Prior to 1870, elementary education for the children of the working class in Hull was provided either by private speculation, in the early years of the century the Dame School being prominent, or religious zeal, with the parish clergy and free-church ministers playing their part in the setting up of schools for the children of the poor. However attendance was neither compulsory nor free and, for most, education was sparse or non existent. In 1833 parliamentary grants to aid school building became available and government aid combined with public subscription to finance the establishment of schools, though the use of government money after 1840 carried the right to government inspection.
The Forster Education Act of 1870 led to the setting up in Hull of a local rate-aided School Board of which Joseph Malet Lambert, Vicar of Newland, became in later years an enthusiastic member and chairman. Elementary schools were set up, the first three in 1874, education becoming compulsory for children up to the age of 10 years by 1880. The school leaving age was raised to 11 in 1893, to twelve in 1899 and to 14 in 1918, at which age it remained until 1947. In 1891 elementary education became free to all.
In the early 1890s the Hull School Board became increasingly concerned with the needs of children above the statutory school leaving age, and, by what Malet Lambert later confessed to be “a manipulation of the regulations”, three higher grade schools were built, of which Craven Street Higher Grade School, opened in 1893, was the second. It was in this school that Malet Lambert High School had its origins. As well as offering the usual elementary education, it provided a secondary education on practical and scientific lines for children above the normal school leaving age, though this education was not free. However some scholarships were provided. The Craven Street School was large and equipped with laboratories and workshops according to the highest standards of the time, the upper classes forming an Organized Science School under the Science and Art Department. In 1893, with infants and junior departments, the school had places for 336 boys and 336 girls. A headmaster was appointed for the Craven Street Higher Grade Boys School and a headmistress for the Craven Street Higher Grade Girls School, thus explaining the sharp division between boys and girls within the school which persisted for many years.
The Balfour Education Act of 1902 abolished School Boards transferring control to the County and Borough Authorities. The new education authorities were allowed to set up secondary schools to continue the education of pupils to 16 and later 16 years of age, though this was not free, except for a limited number of pupils who won entrance scholarships. As a result of this act, after 1905, the school became Craven Street Municipal Secondary School expanding after 1912 when the infants and junior departments were accommodated separately. “Packed to capacity” with 564 pupils in 1926, this school moved to James Reckitt Avenue in September, 1932, becoming Malet Lambert High School. The first headmaster appointed in 1893 was Mr. Harvy Sheppard who remained headmaster until 1917. His son, Thomas Sheppard, became the famous Curator of the Hull Museums and a prolific writer on local topics. The school contained both boys and girls though the boys were, on the whole, in classrooms downstairs, with the girls in the classrooms upstairs. This division persisted long after the move to Malet Lambert High School and the staff rooms remained divided until 1970. On Mr. Sheppard’s retirement in 1917 he was succeeded as headmaster by Mr. J. W. Smith, who in turn was succeeded by Mr. Harry Shoosmith in 1922.
Mr. Shoosmith established a close association with Rt. Hon. T.R. Ferens, M.P. for East Hull, the Chairman of the East Hull firm of Reckitts, and a great public benefactor, who lived in the large residence on Holderness Road, now an old people’s home. Mr. Ferens, who gave large sums of money towards the building of the Ferens Art Gallery and the setting up of the Hull University College, took a personal interest in the fortunes of the Craven Street School generously donating prizes and regularly attending Prize Distributions. In some quarters it was suggested that when the School moved to James Reckitt Avenue it was going to be named after him. However this was not to be and the new school was named after Canon Joseph Malet Lambert, Chairman of the Higher Education Committee, who had been prominent in the field of education in Hull for some 40 years.
It was realized by Mr. Shoosmith that the Craven Street buildings were incapable of further development as a secondary school and in 1926 the Committee of Higher Education under its Chairman, Canon Malet Lambert, now Archdeacon of the East Riding, was persuaded to provide the school with more suitable premises elsewhere, leaving the Craven Street building to be used as a Senior Mixed Elementary School.
A site for the new school was suggested on Holderness High Road, a little beyond Ings Road, in unbroken countryside, but the site proved too expensive, the price of £500 being asked. The site in James Reckitt Avenue behind East Park was then proposed and bought on very reasonable terms from the Chamberlain Trust, and thus, with the building of houses being prevented between the site and the park, Malet Lambert High School enjoys a magnificent, uninterrupted view of the trees and lake of the park. No school could ask for a finer location, with the facilities of the park being used fully by the school. Close consultation between the headmaster, staff and Mr. Clay, the assistant city architect of the time, resulted in the school, built to accommodate about 600 pupils, being of fine design and much admired by neighboring authorities. All classrooms faced south, with the workshops and laboratories placed in the wings and the gymnasium and assembly hall extending backwards from the centre, to produce a very compact two story building in the shape of a letter E. At the centre of the building behind the triangular structure above the main entrance, on the suggestion of Mr. Shoosmith, was built a library, for which no provision had been made in the original plans.
Entry to Malet Lambert High School from its opening in September, 1932, until 1944 was either by winning a Local Authority free place or by payment of fees. Under the Education Act of 1944 the status of the school became that of a coeducational grammar school for pupils from 11 to 18 years of age. Entry was gained by passing the so called 11+ examination. However, it must be stated that many pupils entered the school in the “second chance” entry at the age of 12+, and occasionally pupils joined the school at later ages on transfer from secondary modern school. Mr. Shoosmith continued as headmaster throughout the war until his retirement in 1951, building up the academic standards of the school to a high level with many students passing on from the sixth form to the universities on Major Awards and University Scholarships.
In September, 1951, Mr. Shoosmith was succeeded as headmaster by Mr. L.C. Parslow who went on to lead the school to probably the highest level of academic success attainable by a grammar school of its type, the catchment area including not only Hull but a large area of Holderness. However achievement of academic excellence is only one or the many aspects of a school. Throughout the whole of its existence the school has been fortunate in possessing staff capable of, and willing to, lead the pupils in a wide range of out of school activities, both sporting and otherwise. It is not possible in this brief outline or the school’s history to indicate fairly the vast range of these and the reader is referred to the pages of the school magazine, ‘Magpie”, which has appeared with occasional gaps, at least once a year, since 1912. In the 1920s Mr. Shoosmith fought to increase the number of university scholarships in the city from two to twelve, still a totally inadequate number, and many able students did not stay on into a sixth form because or the difficulty in financing a university course. The passing of the 1944 Education Act and the generosity of the Kingston upon Hull Education Authority in granting Major Awards changed this picture completely. In the later fifties and the sixties the sixth form grew rapidly in size, taxing the accommodation in the school to the full. A school designed for about 600 pupils in 1932 contained 760 in 1963 and became even larger in later years.
A canteen was built in 1945/46, the old dining room in the school becoming a needlework room. In 1956 new changing rooms and two physics laboratories were built, followed by a new metalwork room in 1961. The Report Centre, which was built during the war as the Headquarters of the Eastern Division of the Hull A.R.P. was pressed into service as a Music Centre and to provide accommodation for the sixth form. Cloak rooms were converted to make extra classrooms and a language laboratory. By now all forms had become truly co-educational with boys and girls in the same forms throughout the school.