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Rachel McMillan Nursery School and Childrens Centre

Rachel McMillan Nursery School
and Children's Centre


Our History

Our Nursery School started on this site in 1914. Our founders Rachel and Margaret McMillan were sisters who believed that children needed the opportunity to develop and learn by being healthy, clean and well fed. Both sisters were suffragists and founding members of The Independent Labour Party.

At the time (the early 20th Century) the sisters worked in both Bradford and Deptford where children were working in mills and factories and living in very poor, overcrowded housing. As a result they were often ill, malnourished and under developed.

In 1910 Rachel and Margaret started a clinic in Deptford to treat the children’s illnesses.


In 1910 Rachel and Margaret started a clinic in Deptford to treat the children’s illnesses. In 1911 these became known as Camp Schools – the children played, ate and slept outside because that improved their health. In 1914 the Camp School on Evelyn Street and the Camp School in St Nichols churchyard moved to the site we are still on today and became an Open Air Nursery School, the first of its kind in England. When Rachel died in 1917, Margaret named the school after her.

Margaret McMillan was the first Headteacher of the Nursery School and she was a formidable character! Known as “the nuisance who worked miracles” Margaret spent a lifetime researching, writing and lobbying for high quality provision for society’s youngest children. For example Margaret criticised the tendency of schools in working class areas to concentrate on preparing children for unskilled and monotonous jobs. She argued that instead schools should be offering a broad and humane education.

She was determined that her Open Air Nursery would be a success and she worked hard to secure funds by befriending prominent figures such as George Bernard Shaw and Lady Astor. Queen Mary, George Bernard Shaw and Lady Astor are only some of the prominent figures who have visited the Nursery in the last 104 years.

Margaret McMillan wrote many books about nursery education. She gave many speeches about the needs of the poorest children in society and the value of nursery education. By the end of the First World War, Margaret was considered an expert in nursey education. When she died in 1931, she had established a philosophy of nursery education and nursery schools as open air institutions that continues to influence practice today.

After her death her friend Walter Cresswell wrote a memoir of both the McMillan sisters:

Such persons, single-minded, pure in heart, blazing with selfless love,
are the jewels of our species….

We are exceptionally proud to be a part of such an illustrious history and take very seriously our duty to both honour what the McMillan sisters started but to also acknowledge their pioneering spirit in our responsibility to continue developing our own knowledge and skills as well as campaigning for the rights of young children.