Croydon Public School opened in February 1884, but its history really begins late in 1877 when a land development society offered to sell the Council of Education a school site at Croydon. It was not until the very end of 1880 that the people of Croydon actually asked for a school. By this time the Department was struggling to implement the reforms of the Public Instruction Act of 1880, and especially those which contributed to the 60% increase in enrolments in government schools in the Department's first three years. These were the introduction of compulsory education, the extension of schools in country areas and the withdrawal of state aid from church schools at the end of 1882. It was also a period of rapid population growth and the development of new suburbs like Croydon.
In 1877 the suburb of Croydon was just beginning to develop. Much of the area was owned by Anthony Hordern, whose mansion was to become the Presbyterian Ladies College in 1888. The land where Croydon Public School stands today was part of Hemming's Orchard, and the allotments in this estate were auctioned in December 1877 under the fancy new name of "Windsorville".
There was no doubt about eagerness, but the question which the local inspector of schools, John Jones, had to answer was whether there was any need for a school at Croydon. In 1878 his answer was no, since he thought the children in the area were catered for by Ashfield and Burwood Public Schools. By early 1879 he had changed his mind. He had consulted with the local constable, who had recently carried out some kind of census and found that there eight private schools situated between Ashfield and Burwood Public Schools, with an attendance of 140 to 160, "chiefly girls belonging to well-to-do families". The two large Public Schools, plus the small government-funded Ashfield Church of England School, provided enough space for the less "well-to-do" children just than, but the population was steadily increasing and only the small church school was available for those families north of the railway line who objected to their children having to cross the line to go to one of the Public Schools. Jones therefore decided that the people of Croydon would eventually demand their own school, and it would be wise to acquire a site now. The Fox site was the best, but Jones thought it was too much expensive at one thousand four hundred pounds for one and a quarter acres.
The Council of Education was almost always short of money, and the question of a site for Croydon was therefore deferred. By the time Jones examined the question again in July 1879 three more sites had been offered, and it was one of these Jones recommended. It belonged to Anthony Hordern, was situated in Robinson Street, was much bigger than Fox's site, and would cost just over one thousand pounds. However, the Council deferred the matter on several more occasions up to April 1880, and than in May the new Department also deferred it. The matter rested there until the people of Croydon acted.
In November 1880, Mr. W. Hobbs organised a petition to the Department, signed by nearly 50 people, which drew attention to the "urgent necessity" for Public School in Croydon and predicted an attendance of 100 pupils. The Department sent him an official application form, and Hobbs returned the ‘annex' part of it only, containing the signatures or marks of 19 parents of 48 children. A few days later, on 23 December, the Department received a complete application from a different group of people, and this form bore the signatures of 29 parents of 70 children. Only three families were represented on both forms. Although the origins of the two applications were never explained, it is clear that it was the location of the school which was at issue. The second application came from those who wanted a school north of the railway line, in the area discussed since 1877. Many of the signatories of the first application and the petition could not be located later on, but it seems that they wanted a school south of the line. Certainly this was Hobbs' intention, for he offered to sell the Department a site a mile of more south of the station.
Inspector William Dwyer was asked to report on the application, as was the usual practice. It was not until late in April 1881 that he did so. He found the suburb rapidly increasing in population, and the want for school already felt. Fifty or more pupils were going to Ashfield Public School and 20 to Burwood. (Ashfield Church of England School had now been closed). Dwyer defined the population in the following terms:
"The people belonging to the professional and artisan classes, and are in comfortable circumstances. A large proportion of them have permanent interest in the locality."
The local committee, whose task it would be to advise the Department on the needs of the schools, fitted in well with Dwyer's definition.
Dwyer accepted the committee's recommendation of a site comprising three allotments in Young Street. He believed it was "sufficient in area – nearly an acre", although he thought the price of seven hundred and twenty pounds too high and recommended the resumption of the land. He dismissed Hobbs' site as "outside the present centre of population". (It was probably not far from the site of Croydon Park Public School, which was to be opened in 1886). As for buildings, Dwyer believed that the progress of the locality would require a schoolroom for 200 and a classroom for 50 when the school opened, with provision for additions which were almost certain to be needed later.
