History of Eltham Hill
In 2006 Eltham Hill School celebrated its Centenary – a considerable achievement in a period of such momentous changes in society, education and the role of women. All of these changes have, of course, been reflected in the history of Eltham Hill but it should be remembered that both pupils and staff have themselves played their part in bringing those changes about.
During these one hundred years, Eltham itself has changed beyond recognition from the Kentish village of 1906, which could trace its history at least as far back as the Domesday Book. Eltham had royal connections for several centuries and, from the 11th century until Tudor times, was often the residence of Kings of England. A splendid palace was built in mediaeval times though little remains today except the Great Hall and 15th century bridge across the moat. Victorian Eltham was a well-to-do residential area. There were a number of large houses standing in extensive grounds as well as the more traditional village cottages.
The turn of the century saw the beginning of developments that were to change Eltham forever. In 1899, the Kentish village was incorporated into the newly formed borough of Woolwich and thus became part of the County of London. Gradually the large houses disappeared or changed their character and use. New building developments provided houses for the comfortable middle class. In nearby Woolwich however, conditions were very different. With the outbreak of the Boer War in 1900, the Arsenal expanded considerably causing a great influx of workers, housed for the most part in crowded and insanitary slums. Despite this, Eltham itself continued to have a rural character thanks mainly to its isolation from public transport. The railway extended only to Well Hall and the newly introduced electric trams only reached Lee Green. There were a few private cars for the very wealthy but most of Eltham’s traffic was made up of horse-drawn vehicles.
As the changes in social conditions began to accelerate in the early years of the century, their impact was felt both in education and the role of women. Pioneer women of great courage had earlier begun the fight for women to receive higher education and enter careers on the same terms as men. In 1900 there were already 200 women doctors and more than 100 women dentists in England and the campaign for the vote was beginning in earnest.
Since the 1870 Education Act, every child had had the right to free elementary education but most still had to leave school at 14 as in fact their teachers had done. Then, in 1902, The 2nd Education Act gave local authorities the right to create secondary (grammar) schools, to be maintained at public expense. This opened the way for able pupils from all walks of life to receive an advanced education at little or no cost to their families. The London County Council, always at the front rank of educational advances, immediately began to plan the building of secondary schools: Fulham and Dalston opened in 1905 and in 1906 came Eltham.