Heritage: Memories of Ardleigh Green infants school 70 years ago

Ardleigh Green Infant and Junior School. Picture: Ken Mears

Ardleigh Green Infant and Junior School. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Professor Ged Martin peers back through the mists of time to recall his first days at a Havering school

I never thought I’d become an old buffer talking about events seventy years ago. And the truth is, my memories are vague.

One summer day in 1950 my mother marched me to the local school at Ardleigh Green. I faintly recall being taken along a corridor to the reception class.

My mother often claimed that I resentfully kicked her in the shin. As it took me decades to escape from the education system, I do not feel guilty.

The infant school headteacher was a small lady called Miss Mann. There are playgrounds at either end of the school. Miss Mann had Victorian principles: boys cavorted in one playground, girls paraded in the other.

She soon retired. Her successor was the large and jolly Miss Bush. Year One now mixed in one playground, Year Two in the other, boys and girls together. Shocking!

In Year One we were issued with bead mats and told to lie down for an afternoon nap. I revived this civilized custom in later years.

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I owe a huge debt to the teachers through my six years at Ardleigh Green, infants and juniors. They taught me to chant the twelve times table, to read, write and spell. I still remember being gently told, aged about six, that there is only one R in “father” but three Es in “cheese”.

Giving children individual attention was a challenge: there were 48 in my class.

The memory of one classroom crisis still freezes my blood. A nice girl answered a geography question, saying Eskimos lived in the Ar-tick. The teacher went crazy, shouting ArK-tic, ArK-tic.

I’ve never dared repeat that mistake.

The junior school headteacher was Mr Prys Rees, a short, sparkling Welshman. We had many Welsh teachers (the alternative back home was coal-mining). They liked the Romford area because teachers were paid an additional London Allowance, but we had much lower housing costs.

We walked to and from school without supervision. Ardleigh Green’s catchment area extended to Cambridge Avenue in Gidea Park, a mile away. Some children went all that way home (and back) for lunch. (We called it “dinner”. We weren’t posh.)

There was a surprising amount of equipment for Austerity Britain – film projectors, a Wendy House in the reception class, and radios fixed to the classroom walls. Sadly, I don’t remember any BBC educational programmes. However, on the fateful 25th of November 1953, we listened to England v. Hungary, broadcast from Wembley.

As we’d invented football, we thought England must win. But Hungary had scrapped centre forwards and half-backs for a ruthless system of strikers and midfield control. They won 6-3.

To give us some culture, the corridors were lined with reproductions of pictures by Van Gogh – poppies, stars, the famous broken chair. Decades later, I had a strange experience when I saw the originals in a Dutch gallery – the sounds, even the smells, of primary school crept back around me.

We sang lots of songs. Our music teacher was the delightfully chubby Miss Noel. When we sang Christmas carols, she told us she would be the Last Noel because she couldn’t find a husband.

Years later, ex-Ardleigh Greenites were delighted to hear of her marriage.

We warbled a French song, about dancing on the bridge at Avignon. In the mouths of Hornchurch youngsters, “Sur le pont d’Avignon” became “Sewer le pong daveenyong”.

I first encountered religion at school. The Ten Commandments caused some problems.

Honouring your parents made sense. So did banning stealing and murder. But “thou shalt not commit adultery” puzzled us.

Was adultery another word for adulthood? Surely you couldn’t be sent to Hell just for being a grown-up? That wasn’t fair.

It didn’t occur to us to ask our teachers to explain. They would probably have been embarrassed if we had.

In 1956, I moved on to secondary school, equipped with basic skills for later life. Thank you, Ardleigh Green.