Angry parents went on strike in row over school places

Crowlands Primary School was known as London Road School in the 1930s.

Crowlands Primary School was known as London Road School in the 1930s. - Credit: Archant

When Romford children were transferred to a Dagenham school in 1937, parents launched a mutiny, as Prof Ged Martin explains

Nowadays called Crowlands, the network of short streets between Romford and Chadwell Heath, is hemmed in between the A118 London Road and the railway.

St Edward’s Secondary School moved here in 1965. Thirty years earlier, education was provided by London Road School (now Crowlands Primary).

The school-leaving age was 14. Most over-11s were taught in “senior departments” of elementary schools.

But specialist secondary schools were being built. In 1937, the authorities announced that over 200 11-14 year-olds would be transferred from London Road to The Warren, a new school in Whalebone Lane North.

Crowlands families rebelled. The Warren was too far away, along a dangerous main road, with narrow footpaths.

On August 31, 1937, enrolment day for the new school year, mutinous parents marched their children to London Road School, demanding they be accepted there again.

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The education authority refused to provide secondary facilities at London Road, claiming the building was “much too old”. (It’s still going!)

A new secondary school was only possible if it included children from across the railway – part of Dagenham, which refused to co-operate.

As a compromise, 67 children living nearest to Romford were offered places at St Edward’s, then located by the Market. The rest must trudge to Whalebone Lane. The parents refused.

Their leader was the wonderfully named Arnold Fruitnight. His father, Frederick Ernst Fruchtenicht, had settled in West Ham from Germany before the First World War, and married an Englishwoman.

The family must have adopted “Fruitnight” in 1914. The surname was never legally changed.

Young and ambitious, Arnold opened a shop near Waterloo Road. (You guessed it, he was a greengrocer.) In 1933, he was elected to Romford Council. He lived in Fernden Way, right at the heart of Crowlands.

Fruitnight had big ideas. In 1936, he organised a National Baby Show at the Crystal Palace. Pressure to be among “Britain’s Bonny Babies” was so great that only 500 infants could be accepted.

The event collapsed in chaos when 4,000 pushy parents showed up unannounced. Fruitnight issued every child with a “highly commended” certificate.

He now persuaded the protesters to open a rebel school.

Rebuffed at London Road, the children were marched off to Jutsums Lane recreation ground, where 224 of them were enrolled in an open-air academy.

There was just one teacher. He found the strain too great, and was admitted to hospital.

Fruitnight claimed he could raise £250 to cover costs, and erect a timber building within three weeks. Meanwhile, they used the local mission hall (now St Agnes’ church).

The scheme was crazy. The secretary of the parents’ committee resigned “because he failed to see how they were going to carry on”.

One teacher, Miss Esther White, was hired.

But 224 youngsters needed more staff, plus a headteacher and a caretaker.

What about desks, textbooks and toilets? And insurance, rates and pensions?

In October, Fruitnight took about eighty children on a well-publicised educational visit to Ford’s Dagenham factory.

But the project was losing support. The rebel school closed in late November 1837.

Miss White received £21 in wages. The fighting fund had a balance of twelve shillings and sixpence (62.5 pence).

Maybe the parents should just have organised school buses to The Warren.

Meanwhile, on September 16, 1937, Romford became a borough.

Its Charter was delivered by the Lord Mayor of London.

Sir George Broadhead arrived at the new town hall (now Havering’s headquarters) in the Lord Mayor’s Coach – not direct from London, but via Gallows Corner.

Plans for an official welcome in the Market Place were abandoned. The Gidea Park route was probably a last-minute switch to avoid placard-waving parents on London Road.

In 1945, Fruitnight became a builder, acquiring premises in Romford’s South Street, and Station Lane, Hornchurch.

He moved to leafy Little Warley, and died in 1958 a wealthy man – but much too young, aged just 53.