Cowbridge School under Edith Bradbeer, part 1

1923 - 1929

By Geoffrey Cordingley

Cowbridge School from Dimsdale Sreet, 2013

Edith Bradbeer became head of Cowbridge Girls’ School on 4th September, 1923.  Mr William Graveson, head of the board of governors, was present and spoke to the children, presumably to introduce Miss Bradbeer.  On the day she took up her appointment there were 126 children “on the books” with 120 present.

At that time the school was split into two departments, Girls and Infants with the Standard I (Current Year 3) children taught with the Infants.  From July 1924 until April 1928 the Standard children were taught with year groups together, i.e. I & II; III & IV; V – VII and the Infants in two groups.  A teacher had been moved to Port Vale Boys’ School in December 1927 so by April the following year Standard I was again taught with the Infants. This situation continued until the end of November 1930 when Standards I & II were again taught together as an extra teacher had been granted to the school.

When she arrived at the school Miss Bradbeer does not seem to have approved of the state of the school.  Of course the building was by now 60 years old and appears to have been showing its age.  On the 21st September, the County Council Surveyor visited the school accompanied by Mr Graveson and agreed that certain repairs to the building should be carried out at once although these repairs were not detailed.  There is also reference to repairs in September, 1924 with the workmen still engaged in repairs to the playground wall in early November.

Miss Bradbeer had already recorded in detail what she considered to be the inadequacies in equipment which included no ink well tray, ink bottle, blotting paper & pens.  The number of ink wells was considered insufficient.  There were no door mats or towels.  The blackboards all needed renovating.  Further it was the custom for children to provide their own pens, pencils, India rubber and thimbles which they then took home, together with their exercise books each afternoon.  Presumably the children were reliable in bringing the books in each morning!

In November 1923, specimen for the beginning of a school museum were placed in the cupboard – with glass doors – in the main room presumably so the senior girls could see them.

At the beginning of the new term in September, 1924 Miss Bradbeer was most put out.  She found it necessary to give out new exercise books – arithmetic & composition – to every girl in classes two & three.  The teachers, according to the custom in the school & without consulting her, had destroyed all these books at the end of the previous year.  Sending the books home was clearly not an option. Presumably Miss Bradbeer was unhappy since she would have expected them to be continued into the new year and it would cost the school to replace the books.

When a teacher was absent the class was often taken by a monitor in training under the supervision of a teacher although there are occasional references to supply teachers usually for longer periods of absence.

By 1923 attendance is recorded as a percentage as well as the actual number.  It tends to be in the mid-90s and then drops to 91.88% at the beginning of November and is in the upper 80s in December.  By January, 1924 it was down to the mid-70s.  There were the usual reasons for such poor attendance, e.g. colds, sore throats & measles.  One more unusual reason was one of the teachers unable to cycle from Brickendon because of the state of the roads (in snowy weather).  This poor attendance because of illness continued at least until mid-February.  Miss Bradbeer herself was ill from the middle of February until 3rd June, initially with influenza, but presumably this developed into something even more serious perhaps pneumonia, or there were side effects to keep her off school for so long.  In amongst these attendance problems came a visit from the school inspector, E.J.D. Bloom who only spent half an hour in the school on Thursday, 10th January, 1924.

In July, 1924 there was some good news on the sporting front as the girls won the sports shield ahead of Rye Park, (31 points to 26.)  The school was closed for the day so that the children could take part in the competition.  It doesn’t state where the event took place but some schools’ sports teams would have to travelling some distance and they would have to travel by bus or train.  In November, 1924 a jumble sale was held in aid of the Sport’s Fund.  £4.4.0 was raised of which 10s was given to Port Vale School for its sport’s fund.

