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Heritage: Frances Bardsley girls took the lid off wartime Havering

PUBLISHED: 15:00 26 October 2019

The Brewery, in Romford, after bomb damage in the 1940s. Picture London Borough of Havering Local Studies

The Brewery, in Romford, after bomb damage in the 1940s. Picture London Borough of Havering Local Studies

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Prof Ged Martin looks at a school project that aimed to study the Romford area

Miss Elin Walsh was a geography teacher at Romford County High School for Girls (now Frances Bardsley Academy). She had large ideas and dynamic organisational skills.

In 1944, she mobilised the whole school for a year-long project aimed at understanding the Romford area.

Each class tackled "a piece of work most suited to their age, interest and ability". Individuals were even set tasks suitable to their abilities, so that "the girl's originality might be combined with the teacher's experience".

Somehow, all this was achieved despite "wartime travel difficulties" and "with negligible curtailment of the normal syllabus".

The project started with the basics. Year 13 drew geology maps. Year 8 made coloured diagrams comparing Romford's year-round local temperatures with those in New York, Moscow and Hong Kong.

Year 9 studied a farm at Stapleford Abbotts, month-by-month to July 1945 - drawing more maps, even sketching Friesian cows and collecting samples of fertiliser.

Younger girls in Year 7 monitored Park Farm at Havering-atte-Bower, making a cardboard model of a harvest scene.

Using lists of the jobs done by their relatives, Year 10 mapped the distribution of occupations in Romford, Gidea Park and Hornchurch - not a very scientific exercise. Sector diagrams 
showed the proportions working locally.

Year 12 examined railway and bus routes, emphasising how buses converged on Romford's North Street and South Street, avoiding the busy market.

Another Year 9 class studied Hitchman's Dairies, a company which delivered milk from a depot in nearby Brentwood Road. Maps showed how the fresh milk was sourced from as far away as the Bristol area.

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A diagram explained the change from cardboard to aluminium bottle tops - a detail that's escaped historians!

Year 8 descended on Romford Market, mapping the stalls and counting the animals sold every Wednesday.

Year 10 students were allocated Romford's famous brewery. Maps traced the origins of the ingredients. A diagram explained how wartime shortages had forced a reduction in the strength of Ind Coope's beer, another of Hitler's wicked crimes.

Year 12 used information supplied by Romford Council (Havering's forerunner) to produce maps of the built-up area in 1903, 1914 and 1935, showing how Romford began as "a separate town, then combined with Hornchurch to form one urban area".

These maps demonstrated just how small an area was actually covered with houses. Throughout 1944-5, V1 cruise missiles and V2 rockets were falling locally. Mercifully, half of them landed in fields where they did little damage.

Year 12 also mapped churches and pubs to assess how far they served recent housing developments. Year 7 girls went around collecting the basic information about the pubs, let's hope from the outside.

The downside of Miss Walsh's elaborate scheme was that individual classes probably didn't grasp how their assignments fitted into the bigger picture. Set to study land use across the area, Year 11 girls also contributed a watercolour showing two girls tramping through a muddy field, probably an artistic protest against a chore that they didn't understand.

The year-long effort culminated in an exhibition. The displays conveyed a great deal of information, although it was still not obvious how everything fitted together.

Year 12 had copied out the local entries in 1086 from Domesday Book, but how did this tie in with Year 13's study of ribbon development along the B175 north of Havering-atte-Bower towards Passingford Bridge?

Why was there a model of Upminster in 1800, when Upminster hardly featured in the overall study?

Still, it was an imaginative exercise, something that would be difficult to fit into school timetables today.

Best of all, by the time the project was completed, Nazi Germany had collapsed. It was time to build a new Romford in a better world.

Maybe there are veterans of that project still living in Havering? Perhaps there are former pupils (I'm too polite to call them Old Girls) who recall the energetic Miss Walsh?

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