The Austrian Anschluss in March 1938 and the crisis over Czechoslovakia brought fears of a European war. This stimulated British preparations for the evacuation of school children, pregnant mothers and the infirm from towns and cities which were considered likely to be bombed1. The country was divided into three categories – evacuation areas, mainly large towns; countryside reception areas and neutral areas which would neither be evacuated nor receive evacuees. These plans were put on hold after the Munich Agreement on 30th September 1938.
On 31st August 1939 as war irrevokably loomed and amid fears that London would be bombed, an evacuation order was issued for the next day putting these plans into action. In the first few days of September many school children were evacuated from London. Parents took their children to their schools with a gas mask, a packed lunch and a suitcase of clothes and possibly a few toys. They were sent away to somewhere in the country. Hertfordshire was considered an ideal area for children to be evacuated since it was considered far enough away from London to be unaffected by any bombing.
A number of schools were evacuated to Hertford.
Battersea Boys’ Grammar School
Battersea Boys’ Grammar School was evacuated initially to Worthing and accommodated by Worthing Grammar School. In the middle of 1940 after the fall of France, Worthing was considered too close to the front line and so the school was moved again, this time to Hertford. It shared, double shift, with Hertford Grammar School. One school would work mornings (9am – 1pm) with the other school working from 1:15 pm until 5:15 pm. The shifts would be reveresed the following week, and so on.
The school stayed in Herford until the end of the war when it returned to Abbotswood Road, Streatham where it had been housed since September 1936.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, that one of the Battersea Grammar School boys who was on the roof of the British Restaurant (opened in early May 1941) in Fore Street, fell through the roof and landed right in between the coppers. Instead of landing on the boiling potatoes or boiling cabbage, he landed in between. The asbestos sheeting roof had given way.
Belmont Road School
Belmont Road School was evacuated to Hertford before war was declared. Joan2 who was 11 in July 1939 was about to go to senior school and particulalry looking forward to going into the Guides from the Brownies. Joan’s mum took Joan & her sister to school on Friday 1st September with a suitcase and along with the rest of her school Joan was taken to Hornsey Station and transported to Hertford.
“You know you’re sort of living in little world of your own when all this is happening and you’re not sure what’s happening. I just knew I was with my sister who was 18 months younger than me. And, and we eventually, I don’t remember arriving at a station but I do remember being on Hartham Common.”2
The children walked from Hertford North station to the church hall in Duncombe Road where they were assigned a billet. Joan and her sister were taken in by a lady and her brother who lived in Duncombe Road. Joan’s mum & grandparents visited on the following Sunday. Joan enjoyed being an evacuee for the freedom and the countryside but not for the people. As Joan moved around, she thought that there was a lack of interest in her from the people she was billeted with.
Joan’s younger sister went to Bengeo Girls’ . Joan may have gone briefly to Bengeo Girls’ but soon along with around half-a-dozen other girls, she went to Ware Grammar School. For some time they were wearing the uniform of the school they were expecting to go to in North London (County School.)
The younger children probably all went to Bengeo. Certainly three teachers who had been evacuated with the children were billeted at 21, Trinity Grove in September 1939. They were Mabel Lilian Eustace (aged 54) and born in Edmonton; Kathleen C Harris (30) who was married; Barbara M Smith (Shapland) (29).
The older boys went to share with Cowper School at the Longmore building3 using a double shift system with one school working from 9 am -1 pm and the other working from 1:15 pm – 5:15 pm. By 30th October schooling at Longmore was back to normal as Belmont Boys were now housed in the Cowper School building on London Road.
Some of the older girls went to Port Vale Girls’ School with the more academic, like Joan, attending Ware Girls’ Grammar School. The infants were taught in the Church Hall in Duncombe Road.
Miss Coffin was appointed as Assistant Mistress on the Staff when Port Vale School re-opened on 20th September. She may well have come with the Belmont children. She resigned her post at the end of the summer term in 1940 and returned to Yeovil, her home town.
The records show that there were 26 evacuees at Port Vale Girls’ School in September 1939. Twelve of these children were described as attached (presumably Belmont Girls) On 28th, Mr Jeffries, HMI, visited the school to record the number of official and unofficial evacuees.
On 18th October a set of dual locker desks, seven chairs, & a teacher’s table were delivered to the Infant Department of Cowbridge School. The old furniture was loaned to Bengeo Parish Hall to be used by children from Belmont Road Infants’ School.
On 9th April, 1940 those girls who went to Port Vale Girls’ School and were still there, were added to Hertfordshire Registers.
At various times the Tottenham Nurse visited Port Vale School to inspect the girls attending the school from that district whilst on 28th April 1941Dr Karpati medically examined the evacuees.
