1920 -1955 The Last Days of the Old School

Shelagh Ryan

Miss Buckle retired in September 1922. The ‘flapper’ image was not for her. Until her last days at the school she wore floor length skirts and her white hair tied in a bouffant Edwardian Style. It is a sign of the high regard that all had for her that the children and staff presented her with a gold pendant and chain and the Managers and parishioners gave her a gold wristlet watch and attache case.

She was replaced by Miss Butterfield. Despite it now being 20th century, the latest state-of-the-art technology in use was still the abacus and slate. If H.M. Inspector’s is to be believed the tongue was the favourite method of cleaning said slates!

Three things of note happened during Miss Butterfield’s reign. Firstly, every Wednesday afternoon during July, mothers were invited into school to see the handiwork and watch the dancing. As the room was not that big, even without the now demolished gallery, and as half of it was taken up with benches and desks, the dancing cannot have been too energetic!

A large flag pole with a Unoin Jack at the top and a small boy at the bottom who has just hoisted the flag. Lots of people in the distance watchingThen in April 1925, the Mayor obtained flags and flagpoles for every school in the Borough. Sir Charles Longmore KCG paid for Bengeo’s flagpole and it was erected in the Boys’ School playground. On April 23rd the Mayor came and ceremoniously unfurled the flag. Al three schools were gathered to watch, salute the flag and sing the National Anthem. After that they gave three cheers for the King, the Mayor and Mayoress and Sir Charles and Lady Longmore.

The last bit of excitement for the children involved a trip out to Hertford Castle. When Princess Mary had married in 1922, the borough had sent a loyal address to the King and had received back a letter demanding to know by what right Hertford styled itself a Royal Borough. Hasty searches of the records were made and the Royal status confirmed. To celebrate , a ceremony was held in the Castle Grounds when a new standard was formally handed over to the Mayor, J Wren.

Miss Butterfield left in April 1927 clutching a new handbag and Miss F.W. Walker took over. Later her sister also came to the school as a teacher and one of the abiding memories of Mrs Pat Saunders if of the two Miss Walkers patrolling the playground A cup of steaming coffee with a smiling face on a saucer. Two biscuits also on the saucer.at playtime with two Rich Tea biscuits in the saucers of their coffee cups. One of the Miss Walkers later married Mr. Peat, the school attendance officer who used to cover his ‘beat’ on a large motorbike.

Miss Walker was something of a new broom. In came 6 Kindergarten tables and 12 small chairs. Out went the antiquated dilapidated Sovereign readers and in came Chambers Phonic Infants Primers. Bulbs were planted in bowls. The Inspector remarked on her efforts to make the schoolroom more attractive. When the weather was hot, classes were taken in the Playground and, in September 1928, the school was redecorated seemingly for the first time.

There were now 60 children in the school. Miss Walker was worried that the newer smaller children would get knocked over in the playground so she experimented with split playgrounds. It meant Class 2 having to abandon a lesson half way through and finish after playtime. She or not this experiment was a success. When the Inspector came the children laid on a few demonstrations for him. Class 1 cut out toys from wallpaper to demonstrate free cutting and colouring. The girls showed their knitting. Class 2 ‘expressed’ their story, Sleeping Beauty, in plasticine and the lower division, the babies, threaded beads. For an encore Class 1 wrote sentences about a cat or a dog.

The children were invited to the cinema at Mayor Keble’s expense to celebrate the wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece in November 1934. There was more excitement the following May when Sir Lionel and Lady Faudel-Phillips invited the children to tea at Balls Park to celebrate King George V’s Silver Jubilee.

I was not all gaiety. In February 1935 Lady Longmore died. She had for a long time been a school manager and visited the school often supplying the girls with materials and thimbles for their sewing and turning up nearly every Christmas with toys and oranges fro them. She was greatly missed. In May 1936 another school manager, the Rev. G Walmsby died. He was the vicar of Christchurch and a foundation manager of the schools.

On September 3rd 1939, was was declared. The school which would have re-opened after the summer holidays on the 4th was kept shut. It finally re-opened on the 18th but only on a part time basis. Belmont school from Tottenham was evacuated to Bengeo and for a month Bengeo children attended school in the morning, Belmont in the afternoon. In October, the Belmont children moved into the Parish Hall for their lessons and full time school was resumed. Gradually, as the air raids did not appear, many evacuees drifted back home and those that were left were absorbed into the school.

Whoever had the bright idea that Hertford was a safe place to send evacuees was not thinking straight. Hertford Council, in 1939, when war looked imminent, warned the War Department that in their opinion it was not a safe place. They were ignored. In the event, Hertford and Bengeo did not suffer too much damage but after the war someone totted up the number of bombs that had fallen in each county. Guess which county came top of the table?

There was a lot of confusion in early 1940 as the war really got under way. The school closed then opened , met for a short time, met as usual. Registers were marked or not marked ‘due to war difficulties’. Gas masks were issued, but the filters arrived separately some time later. Fire fighting equipment was sent to the Boys’ and Girls’ school but not to the Infants.

Confusion reigned:

July 26th 1940 – closed for summer holiday

August 12th – reopened

August 23rd – closed

small boy in gas mask waering shorts with his hands up standing in front of a pair of legs ina dress. Thee is a girl to the left of the boy also wearing a gas mask with her hands up.

