The first part of the school was erected in 1855 by John Clayfield for Robert Bell, teacher. An extension of three terrace houses to the west was built in1858 and a further extension to the east was completed in 1865. By 1867 James Conly, teacher, owned all five buildings. He sold them to the Education Department in 1873 and the school was then called State School No 111. In 1911 part of the school moved across the road and became the Fitzroy Girl’s School, currently the Exhibition High School. The remaining part was converted in 1913 into Special School No 3842 and this was the first special school for handicapped children in Victoria; Stanley Porteous was the first headmaster. (National Heritage Database).
It is fascinating to read an article in the Age from Saturday 6 April 1935, called ‘Re-living the Early Days’ and to switch into the reminiscences of people looking back 35 years to the turn of the century. On the Bell St State School, it is written:
I attended Bell-street when quite a small boy, and later on the night school. I remember the teachers mentioned and Miss King, Mr Mountain and Mr. Duff were two splendid men and teachers. I still have a prize given to me by Mr. Chambers, a friend of theirs who took an interest in the school. Authored by ‘B.C.’
Another writer, who is reminiscing about a time earlier, maybe 1880s-90s states: As to Bell-street school, I think I must as a scholar have attended the school ten years earlier than your correspondent. In those days it was a great school and the head teacher was Mr. Conly. There is a stone to his memory in Melbourne cemetery (Carlton), erected by former pupils. He was a genial mean and he lived in a house with a garden adjoining the school. I sometimes saw him and his littler daughters walking in their garden. I think two of those daughters became talented musicians.
Sergeant Whitehead drilled us boys. I saw him nearly twenty years later drilling the boys of Carlton College in Royal Park. The fine old man did not seem to be a day older. Carlton College used to be in what was originally Wolf’s Hotel, Nicholson-street. The teachers that I remember at Bell-street were Mr. Murray and T. Kneen. We were well grounded and our reading books were the Royal Readers, which furnished our minds with poetry, prose and economics, the memories of which still remain. Jack Blackham, the great wicketkeeper, was the great sport of Bell-street at that time. Authored by ‘Arthur Collier’.
In 1919 there was an outbreak of influenza at the beginning of the year. The Health Committee set up an inoculation centre at the Town Hall and in anticipation of great demand, worked to convert the Bell Street School into ‘a perfect little hospital’. The annual report then goes on to quote F W W Morton, Health Officer “Fortunately for the community the worst of the epidemic was over by the time the hospital was completed, but of course no one could anticipate that. Had it been opened at an earlier date, several lives would have been saved. In the earlier stages of the epidemic it took days to get the worst cases into a hospital owing to want of beds, and very often it was then too late, as the patients were in a dying condition when accommodation was at last found for them” (Fitzroy City Press, 4 Jun 1920)
In 1944 the westernmost terrace house was demolished and the two remaining two-storey bluestone terrace houses are mainly as originally designed and have an unusual cantilevered ground floor front verandah roof. Both the 1855 and 1865 buildings on the Bell Street/John Street corner have been considerably altered (including two new linking front facades). Classified: 05/07/1979 (National Trust)