ACADEMICS, EPIDEMICS AND WEATHER
Between the Wars
In 1921 there was the first of a series of scarlet fever epidemics. Dr G.H. Walker closed the school on 3rd November and it was re-opened on the 17th. It is as well to remember in these days when child health is taken for granted, that advances in health care have done as much to improve child education as any teaching.
This is borne out by events in 1922, another eventful year. There is the first mention of a visit by a Dental Nurse to the school, Miss Drew, whether she had to draw any teeth we are not told! Mr G.W. Clarke, the Juvenile Employment Officer, came to talk to the school leavers – an event beyond the jurisdiction of primary schools these days.
The Infant School premises in Quarry Hill were now closed and on 2nd October the infants were absorbed into the school. Mrs E.G. Hall, wife of the Head Master, who had been teaching at the infant school for some time, took on the post of Assistant Mistress in charge of Infants. The outside girls toilets were altered to cater for infants. Collapsible tables and forms were now provided for canteen dinners, but there is no hint of how they had previously coped!
The Annual Preliminary Scholarship Exams for the Kent Education Committee were first mentioned in this year. Many children were attending the Grammar and Technical Schools in Maidstone as fee paying pupils. Scholarships were won however, a practice which continued for many years.
In March 1923 came the dawn of a ‘New Era’! A ‘wireless receiving set’ was installed in the school on 9th March and lessons via the ‘wireless’ became a feature of the school. This tradition of being to the forefront of technical and academic innovation has endured through the years, with the result that pupils from Borough Green County Primary School are always able to cope with new technology around them. It is noted that on 28th March 1923, pupils were listening to selections from Shakespeare – their reactions to it are not recorded!
The Armistice Day Service was heard by the whole school in the hall in 1924, and in 1929 the service from the Cenotaph was also received. These early ceremonies must have been particularly moving for some of the pupils and staff, who would no doubt have lost relatives in the Great War.
In 1926, a Miss Somerville from the Education Department of the BBC, together with engineers, called to test transmissions from London, Borough Green then being a rural outpost.
In 1927 Mr Dixon, an assistant to Sir Walford Davies, and a Mr Smith both visited the school in connection with broadcast music lessons. Mr Hall believed music to be a major part of life. He not only assisted my fathertremendously with the brass band he organised, but also played the organ at the Church of the Good Shepherd. My father lived for music, yet I cannot even whistle in tune! I recall one school exchange as if it was yesterday:
Mr Hall: ‘Bangay, I can’t hear you singing.’
The author: ‘No sir, I’ve got a bit of a cold.’
Mr Hall (looking fiercely at the rest of the class): ‘And who’s got the other bit?’!
The school won many trophies for country dancing in the 1920’s, an area in which Mr Gomme had a keen interest. Old scholars will probably remember ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’, with ‘pleasure
In March 1924 there was an outbreak of diphtheria with 12 cases in school. Although unconnected, this was the year that the annual visits of Mr Charles Harvey started. He came from the Kent Juvenile Temperance Association and was later listed under the Band of Hope. He spoke on the Hygiene of Food and Drink, with an emphasis on the evils of drink, together with assorted chemical tests. He was known commonly as ‘the alkabolic stink man’!
1924 also brought a severe flu epidemic which affected both staff and pupils. Seventy seniors, (not suffering from diphtheria or flu), were taken to the Wembley Exhibition two years running, 1924 and 1925, when it first opened. The comment in the log book states: ‘Profitable and enjoyable days’.
In April 1925 there is the first mention of students taking their ‘teaching practice’. The student was studying at Aberdeen University! How many placement visits did his tutor make?
Many educational VIPs from around the world visited the school over this decade. They were inevitably accompanied by the Chairman of the Kent Education Committee, Lord Sackville, or by the Director of Education, Sir Mark Collett. The Heads of nearby Grammar or Technical schools might also join in such visits.
As part of the Christmas celebrations in 1925 the school was entertained by a concert party organised by the Kent Community Council. Christmas was followed by deep snow in January 1926, and there was naturally a low attendance amongst both staff and pupils. The Log Books give a good insight into the history of the weather, where any odd conditions which affected attendance are duly noted. Children had to walk from Basted, Crouch, Platt, Comp and Wrotham Heath, while staff had to rely on public transport. There were very few cars then and due to the weather it transpired on several occasions that four or five staff failed to make it to school, leaving the head with a difficult problem.
