Much of Rotherfield street was built in the 1840s, when the Islington market was located just north of it. Until the 1860s the terraces of houses had their own names. The beautiful terrace opposite the school was part of Sussex Place.
The 1870 Education Act led to the building of an all age school in Shepperton Road in 1875, followed by Ecclesbourne Road in 1884 and Rotherfield Street in 1898. The school was on three levels, the ground floor being a co-educational Infants school, the middle floor a Girls school and the top floor for older boys. Each had a large hall at the eastern end of the building. Substantial houses at 23-39 Rotherfield Street were demolished to make way for the school, and number 21 was requisitioned for a school keepers house.
The school is known to have opened on August 22nd, 1898. The Girls School head came from Shepperton Road school. The building was not finished and registers were not taken until the following day. The girls school had 65 pupils by the end of the first week; by November this had risen to 161. Sunday schools attached to churches were being closed and pupils sent to Rotherfield Street.
The first year saw a catalogue of building works, inadequate heating and poor attendance. A non-conformist Minister from Britannia Row was elected Manager (Governors were known as Managers up to forty years ago) and regularly visited the school. The first school inspection was in November 1899 as the Girls School roll approached 200. Eighteen months later it surpassed 400.
In 1932 there was a major reorganisation of the three schools in east Canonbury. All retained an Infant School, but the Juniors (up to age 14) had a single department in each building: boys at Shepperton, girls at Rotherfield, mixed at Ecclesbourne. In 1947 all age schools came to an end in the LCC. All three schools in east Canonbury became primary schools, secondary education was at Queen’s Head Street School (later Islington Green, COLI).
The inter-war years had seen what is now outer London developed and the tube lines extended to serve them. Islington’s population had been in decline since 1901. Further reorganisation was necessary in 1957 when Shepperton Road closed as a school (for many years it was used by the Adult Education Institute) and Rotherfield’s Junior school became co-educational.
The war had seen children evacuated to Norfolk between 1941 and 1943 and the area was badly hit by bombs. Two houses at 41 and 43 Rotherfield Street were so badly damaged they were demolished and the land used to extend the Rotherfield playground. Houses at the west end of Downham Road, which extended to meet Rotherfield Street at the junction with Oxford Road (now Elizabeth Avenue) were also demolished. Rotherfield Court and Walkinshaw Court were built in the mid-1950s.
The increased playground space was much needed because in 1967 the school building was extended at the rear. The extension housed the infant school staff room, now part of the library. The LCC had been abolished in 1965 and the ILEA created to take over its education responsibilities.
The kitchen was on the ground floor but in the 1980s budget cuts resulted in its closure by the ILEA. Lunchtime meals were prepared at Newington Green School. This was reversed only ten years ago when the outside toilets were replaced by the attractive building that is now used for dining.
In 1990 London Boroughs took over from the ILEA and in the following year it was necessary to renew the roof. High winds disturbed the tiles and blackboards (remember those?) were used to shelter children as they were evacuated from the building. As well as the Dining Hall building, recent developments required in the interests of security and safety have included the fire escape and the new reception area. Removal of the outside toilets enabled the provision of an edible garden, which greatly improves the visual amenity as well as providing a valuable educational resource. In 2012 the school was given day-time access to the green space in front of Rotherfield Court.
The final reorganisation came in 1999 when the two Rotherfield schools were amalgamated to form Rotherfield Primary School. The delegation of funding to schools had made it increasingly cumbersome to maintain two schools, and Islington had decided that as one head resigned or retired amalgamations should take place. Moreover, there are educational advantages in a single staff team working together with scope to move from one age range to another.