William Ellis School will celebrate 150th anniversary

A concert featuring music by the composer of Me and Orson Welles will be the highlight of 150th anniversary celebrations at William Ellis School.

Michael McEvoy, who also wrote songs for Soul II Soul, will be composing a new piece of music for the concert on December 5.

The school in Highgate Road will also stage a special open evening where it will welcome former pupils on November 9.

The evening will feature an exhibition of memorabilia and photographs, a talk by current headteacher Sam White and tours.

The school was founded by insurance underwriter and educational philanthropist William Ellis in 1862 as the Gospel Oak School for Boys and Girls and was originally in Rochford Street.


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Ellis aimed that the school would “fit the future man to take his share in the business of life...and usefulness to others”.

He valued “useful” knowledge such as book-keeping over subjects he considered impractical, such as ancient history.

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He dispensed with religious education and avoided corporal punishment 125 years before an Act of Parliament banned it from schools.

In 1888, the school was converted into a secondary boys’ school with fees of two guineas per year and the name was changed to William Ellis. Catering for the children of the middle-clasees it had a strong focus on science and technology.

The prospectus at the time described the school as being open to “all boys of good character”.

Since then it has seen two world wars and became a comprehensive in 1978.

The school has many illustrious former pupils. One is Professor Michael Green, a pioneer of string theory and successor to physicist Stephen Hawking as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University – a post that was also held by Isaac Newton.

Mr Green, who lives in East Finchley, credits the start of his career in maths and physics to his time at the school between 1957 and 1963.

“My scientific career started because of my time there and because of one physics teacher called Michael Nelkon,” he said.

Mr Nelkon wrote textbooks nationally for pupils doing O-level, GCE and GCSE physics.

Mr Green describes him as “inspiring”, saying: “My strongest memories of the school are his lessons. My interest in physics started at the age of 13 or 14 and was linked to Mr Nelkon.”

Another well-known former pupil, journalist David Aaronovitch, who lives in Hampstead, said: “I owe to the school the most sustained friendship of my life and some of the most inspired teaching.”

Headteacher Mr White said: “The 150th is a very exciting opportunity to bring together all the many different bodies associated with the school to strengthen links between them and to benefit our current and future students.”

n Register to attend the open evening at www.williamellis.camden.sch.uk

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