Sept 2nd – opened

Sept 4th – closed

Sept 16th – re-opened with 22 out of the 50 children present. The poor souls were probabaly so confused they did not know if they were coming or going. The saga continued …

Sept 25th – closed. Unexploded bomb at Ware Park.

Sept 26th/27th – still closed

Oct 11th – opened at 10.00 instead of 9.00 due to air raids.

Oct 14th – closed in the morning due to air raid.

Oct 21st – raid 11.05 to 1.10. Bomb dropped in Duncombe Road and in Gosselin Road. School closed.

Oct 25th – sirens at 1.25. No children arrived for afternoon session. (No school dinners in those days)

What a way to run a school!

And when things did get back to some semblance of order in 1941, a measles epidemic halved the attendance. If the sirens went off when the children were at school they either went to the shelters in the playground or, if it looked like being a long raid, were sent home in groups with any adults Miss Walker could find. This did not stop some mothers rushing to the school as soon as the sirens sounded to take their children home, a practice the school tried to discourage.

In 1942 there were few changes. Numbers had gone up to 84; 70 Bengeo children and 14 evacuees and the middle class moved to the Parish Hall.

In September school dinners were supplied for the first time, the meals coming form a central depot in Hertford. Only 12 children took up the offer, 2 of them evacuees. By 1944 there were only 2 evacuees left in the infant school so the LCC reclaimed the tables, chairs and piano loaned to the school in 1939.

Everybody did their bit to help the war effort. The children embarked on a book drive to collect as many books as they could to replace stock in damaged libraries and to send to the troops. They collected 1000 books in a fortnight and badges donating ‘rank’ were given to the children:

1 General – 150 books

3 Captains – 50 books

17 Sergeants – 20 books

24 Privates – 1to 20 books

There can hardly have been a book left in Bengeo!

Despite the bombs that fell all around, the schools suffered only one bomb damage. In January 1945 blast from a bomb broke two windows in the Boys school and cracked a ceiling in the Girls school. When the war ended in May, there were none of the extravagant celebrations that had followed the 1914/18 war. The children just had two days off school. But Bengeo itself celebrated with bonfires and dancing in the street. Mr Saggers floodlit the Water Tower from his garden in The Drive. In July, Mrs Johnson took over as head teacher.

Like her predecessors, Mrs Johnson at once set about making her mark on the school, trying to improve the conditions for the children. Her first campaign was against the old fashioned desks. Everyone who visited the school was informed of their unsuitability: H.M. Inspector; Major Woodhouse of the school managers; even the Handwork Organiser. To further the point she laid on a dancing lesson for the Inspector to show him just how unsuitable the furniture was! A vision of lots of little infants dancing on the tabletops a la Busby Berkely springs to mind.Six children dancing on a table top with two other children sitting on it. Also a boy on the left of the table with his head leaning on it and two children hiding under the table. All this is watched by an inspector and a teacher.

Her campaign paid off. 1947 saw a succession of goodies arrive: a basin plumbed in with cold and hot water, percussion instruments, a wireless set, library books and finally, one year after the original request, NEW FURNITURE. Gas heaters were installed instead of the old stove and in October 1948, an entertainer visited the school. Mrs Johnson was determined to bring the school into the 20th century.

However, some of the innovations proved to be a mixed blessing. The children had to be warned away from the gas heaters, the playground benches were a rich source of splinters and the climbing frame kept the local casualty department busy. 1951 to 1953 must have tried the patience of a saint. The problem was the age old one of too many children in too little space. The council agreed to put up a partition instead of the curtain that was used to divide the two classes physically if not audibly. The Inspector’s report in early 1951 says

‘there were two classes … each of them containing 40 children. (They) were housed in one room which was so congested that even to move from one spot to another was difficult. … Conditions … (are) about to be substantially improved by the erection of a partition. The resulting room will be very small.’

The school closed at Easter, as usual and all the furniture was stacked up ready for new partitions. When the school re-opened, they unstacked all the furniture and carried on as before … without partitions. In May, they restacked the furniture and had an extra holiday when it was finally finally put up. Mrs Johnson must have wondered if it was all worth it as child after child was sent to her with partition squashed fingers!

There was still not enough room and a third class was formed and housed in the Parish Hall. Not the answer to a harassed head teacher’s dream. The hall door was dangerous, the toilets blocked up and whenever there was an election or a Missionary Sale, the Hall was unavailable. The trip across the road was fraught with dangers. One time they were harassed by a stray dog, another time by a boy on a bicycle and the teacher often found that she had arrived with more children than she had left with! The head of a girl with two butterfly clips in her dark hair and a willow flower up her nose, trying to pull the flower out.On one memorable occasion Mrs Elliott, the teacher in charge of the third class, sent a message back via a passerby to the effect that ‘Monica had a willow flower up her nose’. During 1954 a new school was built in Sacombe Road – the nucleus of what is now the Junior School. It was decided to move the Infants in there sometime during 1955. New furniture was ordered and in a rare burst of efficiency delivered early. Half the school decamped to the Parish Hall as the schoolroom was full of furniture.

This page was added on 16/12/2023.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this page!