An unattributed Photograph of Assembly in the Theatre, published in The Review in 1957.


Review of the new book about Hackney Downs School by the Author

The Staff in the picture are:

Joe Brearley, Leslie Mitchell, Tom Abbott,  Mr.Pye (standing), Dominic Elwes, Francis Huss, Jim Saunders, John Kemp, Mervyn Williams, and Albert Calland.

Grocers’ Company’s School

The Grocers’ Company’s School was founded in 1876 by the Worshipful Company of Grocers and, on transfer to the Government in 1906, was re-named Hackney Downs School (formerly the Grocers’ Company’s School).

Grammar School

As a grammar school, it won a reputation for excellence, 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. 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 facility for sixth-form entry in the early 1970s.

It was voted to become comprehensive in 1969 and in September 1974, it became a comprehensive school inheriting many of the problems of this deprived inner-city borough.

Just before its closure, less than 30 percent of the boys spoke English as their mother tongue, half came from households with no-one in employment, and half the intake had reading ages three years below average.

Decline and closure

In the 1990s, the school made national headlines 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 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 old school site became occupied by Mossbourne Community Academy in 2004, founded by Sir Clive Bourne.

The School

The School Amphitheatre


Swimming Pool


School Aerial View


School from Railway Junction

The School from the railway junction.


School after the fire.

The School after the fire.



The Grocers’ Company

The Grocers’ Company was established in 1345 as the Fraternity of St Antonin, although the Pepperers’ Guild, a forereunner of the Company, existed from at least the late 12th century. The Company received charters in 1428, 1447, 1607, 1640, 1675, 1688 (two), 1690, 1712 and 1723. The Company has had five halls on a site in Princes Street in the City of London, dated 1428, 1682, 1802, 1890 and 1966.

The Company is one of the “Great Twelve” City companies, ranking second.

Witney Free Grammar School: Henry Box, citizen and grocer, built a school in Witney, Oxfordshire in 1660, but died in 1662 before he had endowed it. His widow, Mary Box, completed this work, and transferred the governance of the school to the Grocers’ Company in 1670, in accordance with his will. The school was endowed with estates in Longworth, Berkshire. It was established to provide classical education to thirty boys, giving priority to those of Witney or founder’s kin. The Company acted as governors until 1902, but still maintains an active association. The school is now known as the Henry Box School.

Hackney Downs Grammar School: Hackney Downs Boys’ School, also known as the Grocers’ School, was established by the Grocers’ Company in 1873, and declared open in 1876.