On the 31 August 2011, a sizeable crowd gathered outside the new Walworth Academy for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of Miss Anne O’Reilly (1891-1963), who was the first head of Walworth/Mina Road interim comprehensive school from 1947 until her retirement in 1955.
The plaque was unveiled by Cllr Lorraine Lauder, Mayor of Southwark, on the wall of the 1905 school building, the only surviving block from the original school on the new academy’s campus. Local MP Simon Hughes then addressed the assembled former pupils, teachers and Miss O’Reilly’s family members.
This plaque marks the first public recognition of a hitherto neglected but important twentieth-century woman educationalist. Anne O’Reilly was Head of Peckham Emergency Central School from 1940-46 before leaving to lead the new Walworth School, known locally as Mina Road. An inspirational leader, she oversaw the development of a progressive curriculum at Walworth and the recruitment of a highly qualified staff, whose members were fired by a democratic, and often socialist or communist optimism. Her other activities were many and various. In 1926 she was a founder member of the All England Netball Association (now England Netball ) and also served on the National Fitness Council. In 1942 she received the MBE for her war work running 26 Londoners’ Meals Service Centres – otherwise known as British Restaurants – across Camberwell, Lewisham and Deptford, helping to serve 30,000 meals weekly.
We are delighted that the blue plaque is a direct outcome of the Social Change and English, 1945-1965 project. It was team member and local historian Pat Kingwell together with Miss O’Reilly’s niece, Pat Jones, who persuaded Southwark Council to award the blue plaque.
Depsite a lack of official recognition to date, Anne O’Reilly is remembered with great warmth by former pupils at both Walworth/Mina Road and Peckham schools. Perhaps her time has now come. She will feature in the forthcoming project book Remaking English for the post-war world – to be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013 – and in Pat Jones’s new biography of her aunt.
You can see more images of the unveiling ceremony and speeches on Walworth Academy’s website.