Back to school ... after sixty-two years!

Ernest Bray, aged 73. Grange Park School, 1939-1945.

Clair Steward (nee Liggins) contacted me via Friends Reunited and invited me to see the display she had put up in the infant hall. It was due to be taken down as it was the end of term and more importantly Grange Park's seventieth year having opened in September 1935 was drawing to a close. I was unable to reply because I had let my Friends Reunited subscription lapse. However I telephoned to say that I could not come for the parents' evening on Friday but would like to come at a future date. Claire's children attend the school and are the third generation so to do.

My lifelong friend Ken Bristow - his road safety certificate features on the home page among other memorabilia - was able to go and was treated extremely well with a personal tour around the school which he found most enjoyable, interesting and quite emotional. Ken telephoned me from the school and arranged for us both to go on Tuesday afternoon. I had also contacted webmaster Jonathan ("Josh") Hayles who was keen to record the exhibition for the website. Come the day all three of us arrived together and Josh took the photo which accompanies this article.

Shelters

We were met by the administrative staff who told us that Claire was off sick but a replacement guide was found who took us around the infant school. I started at Grange Park aged 6+ so my time in the infants was quite short. Also my class was housed in huts just inside the main gate on the left so I probably never went into the main building except to visit the hall. Ken is three years younger than me so he had clear memories of the infants. We were shown the hall which has changed very little. The floor tiles are just the same. Then we were taken along that long corridor with the classrooms off down to the nursery school which I have vague memories of my sister attending. Out into the playground to a big surprise. In my day the playground edge facing the school had air raid shelters. I had no idea that there was a big playing field behind them and it was being well used by the children.

Then into a classroom with what I thought were remarkably small children to whom we were introduced. Ken had his school report and road safety certificate with him and they were read out and explained to them. Back into the school were we were introduced to what seemed to me a remarkably young head teacher. She made us most welcome and thanked us for coming. Our guide had to go back to her class but we had some time to look at the display. Claire had done an enormous amount of work with big panels each representing a ten year period. In one of the photographs I recognised my sister Vera. She now lives in San Jose, California and recently celebrated her golden wedding. It is on the website and I was familiar with it.

Grange Park Infant School hall The school was hugely overcrowded in the years after the war and I think the photo was taken when the children transferred to the newly opened Charville School which had been built before the war but never fitted out. I would think it was taken about 1948. The catchment area at that time must have extended from Yeading Lane to Charville Lane. Of course I was most interested in the story of the forties because that was my era. For example a swimming pool was built later and then years later had to be abandoned for all sorts of reasons.

Following this we were introduced to the Bursar who took us into her office and showed us some of the early records. Much of the student records have been lost-indeed the only student record we were shown was the punishment book! I cannot remember featuring in that. What was of interest to me was the head-teacher's staff record book which included a record of my mother. She was employed for a time as a clerical assistant in the school, probably in the late forties, when such posts were quite new. She only died quite recently aged 96. It seemed a shame that when the school celebrated its fiftieth and sixtieth anniversary she was not contacted as she still lived in Kingshill Avenue. In our day the rooms off the landing of the stairs to the main entrance were strictly out of bounds. Turn left on the landing to the staff rooms, turn right to Mr Thompson's office. You only went there if you were in trouble.

Just the same

We were introduced to the head who once again made us most welcome and also to Amanda Taylor who is the year six teacher. She asked me if I would be willing to come back to the school to meet the children in her class. This I readily agreed to. Evacuation and life during the war years is now a topic in the national curriculum. My own grandson's class has met me and I helped with his project on the war. Also, I am involved with the Reminiscence Centre at Blackheath who provide a day where they re-enact children being evacuated at the outbreak of war. The juniors were putting on a show in the hall for the infants to see. Again the hall and stage are unchanged and the floor and the cupboards under the stage are just the same.

We then went into the long corridor which is now even longer with an extension to the north towards the clinic. The corridor is now carpeted. We were shown into several classrooms. The old arrangement of the desks has been changed and the children sit around tables in groups. The classes are much smaller too! In my day the classes reached 60. The class room for the top juniors is just the same and the original cupboards and store rooms are still there. Back along the corridor to see the computer suite in the extended part of the building. The school seems to be well equipped with modern technology with the children having one computer between two in that room.

We were then taken back to meet the head who was interested in our careers. I met Ken at Harrison and Sons, Printers in Printing House Lane. Ken worked as a freelance graphic artist for a number of years and I became a lecturer at the London College of Printing for nearly thirty years.

Violet antiseptic!

As we were saying goodbye we asked if we could visit the clinic. The head readily agreed to this and took us down personally with the key that unlocks the gate near the school keeper's house. Again the staff at the clinic were pleased to welcome us and it seems its use is largely unchanged. Mother and baby clinics, dental work, and the minor ailments of the children are dealt with. I can remember spending long periods of time there being patched up and having violet and red coloured antiseptic applied to injuries and spots.

That was the end of our most interesting day. But before I finish I must pay tribute to Claire Steward who has not only mounted a major exhibition but has produced a very interesting history of the school. I have a copy and was told it is out of print but will be reprinted. Also, Ken in particular, was pleased to note the calm disciplined atmosphere present throughout both schools and how well behaved the children were.

The school welcomes its old students back-they do ask that you make an appointment and try to avoid busy times such as when we were there in the last week of the summer term.

EB. July 2006.

Grange Park Hayes Middlesex
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