Advert for British Empire Exhibition

Advert for British Empire Exhibition

British Empire Exhibition

On 4th July, 1924 a monitor in training went with her father to visit the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.  This was presumably an exploratory visit on behalf of the school, since on Tuesday, 22nd July, two teachers and another adult took 16 girls by bus to the exhibition.  At the same time Mr. Turpin along with another teacher took 25 boys from Port Vale School.  This must have been an exciting visit especially as many of the children would probably have been no further than the environs of Hertford.  It would also have been tiring as they left at 9a.m. and did not return until 8.10p.m.

The exhibition was a major event in the life of the country.  There had been talk of such an exhibition since the early part of the 20th Century but various wars, the Russo-Japanese conflict in 1904 and The Great War had delayed the event.  By 1919 the idea was resurrected and 1921 was selected as the year for the exhibition.  This was delayed to 1923 and the opening was performed by King George V and Queen Mary on St. George’s Day, 23rd April, 1924 after £2,200,000 had been raised, (half of this by the Government.)  It had the aims of identifying the exploitation of the raw materials of the Empire; to foster imperial trade; to open new markets for British and Dominion products; and foster interaction between the different cultures and peoples of the Empire.

On 11th November, 1924 there was an assembly starting at 10.55am with the hymn “Oh God our help in Ages Past” followed by the Lord’s Prayer, two minutes silence, Kipling’s Recessional (including the refrain “Lest We Forget” which became linked with Remembrance Services and was used on memorials and became used as an epitaph) and two further hymns.

On 13th March, 1925 the school library was opened.

 A Flag Pole is Erected

On 8th April, 1925 the Mayor, Alderman J. Wren and the County Surveyor, Mr Gordon came to decide where in the playground a flagstaff should be erected.  The erection took place during the subsequent Easter holiday.  Thus on St. George’s Day, the Mayor & Mayoress (Alderman & Mrs Wren) accompanied by members of the Corporation came to the school at 10.40.  The children were assembled in the Playground.  The Mayor first spoke to the children, then hoisted the Flag after which the children saluted the Flag, sang two verses of the National Anthem and gave three cheers to the Mayor & Mayoress & Corporation and a further three to Capt. Thompson the donor of the Flag & Flagstaff.  The Mayor & party had time to spare before passing on to Port Vale School, so the children marched into school & the visitors came in to listen to some singing.  As a reward the children had a longer play (20 minutes) after the visitors left.

 Empire Day

Towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign the idea of an Empire Day was proposed when children might be reminded of the glorious Empire, to think of others across the sea and that such an empire would depend upon them in the future.  However the first Empire Day was not celebrated until 24th May (Queen Victoria’s birthday) 1902, a year after her death.  Some schools celebrated it but it did not become an official annual event until 1916.  At Cowbridge Empire Day was not recorded as a big occasion until the 20’s although it is likely that the children were given a half-holiday as mentioned in 1914 when they were given Friday afternoon off because the date fell on the following Sunday.

On 22nd May, 1925, it was recorded that Empire Day was being celebrated.  During the first part of the morning lessons on the Empire were given in all classes & Empire Day songs were sung.  At 11.10 the whole school (girls and infants) were lined up in the playground ready to march to the Castle Grounds where all schools were to be assembled by 11.30.  The children marched in fours & were in their places by 11.25.  Kipling’s “Children’s Song” (3 verses), “England” by Parry, & Hymn 165 were sung by all schools after one verse of the National Anthem.  The Mayor, Alderman J Wren spoke to the children.  Whilst the special lessons and songs were the usual way to spend Empire Day morning this is the only mention of all the schools getting together in such a celebration. As was customary the children were then given a half holiday in the afternoon.

John Kemp who was a pupil at the school in the 30s remembers that the children were given a badge to commemorate Empire Day.

In 1939 although the usual Empire Day talks were given on 25th May there was no singing of songs just the National Anthem at the lunchtime close of school followed by the usual half holiday.  The school at the time was being assailed by whooping cough and scarlet fever and so the attendance was poor.


On 3rd July, 1925 the children visited Chadwell Springs where the New River opened in 1613 originally started, as part of their Geography lesson.