The formal decision to establish the school was made on 10 June. The next steps were to acquire the site and plan the buildings. The Department checked on the Hordern site offered in 1879, but found that parts of it had since been sold and built on. It was therefore agreed that the best site available was that recommended by Dwyer, provided that its size was almost doubled by including five allotments facing Boundary Street. This would give a site of one and three-quarter acres, less than the standard two acre site but much better than many city schools in areas where land was expensive. The Department regarded the prices quoted to Dwyer as reasonable, but the total of two thousand, three hundred and forty pounds asked by the owners of the Boundary Street lots as outrageous. Even the local committee member and land agent, Hanry Deakin, described them as "fabulous prices", and urged the Department to resume the land and open the school as soon as possible. The resumption was carried out in January 1882, and the five lots in Boundary Street cost the Department less than the asking price. The eight lots were owned by five people, and all of them seem to have been bought at or soon after the auction of 1877; all were still vacant land.
The Department's Architect, William Kemp, was asked for a sketch plan of suitable buildings in July 1881. It had already been decided that there should be schoolrooms, not one as Dwyer had recommended, and there was further consideration of Croydon's likely needs during the year. The exceedingly busy Kemp produced his sketch plan in December. He said that as it was evident that the area's population would rapidly increase, he had prepared a plan which both provided more space immediately than he had been asked for and also could be easily and conveniently added to.
Kemp's plan was approved, but unfortunately neither it nor the full plans which were completed in July 1882 have survived. However, Kemp used Croydon as an example of fine schools built by the Department when prepared a set of plans and drawings for the Minister's report for 1890.
The internal layout of the school was like hundreds throughout New South Wales, and reflected nineteenth century attitudes to education. The rooms held very large number of children because of the use of stepped floors on which stood long desks and forms, and of higher steps of ‘galleries' in the infants schoolroom and the classrooms, which had forms but no desks. Such designs suited an approach to education which stressed the 3Rs, and regarded children as passive participants in the learning process: they were to sit still and be drilled. The rooms were also poorly lit and ventilated by modern standards; the windows were high and had blue glass, and there was no artificial light. (Gas pipes were laid in Croydon 1883, and headmaster's two story residence was connected, but it was to be decades before the Department provided lights in schools, other than special cases.) In the 1880's the building at Croydon was regarded as up-to-date in educational terms and as a fine ornament in brick stone to a developing suburb.
Croydon Public School should have opened late in 1883, but the builder worked slowly although well. Peter Graham lived in Croydon, and his tender of five thousand, four hundred and sixty three pounds was accepted in September 1882. He was obliged to finish in October 1883, but finally did so in a last minute rush on February 1884 – the day the school actually opened.
Croydon was built in the "grand Classic" style and received much favorable comment at the time. Due to the expense few of these schools were built. Other examples of the style are Summer Hill 1884 and Bourke Street 1883. These schools were built in very prosperous times when the Department was liberal with its building money, until restrictions were applied in 1884 and this style became too extravagant.
Summer Hill has been altered with the addition of an extra storey, which has changed the appearance considerably, but Croydon is in almost original condition.
The people of Croydon were determined to celebrate the opening of their school, and they watched the building operations anxiously. The first day of the school year was 14 January, but only the residence was ready for occupation that day. The chairman of a committee of residents, Mr. T. Beaver, invited the Minister for Public Instruction, George Reid, to open the school on 28 January and to allow the band of Boys' reformatory ship Vernon to perform at the "demonstration". Reid agreed to both requests, but the ceremony had to be deferred until 3 p.m. on Monday 4 February.
The first pupils were admitted on the day of the official opening, and 165 primary and 102 infants pupils were enrolled in the first week. By the end of 1884 the enrolment was 393.
(Extract from "Croydon Public School 1884-1984 One Hundred years of Service and Education")