The beginning - Ellerdale Road.
The school began in 1898 at No.24 Ellerdale Road, Hampstead, with just seven pupils. King Alfred School was conceived by a “ group of distinguished Hampstead residents who had set up the King Alfred School Society (KASS) in 1897…The Society’s object… was ‘the furtherance, in very possible way, of true educational methods as understood by the members’.” (Brooks, P.2) This group was the driving force behind the opening of the school and the implementation of the first headteacher, Charles E. Rice. The members of the Society exerted a considerable influence during the early years of the school.
Over a couple of decades the number of pupils increased, until there were 91 children being taught at Ellerdale Road. It became clear the school needed a bigger site, and so began the negotiations for a move to Manor Wood.
A 'rational' school
KASS aimed to create a school with a ‘rational’ system of education. There were some formidable differences in approach, compared to the mainstay of education at this time. Learning experiences were to be based on child-centered theory, experience and practice. The school was to be co-educational, with activities such as carpentry, gardening and working in the forge accessible to both boys and girls. Outdoors, hands-on learning was seen as vitally important. King Alfred School was to remain a day school, highlighting the importance of integration between home and school. Children were to be given plenty of time to play.
KAS opened on the Manor Wood site in September, 1921. With limited funds, the school existed in a state of ‘idyllic wilderness’. The classrooms were converted army huts and the communal area, Squirrel Hall, was an open-air ‘building without walls whose canopy rested on the branches of two beech trees’. (Brooks, P.76)
The converted army huts.
In the summer of 1920, Squirrel Hall was designed and built by the children and the new headteacher, Joseph Wicksteed .
Open-air learning in Squirrel Hall.
New drive & gates
The school entrance around 1925. Having moved the school to the Manor Wood site, the lack of an imposing entrance alongside the frequently muddy and unlevelled ground, had become offputting to the middle-class parents the school was trying to attract. The creation of a tarmacked drive and new gates helped to increase the attractiveness of the school
By January, 1927, the first communal, permanent building was ready for use, in the form of a reinforced, concrete hall. Although known as the dining hall, the building was to be multi-functional: “an area for the staging of plays, rooms for the debating society and even a dark room under the stage for the photographic society” (Brooks, P.102)
Rear view of the dining hall.
The open-air theatre, 1923.