In July 1925, the older girls, (Class 1) spent an hour visiting the art exhibition held by Hertfordshire Art Society at Shire Hall.

The Christmas “Breaking-up Party” seems to have been more elaborate than usual in December 1925.  It was held on 22nd December from 4 – 7.15p.m. The children gave a little concert after tea.  An hour’s entertainment by a conjurer & ventriloquist followed.  Five of the managers were present & there were 14 other visitors.


In 1926 the General Strike had only a limited effect on the school since two girls could not get from Cole Green presumably because the bus was not running.

On 16th July 1926, the school was closed on account of an agricultural show being held on Hartham Common.

In the Twenties there is mention of children being away from school because of parents’ holidays so this phenomenon is not just a modern problem!

The HMI report of the inspection on 20th September 1926 was encouraging.  It acknowledges the long illness of Miss Bradbeer in 1925 stating that the report of February that year was held over.  This report notes that there has been a marked improvement since that time especially in the top two groups where industry and tone were now praiseworthy.  It went on to say that the academic work, although not yet reaching a very high standard, had been raised.  Of the fundamental subjects Reading was good but Composition & Arithmetic were only fair.  The girls showed some knowledge of their History & Geography lessons but the facts were disconnected & the answering was confined to only a few girls.  The children promoted from the lower standards were apparently backward in the fundamentals & the weakness at the bottom of the School must be made good before a proper standard of attainment can be expected elsewhere. It recommended that the Infants’ teachers visit suitable schools in the neighbourhood in order to widen their knowledge of modern teaching methods.  Perhaps this is why one of the infant teachers visited a junior mixed school in Hatfield in December.

Castle Street Police Station building in 2014

Castle Street Police Station building in 2014


In February, 1927 Miss Bradbeer went to the police station (then in Castle Street) to complain about certain lads who were causing trouble in the playground at lunchtime and after school and had shown some defiance.  There was no further problems after a sergeant had visited and talked to their parents.

16th March, 1927 the top class accompanied by the Headmistress & the Monitor-in-training, attended at the Corn Exchange (3.10 – 5.10 p.m.) & saw “The Taming of the Shrew” performed by Andrew McMaster’s company.  Permission had been given by the Herts County Council & His Majesty’s Inspectors.

In April, 1927 two unfortunate incidents occurred.  The first was an accident to a girl from Class II who fell when practising jumping in the playground.  The school rule was that door mats were to be used whilst the girls were engaged in such activity but the class teacher had stopped the girls using one since it had just returned from being mended and she wanted it to last as long as possible (!) although she had also told them not to jump high.  Miss Bradbeer had not known of the accident until she spoke with the child’s mother on Saturday in the town.  At Miss Bradbeer’s suggestion the mother called the nurse and doctor and the girl was admitted to hospital and immediately had an operation during which a piece of diseased bone was removed.  The surgeon told Miss Bradbeer that the fall could not have caused this disease so perhaps the accident was fortuitous.

The second incident was one of theft.  Miss Bradbeer discovered that her purse was missing from her bag.  This was the third recent incident so Miss Bradbeer called at the police station and a police constable placed three marked pennies in one of the teacher’s desks in the infant department.  These were later found in the possession of an eleven year old girl who also admitted taking the purse belonging to a woman who was shopping in the Demonstration Shop on Mill Bridge on Friday afternoon, and a pair of slippers from Hilton’s Boot Shop in Railway Street.  Miss Bradbeer left the  matter in the hands of the police.

Later that month, during the Easter holiday, a shelter was erected in the playground, presumably for children to sit in.  This had been approved by the managers two years previously!  The clerk of the managers noted that this was a good beginning and should be developed.  Although there is no indication that any thing further happened.

Miss Bradbeer must have been pleased when she heard at the beginning of the summer term that a fourteen year old girl had passed the accountancy examination for the Great Northern Railway and was to start a job with the company at the beginning of May.

In early June attendance was low resulting from children being attracted to the Fair at Hartham Common as well as seven long term illnesses.

