Education pioneer Beryl Gilroy's archive to be made public

'Rich resource' shows life of one of first black headteachers

Monday, 28th March — By Tom Foot

beryl Gilroy cammarch Image 2022-03-25 at 15.12.44

Beryl Gilroy was head at West Hampstead Primary School, formerly know as Beckford



UNPUBLISHED manuscripts by an inspirational headteacher are to be made public in a new archive obtained by the British Library.

Beryl Gilroy, who ran Beckford School in the 1970s, was one of the first black headteachers in this country.

But she was also celebrated for a large body of fiction and non-fiction about women, children and migration.

Her daughter Professor Darla-Jane Gilroy, who lives in West Hampstead, said: “Beryl Gilroy entered Britain at a moment when the stars aligned. Not only did she witness the birth of multicultural Britain, but she was also a participant.

“Through her resilience she became a role model for other women. As a gifted Froebel-trained teacher, she embraced the challenges of the multicultural classroom making a significant contribution to British education. Through her pioneering counselling work, she explored the implications and effects of human diversity.

“I am delighted that her literary archive has been acquired by the British Library and will be made available to inspire a new generation of trailblazers to forge a more equitable and socially just world.”

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the council agreed to rename Beckford School after it was found to have been named after a slave-owner who made a fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica. There were hopes it would be renamed after Ms Gilroy, but after a vote at the school the new name of West Hampstead School was chosen instead.

Ms Gilroy was born in Guyana and came to London in 1952.

The British Library has acquired her archive that includes drafts of fiction and non-fiction, letters from publishers and literary agents and a selection of books.

Her book In Praise of Love and Children is included in the handwritten manuscripts that became Sunlight on Sweet Water, a book of recollections about Ms Gilroy’s Guyanese childhood in the 1930s-40s.

There are also drafts of further unpublished works, including a book about the Gordon Riots of 1780 based on a woman named Black Harriot.

Ms Gilroy was celebrated for her 1970s Nippers children’s book series published by Macmillan and her non-fiction work on family relationships and experiences from her work as a counsellor.

Ms Gilroy’s 1976 autobiography Black Teacher was reprinted last year.

Library curator Eleanor Dickens said: “Gilroy is an important figure in so many areas – as a writer, a teacher, and a therapist – and her exceptional archive is a rich resource evidencing her life’s work.”

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