The Clara Grant Mural, Bow Road
Along Bow Road, a new mural has appeared. It celebrates a local hero; Clara Ellen Grant.
Before we talk about Clara, here’s a bit more information about the Bow Road mural itself…
London Mural Festival
Painted on the side of Mainyard Studios on Bow Road, Jake has included a portrait of Clara along with abstract representations of nearby Bow Church, the local landmark consecrated in the early 1700s.
Jake has lived in East London for the past 10 years and decided on the subject with Mainyard Studios.
“I’ve always thought that public art should compliment or benefit the area it’s located in rather than being intrusive or invasive” – Jack Attewell
Clara Ellen Grant
Y’know that favourite teacher, who as a child you just thought was an angel in disguise? That’s what Clara Ellen Grant was like.
A pioneer of children’s education and a social reformer, Clara would dedicate her life to feeding, clothing and educating poor children in the East End.
Born 1867 in Wiltshire – one of 9 children! She had a good educated and went into teaching herself, becoming a headteacher in a local school aged 21. However, she had her eyes set on London.
In 1890-1893 Clara was teaching in a school in Hoxton and when not working, was studying herself, attending lectures at Gresham College.
Clara was part of a wider movement of philanthropy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Horrified by the poverty, destitution, hunger and seemingly ‘immoral’ way the poor were living in London’s East End, there were many well-intentioned organisations set up to provide a safety net where the state had left gaping holes.
In 1900 Clara became headteacher of All Hallows School in Bow, following the principles of Friedrich Fröbel – founder of the ‘kindergarten’. It was one of five ramshackle tin buildings where all the children of Bow were educated.
In 1905 the five tin schools were amalgamated into one building known as Devons School and Clara became headteacher. Today the school still stands and is named after her.
She believed children needed to be happy, fed and warm in order to even begin to start learning. Clara would organise hot breakfasts for her pupils and supplying clothes and shoes.
As well as these more basic needs, she also understood the young children’s need for play and in 1907 she started the Fern Street Settlement out of All Hallow Bow Church – a family centre still going strong today.
She started producing ‘farthing bundles’ – bundles of toys that cost a farthing – 1/4 of an old money penny, today it’s worth 1/10 of a modern penny. The smallest currency available at the time which meant that children felt they’d earned their toys, they weren’t just receiving a handout for nothing.
The toys were up-cycled from old newspaper and scraps of material. Or re-appropriated match boxes, pencils and cigarette cards.
Such was the popularity that she had to put up a wooden arch that had written above it ”Enter Now Ye Children Small; None Can Come Who Are Too Tall” to was 4ft 4 1/2 inches and there would be hundreds of children queuing from 6am. This continued for over 50 years.
Later in life she was honoured with an OBE for services to education and she wrote a series of books about teaching young children. Clara is buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery and her grave, shaped like an open book, reads;
In Loving Memory of The Farthing Bundle Lady Clara E. Grant
Died 10 October 1949, in her 83rd year
From her family, staff and settlement friends
Big thank you to the lovely Cemetery Club who helped me locate her grave!
More Inspiring East End Women
Clara appearing on Bow Road isn’t the first instance of celebrating local heroines. A short walk East from this mural takes you right under the Minnie Lansbury Memorial Clock.
Minnie was a campaigner for Women’s suffrage and served on Poplar Council. In 1921 she was one of 30 councillors sent to prison for refusing to raise the local rates and tragically died 6 weeks after her release, aged only 32. The clock was erected in the 1930s and restored in 2016.
There’s also another epic Street Art mural featuring another local campaigner; Sylvia Pankhurst.
Daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, Sylvia didn’t see eye-to-eye with her mother politically and chose to move to London’s East End in order to start more helpful grassroots organisations.
You can find the mural on the side of the Lord Morpeth pub, used by the East London Federation of suffragettes. Sylvia lived next-door to the pub and from here she ran community projects aiming to give local people work and ran a restaurant serving low-cost, nutritious food during the First World War.
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