master gave a lesson to each section today on the life of the late Queen Victoria (following her death on 22 January). School closed this afternoon, by order of the Board, in consequence of the funeral".


An undated photograph of school children by photographer W Edward Wright, who opened his studio less than a quarter of a mile from Godwin school in 1882, before moving to Woodgrange Road, less than half a mile from the school in 1896. Again, we do not know if the children attended Godwin school, but it seems more than likely. It is possible that some of the artists featured in this series were in the photograph. The children would, however, have been their contemporaries.

12 Feb 1901 HMI report: “The school fully maintained its high reputation for the thoroughness, intelligence and enthusiasm in teaching”

14 Jan 1902 HMI report: “Sound and effective work is done throughout several subjects, notably the composition and drawing show a marked advance this year” (it seems more than likely the latter comment was provoked by the inspectors being shown the album of artwork, compiled by teacher Harry Earle, and the subject of this series of articles).

21 Mar 1903 HMI report: “The school continues to maintain its high position and do well for the boys, morally intellectually and physically”

 The boys 

James Ade (1886 – 1953)

(1 images - see post here, to see it)


March 1886, Newington, Surrey

1891 Census

Aged 5. 126 Ridley Road. Father, James, aged 39, an inspector in Foreign Branch of GPO, born in Bermondsey


Head teacher of Godwin school notes in the school’s log: “Wrote a character (reference) for Edwin Ade, who is seeking employment as a boy Telegraphist.” Edwin was, by eight years, James’ older brother, and like him, followed their father into a career with the GPO.

1901 Census

Aged 15. 35 Cranmer Road. A messenger for the Post Office. His father, also James, 48, inspector, Circulation. Post Office


Qualified for Post Office as a “Male learner” (London Gazette)


Married Catherine May Welch in West Ham

1911 Census

Aged 25. 121 Cann Hall Road. A boarder, with his wife, Catherine, aged 23 and daughter Catherine, aged 1. A telegraphist with GPO


Would appear to have served as a Sapper (technician) with Royal Engineers - Wireless Telegraphy Company and sent to Egypt on 6 June 1915. Hospitalised and returned to England with Paresis (loss of motor skills). Awarded Victory and Star medals.

1921 Census

Aged 35. 7 Maryland Square, Stratford. A Telegraphist with GPO, works at St Martins La Grand. Other members of household: wife Catherine and 2 children

1939 England and Wales Register

Longfleet Road, Poole Dorset. A Post Office clerk, living with his wife Catherine


Died, December, in Plymouth. (source: Andrew Harrison tree, Ancestry)


Arthur Edward Albon (1885 – 1964)

(2 images - see post here, to see them)


Born 17 October, Forest Gate.

1891 Census

Aged 5. 56 Bignold Road. Father, Walter, aged 34, a smith/farrier, born Plaistow.

1901 Census

Aged 15. 56 Bignold Road. Student. Mother, Lydia, a widow to a deceased farrier.

1911 Census

Aged 25. 165 Earlham Grove. A building society clerk. Lived there with three siblings. Head of household 55 year old widow, Lydia Harriet Moss – their mother, living on private means (property).

Earlham Grove, 1911


21 September, married Emily Flossie Watson in Shirrill Heath, Hampshire.


City Directory: Living at Homeleigh, Woodlands Avenue, Wanstead.


WW1 Records. Called up as a private 15 August, exempt from combatant service, as a Conscientious Objector. Member of 7th Essex Company Non Combatant Corps. Described as a 30 year old married cashier, 121 Woodlands Ave, Wanstead. 5’5” tall.

1921 Census

Aged 35. Sandhills, Shirrell Heath, Shedfield, Hampshire. Self employed corn and meal dealer. Wife Emily Flossie, aged 36, born in Hampshire. Three children


Died January, Portsmouth

 Ernest Biddle (1885 – pos 1926)

(5 images - see post here, to see them)


Born Wickford, Essex.

1891 Census

Aged 5. 71 Station Rd, Forest Gate. Father, 35 year old, Birmingham born, farrier (same occupation as Arthur Albon's father, above). For news of his disruptive brother, Bernard, at this time – see details on school log, above.

Station Road, undated

1901 Census

Aged 15. St Giles in the Field, Bloomsbury. Errand boy. His father, Walter was now an engineer with the LCC.


Joined Amalgamated Society of Railway Workers.


Married Laura.

1911 Census

Aged 25. 28 Coldbath Buildings, Rosebury Avenue. Liftman for London Underground.

1921 Census

Aged 35. 4 Peabody Buildings, Wild St, St Anne’s Westminster. Liftman, with London Electric Railway Co, working at Holborn Tube.


Possible death, St Martin’s London.


Augustus (Gus) Charles Brabham (1886 – 1917)

(5 images - see post here, to see them)


Born East Ham.

1891 Census

Aged 4. 31 Elizabeth Road, East Ham. Father, George William,  a warehouseman, born in Poplar.


Baptised, Upton Park, 10 September

1901 Census

Aged 14. 30 Raymond Road, West Ham. Office boy/clerk

1911 Census

Aged 24. 16 Warren Road, Leyton. Unmarried lineman, GPO.


10 March, appointed “Skilled Workman” grade by GPO (London Gazette)


13 March. 14 Northcote Road, New Malden. Buried 17 March.


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