Beryl Gilroy sitting among pupils at Beckford School, Camden around 1973.
Beryl Gilroy and pupils at Beckford School c. 1971 (Photo: © Estate of Beryl Gilroy)

Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre is hosting an online talk this month about Camden’s first black headteacher.

Darla Jane Gilroy, tells the story of her mother, Beryl Gilroy — a pioneering teacher, writer, and psychotherapist. The talk is based on her mother’s memoir, Black Teacher.

Gilroy was born in Guyana in 1924, arriving in England in 1952 — part of the Windrush Generation — a gifted, experienced, and highly qualified teacher but, due to the deep-rooted racism of the time, denied opportunities to teach. She eventually secured a teaching post in a school in East London in 1954.

In the 1960s she began teaching within Camden at Tufnell Park School and became deputy head of Motem School in 1968. The following year, she became headteacher of Beckford Primary School, in West Hampstead becoming the first black headteacher to be appointed in Camden. 

The school had been named after William Beckford, who owned slaves. In 2020 there was a campaign to rename the school after Gilroy. But it was instead named West Hampstead Primary School.

With a degree in child psychology and as a qualified Froebel teacher, Gilroy was decades ahead of her time in understanding the needs of children and made a significant contribution to British education, inspiring generations of children to be unaccepting of the limits placed on them by post war British society. 

In 1976 she published Black Teacher — the only memoir written by a black woman over this period, telling the humorous, poignant, and inspiring story of her struggle against those who sort to diminish her through the lens of racism. Black Teacher was republished in 2021.

Darla Jane Gilroy is Associate Dean of Knowledge Exchange and Reader in Fashion Enterprise at Central Saint Martins UAL.

The talk lasts forty-five minutes and will be followed by an opportunity to ask questions.

Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre presents: Black Teacher — The Story of Beryl Gilroy,  6pm Tuesday 19 April 2022. Free online event. Book here.

Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre have now made available the sound recording of “Black Teacher — The Story of Beryl Gilroy”. You can listen to it below.

Editor’s note. This article was corrected on 14 April 2022. Originally it stated that Beryl Gilroy was London’s first black headteacher. We were then contacted and it was pointed out that Yvonne Connolly, who was appointed as headteacher of Ring Cross Infant School in Islington, was London’s first black headteacher. However, the entries on Wikipedia for Gilroy and Connolly both describe them as London’s, or the UK’s, first black headteacher. Both were appointed as headteachers in 1969.