Our History

Sarah Bonnell School is one of the oldest girls schools in England, as it was unusual for benefactors to view girls' education as important in the 18th century.

It started as a charity school in 1769, after a rich woman called Sarah Bonnell left £3,500 in her will for the setting up of a school for poor girls in West Ham. Sarah Bonnell's family had a big house in Walthamstow, and she was also buried in Walthamstow's St. Mary's Church, in 1766.

The first school was housed in a building opposite West Ham Church. It was known as Mrs Bonnell's School and comprised of one schoolroom, one teacher and 40 girls. All the girls' uniforms were paid for by the school. The Vicar of West Ham Church chose which girls would be allowed to attend the school and also the woman teacher, who had to be "of good character". The school was run by a Board of Trustees.

By 1834, there were 140 pupils and the school continued to expand. However, in 1873 the name of the school was changed to West Ham High School for Girls and it also moved into a new building in West Ham Lane. It now became an independent, fee-paying school and boys up to the age of 10 years were admitted. There were still 40 free places for poor girls, so that the school could continue to receive the funds from Sarah Bonnell's will. Later in 1905 it moved to a large, impressive building in The Grove in Stratford.

During the 1920s the school stopped being an independent school and it was during this period - in 1938 - that George Lansbury, a former Labour M.P., opened the new school library. The Second World War brought aerial bombing to West Ham because of its proximity to the docks. Therefore, to protect the girls, the school was evacuated out of London, first of all to Brentwood and then to Truro in Cornwall.

In 1944 the school once again used our founder's name to become Sarah Bonnell Grammar School and moved, this time to St. George's Road, Forest Gate. As this was a grammar school, girls had to pass the 11-plus examination to gain a place at the school.

In 1972 comprehensive education was introduced in Newham and the school gained the title Sarah Bonnell Comprehensive School. It moved to its present site in Deanery Road, taking over the buildings that had previously been called Deanery High School for Girls and Stratford Green Secondary School.

In 1993, the Technology Village was opened by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. There have been other well-known people who have visited the school, including Arthur Scargill and Glenys Kinnock MEP.

Since 2003 the school has gained the status of a Language College, which is now part of our title. It continues to maintain the links with Sarah Bonnell's endowment for girl's education, through the Sarah Bonnell Foundation and Governors, who support the school. We are proud to think that we are still carrying out the spirit of her will.

Throughout the last three centuries this school has primarily catered for girl's education and we have tried to maintain an excellent standard of behaviour and learning. Every year we allocate a special day (with birthday cakes for our students) to celebrate Sarah Bonnell's birthday and we also take flowers to her memorial in Walthamstow. We do this to remember a far-sighted woman who thought it was important to educate girls in a time when the idea of equal rights for women was seen as revolutionary.

Our Stories