The children did not necessarily stay in the same billet all the time they were evacuees. As well as a number of houses in Bengeo, including Duncombe Road, Fanshawe Street, Joan lived in Gallows Hill, Cromwell Road and Hertingfordbury Road.
By March 1940, so many of the Belmont Road boy pupils had returned home that those who remained, 28 in number, became part of the Cowper/Longmore School together with two members of staff Messrs D. V. Gardner and H. J. Bull: Mr Gardener returned to Tottenham after a week or so.3
In the new year the number remaining from Belmont Road decreased steadily – it was down to 11 by September 1941. As the new school year started these children were incorporated into the Cowper School register.3
There must have been a nursery school for evacuees as on 9th May 1941, “Miss Lloyd-Davis (W.V.S) brought large quantities of towelling to Port Vale Girls’ School, with a request for it to be made up into small towels for Nursery Centre for Evacuee children. This work was done by Forms Ia & IIa.”
Joan stayed on in 1945 because she was in the sixth form and didn’t want to move as she was happy and knew the girls and teachers at Ware Grammar. She completed her education here.
The Jewish Orphanage building stood on Knights Hill, Norwood, London, S.E. 27. The school began in 1795 in Mile End as a small boarding school for poor Jewish (Ashkenazi) children. Having expanded its number of children along with its remit the school moved to Norwood in 1866. It was renamed the Jewish Orphanage in 1928.
On Friday, 1st September, 1939 the children were evacuated to Worthing by train.4
After the fall of France (on 22nd June 1940) Worthing was considered too near the front line and the children were moved at the end of July 1940 to Hertford in a fleet of buses.4
After one week the older children started to share Longmore School the two schools working on a double-shift system alternating by the week, 9 am – 12.45 pm and 1 – 5 pm. The younger children shared with All Saints’ Junior and Infants’ Schools.
In the early hours of 11th October 1940 two bombs did considerable damage to the Longmore School, making the buildings unusable. For the next week staff and boys salvaged as much as possible (60%) from the ruins and transferred it to the Cowper building to which the school now had to return. Each morning a roll was called. Prayers and hymns were followed by an hour of general instruction. Attendance was voluntary but excellent.4
All Saints Infants’ Building was also damaged.
Most of the Jewish Orphanage children were moved into the Cowbridge building although some remained sharing with All Saints’ Juniors. Shortly before this incident, the Cowbridge children had been moved to share with the senior girls at Port Vale.
The managers gave approval to arrangements which had been made for the use of All Saints’ JM School on Sunday mornings for the purpose of Sunday Religious Classes for the Jewish Orphanage Children.
After the brief summer holiday (29th July – 9th August) in 1940, 18 boys from the Dr Barnado’s home at Bayfordbury joined Cowper School. Their stay only lasted for the autumn term and they did not return to the school in the new year.
Evacuees in General
As well as the evacuated schools there were unofficial evacuees especially at the beginning of the war when people were worried about aerial attacks on London. In September 1939 Port Vale admitted 13 “unattached” children (presumably sent by their parents and not with a school) and one girl from Portsmouth. Throughout the war the number of evacuees varied. In July 1943, six girls from Eastbourne were admitted to Longmore Girls’ School. By April 1945 there were still seven evacuees recorded at Cowper School.
During holidays activity centres for evacuees were opened at various schools, e.g. at Easter 1940, holiday activities were organised at Cowper School with Mr. JH Bull (Belmont School) in charge. Also during the four weeks of summer holiday in 1941 a play centre for evacuee children was held from 10am to 12noon at Port Vale. Two of the teachers were on duty each day.
- Publid information leaflet, number 3, “Evacuation, Why and How” issued from the Lord Privey Seal’s Office in July 1939 contains a list of “evacuable areas” which includes Tottenham, Middlesex. It contains the rider “In some of these places only certain areas will be evacuated. Evacuation may be effected from a few other areas in addition to the above, of which notice will be given, cf. Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, D/EHx 230/4. A detailed timetable of events, references and some of the problems are to be found in “The evacuation of children from the county of London during the Second World War 1939-1945” Metropolitan Archives Information Leaflet 32, cf. https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/visitor-information/Documents/32-the-evacuation-of-children-from-the-county-of-london-during-the-second-world-war.pdf
- Hertford Oral History Group, O2014.5 recording, with transcript Joan on Hertford Mueum website.
- The Cowper School Hertford, A History of the School by Len Green, Hertford and Ware Local History Society Occasional paper No. 3, 1992.
- Reminiscences of A Norwood Boy: (1935-1943) by David Golding,ISBN 10: 1898772002 ISBN 13: 9781898772002