Fruit and hop picking holidays were arranged with the local farmers who would contact the Head Master when the crops were ready. Three weeks were allowed for fruiting and four weeks for hop-picking.
About three quarters of the entries in the Log Books refer to events where the Head has had to make sudden changes to routine, in order to cope. Staff changes, new appointments, students on teaching practice, staff on courses and staff illnesses all find their way into these school records.
The staff’s loyalty and dedication throughout the years is worthy of a mention, especially if it is remembered that School Meal Supervisors were not introduced until 1963. Perhaps an epitaph for the staff should read ‘We coped!”
1927 brought snow, snow and more snow. In all 150 children were absent, and this pattern continued until the third week of February. There were also outbreaks of chicken pox and measles amongst the infants.
At this time the School Dentist operated from premises above what is now ‘Kingswood Chemists’, known properly as ‘Welfare House’. After World War Two they moved to use Western Hall, before moving again in 1972 to the new clinic in Quarry Hill. 1927 was the first year there is a mention of a dental surgeon, Mr Saunders, examining younger children.
In 1928 there was an outbreak of scarlet fever, which meant that the school had to close for three weeks. In this year the first caretaker, Mr Fenwick resigned, to be replaced by Mr E. Scrivener.
In 1929 Mrs Sidney Lee of Pine Close gave a Sports and Tea party for all the local schools. As I was there I know the event took place after school and required a great deal of organisation.
In May 1931 school caps and berets were first offered for sale. 9th June of that year proved to be a real washout. Three coachloads of pupils attended the Aldershot Tattoo, but the rain lasted all day and no performance was given. We did enjoy the ride! On the way home the Head showed us the Silent Pool.
In December the school was shown a full programme at the local cinema, an event repeated the year after. Mr H. Sawdy, the owner of the Electric Palace was responsible for this kind gesture. Commonly shortened to the Palace, the building is to be found on the corner of Fairfield Road and Wrotham Road, later the Rex Cinema.
In September 1931 the main drainage scheme, planned by Wrotham Urban District Council some thirty years earlier, was completed, and despite the delay the school was connected. The smell from the emptying tanker, not at the school itself, used to be terrible. My grandmother at Tudor Cottage would spray eucalyptus on the floor in order to combat it.
Mrs E.G. Hall, the Head of the Infants retired in April 1934, and was presented with a silver tea set from the staff and children, by Canon A.P. Pascoe, now the Rector of Wrotham.
In September of this year thirteen children from Crouch House joined the school. This was evidently some kind of an orphanage in the charge of a Mrs Butler, though exact details have been hard to find.
In November two hundred children are reported to be enjoying milk at ½ d for one third of a pint. This was later provided free.
In September 1936 Mr W. Hall retired after twenty five years of superbly dedicated service. Mr P. Minter, Chairman of the Managers, presented him with an ‘All Wave Radio Gramophone’ on behalf of everybody, and an era had come to an end. He was succeeded as Head Master by Mr Stanley H. McGill.
On 11th March 1937 Mr McGill arranged the first ‘Open Day’, composed of songs, physical training and dancing, as well as displays of more formal work. The attendance by parents was apparently high.
The Borough Green Parents and Old Scholars Association had its first meeting on 27th September this year. This body perhaps is deserving of its own story.
In 1938 repairs were made to the cradle at the swimming pool and in March an Evening Institute was formed, which was well-supported.
The first visit to the school of the Head A.R.P. Warden was an indicator that war clouds were forming and on 16th March 1938 officials from the Home Office and the County called to advise on air raid precautions.
Arrangements to accommodate children from other areas were finalised in September, should this prove necessary.
On a lighter note Miss Turner, a School Manager, presented the school with a sewing machine and the Parent’s Association gave a new flag staff. There were visits to the silkworm farm at Lullingstone Castle, to the Imperial Institute and to the Ford Motor Works at Dagenham and a new kitchen was being built on the site of the old one, on the side of the school backing on to Station Road.
In March there were further epidemics of measles, attendance going down to 55% and diphtheria affected many of the children from Crouch House.