In December two teachers were loaned to St Andrew’s School to help the headmistress as she could not obtain the services of a supply teacher.

In the last school week in December, the Infant children had a Christmas party on the Tuesday.  After tea the children were given presents from the tree as well as crackers and oranges and went home apparently feeling very happy at 5.30pm.  The Girls Breaking-up Party followed on the Thursday.  This was attended  by four managers including Mr Graveson, the Chairman.  After tea the girls gave a short concert after which there were various speeches and votes of three cheers for the headmistress and teachers as well as the managers who left at 5.30pm.  The girls then played games in their rooms for a further, happy hour before going home.


Attendance was poor in the middle of March, 1928 because of snow and several cases of measles.  The latter turned into an epidemic and by 31st March attendance was down to 78.2%.  Measles continued to affect the attendance after the Easter holiday.

Miss Bradbeer attended a refresher course for teachers at Hoddesdon from 22nd to 28th March.

Now the girls’ netball seems to have been organised on a competitive basis1 as Cowbridge team beat Ware St Mary’s 11 – 7 in the semi-final but unfortunately lost the final 12 – 9 to Rye Park, having fought back from 1 – 8 at half-time.

In late June, the girls of the first class, with the headmistress, saw Ben Greet’s2 performance of “Love’s Labour Lost” in the Castle Grounds on Wednesday afternoon, (beginning at 3 o’clock).  The company returned in March 1931 and gave a performance of Hamlet at The Corn Exchange which eleven girls from the first class and a teacher attended.

In early September, 1928 improvements were made to the lower playground, presumably the one created in 1914, with big stones, grass and weeds removed.  It was then laid with gravel which was rolled.

Later that month, the girls of the first class not at cookery attended a lecture arranged by The Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis at St Nicholas Hall in St Andrew Street.


In late January, 1929 school times were adjusted so that school finished early to allow the orphans at the school to attend a New Year’s party at The Corn Exchange.

The next unusual incident was a swan flying into the overhead wires falling on to the roof and then into the playground.  It was presumably dazed and had to be chased down Dimsdale Street and so to the river by two policeman, presumably a comical scene.

In late June, 1929 two students from Hockerill Teacher Training Collegecame to the school for a three week teaching practice.  They taught Standards II & III.  A further four students also completed three weeks practice in June 1931.  This seems to have now become a yearly activity since three more student teachers came for their three weeks teaching at the end of June 1932.

Howard Park, Letchworth

Howard Park, Letchworth

For some reason on 27th July, Queen Mary gave all schools a half holiday.  Cowbridge School celebrated its holiday by having a School Outing.  They left school at 2 o’clock & went via Ware, Buntingford, Clothall & Baldock to Letchworth where they had tea & visited the Museum.  Then they returned through Hitchin, Stevenage & Watton & reached home at seven o’clock.  This was certainly an adventure and presumably they took their tea with them!  Perhaps they ate it in Howard Park.

Two girls succeeded in the Scholarship Examinations and were to go to Ware Grammar School in September.

The HM Inspector visited in November and his report recorded that with the exception of some weakness in Standards II and III, the work showed definite improvement both in accuracy and neatness and the tone throughout the school had improved and was now very satisfactory.  He also records that very few children reach Standard VII.  The children could leave upon their 14th birthday and most clearly did so!


1 This may be related to the sport becoming more organised with the national organisation “England Netball” being formed in 1926.

2 Philip Barling “Ben” Greet was an actor manager whose company started staging open air performances of Shakespeare and other classical plays from 1886.  The company gave simplified productions which were in contrast to the elaborate performances fashionable at the time.  During The Great War he was director of The Old Vic theatre and made it a centre for Shakespearian productions.  Later he specialised in productions for London schools.

3 Hockerill Teacher Training College opened in 1852 and closed in the 1970s.  The site is now occupied by Hockerill Anglo-European College.

This page was added on 08/05/2014.

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