The Nursery School

Shelagh Ryan

When the school opened in 1869, any child, so long as it was mobile and potty trained, was admitted. Under 5’s were excluded in 1916 and no provision seems to have been made for pre-school education after then.

Some time in 1965, Joan Cheeseman, an ex nursery nurse was having coffee with some friends who also had pre-school children. They were all bemoaning the dire lack of nursery facilities. Gradually they realised, in the best Hollywood musical traditions that ‘why we could do that right here!’ The Hertford Nursery School Voluntary Committee was formed with Val and Brian Patient, Shirley and Colin Donaldson, Valerie Heaps (Treasurer) and Bill Hunter (Chairman). The nearest premises they could find were an old maltings in West Street, Hertford.

They were not ideal. Everything had to be put away at the end of each morning session, the toilets were a long way off, nothing could be put up on the walls and there were rats. There is still a rat in the Nursery, but now it is kept as a pet. Mrs Muriel Sherman was the first teacher with Mrs Ann Hunter as her assistant. Like the rat, Mrs Hunter is still there! The council paid half the staff wages, but the parents had to meet all other expenses.

Two years of intensive fund raising followed, not just to keep the nursery going but also to provide enough money for a purpose built school in Bengeo. On October 2nd 1970, the dream came true when Renee Short MP opened the new building.

David Kirby had been employed as the architect, but the building was designed as much as possible by the staff themselves. It cost £5,000 – more than all three of the original schools put together. There was room for 40 children in each session and at first it was held every morning by Mrs Warme and for two afternoons a week by Mrs Hill, who later took over as head of the whole nursery. It continued as an independent nursery for a while longer until in January 1972 it was formally taken over by the Infant school. That was the kiss of death to the structure. The ‘Bengeo School Curse’ struck almost immediately as the roof flooded, the floor lifted and the heating went on strike. Notwithstanding all this, they still had their Christmas parties in December and Mr Harris, Head of the Junior school sized up his future pupils from within a Father Christmas outfit.

The flat roof actually lasted well past the usual life of these things. It was to be ten years before it gave any more trouble. In 1974, despite re-roofing, it leaked again, ruining the carpet. The Parents Association bought new carpets and cushions but the repairs meant that the building was closed for a few weeks. The morning nursery camped out in the clinic, but the afternoon session was cancelled altogether as the class was too big.

Most children are attracted to animals and having pets in the classroom has always been a feature of the Infants school. In 1973, an incubator was fitted up in the Nursery and some chicks hatched out. The experiment was repeated the following years but abandoned in 1976 when only 3 chicks hatched out whole and healthy. However, not all the animals were there by invitation only! In 1978 some field mice took up residence in the building. According to Mrs Outlaw, the EHDC dealt with the matter. I can’t resist the picture of all our district councillors on their knees tempting the mice out with little bits of cheese.

Every year the morning nursery puts on a nativity play and 1984 was no exception. That year the festivities had an extra purpose. Just as the Infants of 1916 had been moved by the plight of the starving Belgian children, so the children of 1984 felt for the Ethiopians. Many of the children called them ‘Eefpeepeopians’ but that did not stop them raising £150 from their play and from the sale of cardboard Easter eggs the following year.

In December 1986, Mrs Hill retired due to ill health and Mrs Deirdre Bastable from Mill mead nursery took over.

Thanks to the hard work of the pioneers of the Nursery school and the dedication of the staff, the children of Bengeo continue to get as good a start as possible to their school career.

This page was added on 16/12/2023.

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