Over 100 former pupils and teachers attend Open Day

Group photo of our visitors to the Open Day

Who said history is boring? Certainly nobody who was at North Primary School on Saturday 11th May for the second CXXV Open Day. For three hours former pupils and teachers took a trip down memory lane, and what a fabulous journey that was for them and for the staff and pupils listening to their stories, making recordings and taking their photographs for the archive. In turn they were treated to refreshments served by the NSA and provided by Tesco Hythe.

They were also entertained by present pupils singing and dancing – a reprise of their performance at the Colchester Children’s Music Festival back in March. Our visitors thoroughly enjoyed the pupils dancing and singing performances, it brought back many fond memories of what they used to sing, the country dancing, Morris Dancing and even sword dancing.

Pupils performing for our guests

Nicola Burrell, one of the two artists on the project, led a workshop making card models inspired by subjects taught at school, which was enjoyed by the younger visitors.

By our project artist Nicola Burrell.

These beautiful figures were inspired by a former pupils memory when older children read to younger children on rainy days.

Lexden History Group showcased a range of toys and books dating back to the late C19th. These were enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Lexden History Group’s display of toys and books

One of the delights was watching people who had not seen each other for many years – some 40 years – talk about their childhood or experiences of working at North. One former pupil, Brenda Cant, nee Trace, who attended North from 1939, was worried about returning to the school in case the grandeur of the Victorian building had not been preserved. She was very pleased that she did come and fortunately for us she was impressed with what she saw: a building that respects its history but is fit for purpose in the 21st century. And she has something else to be grateful to North for:- she met a boy at the school when they were 11… and when they were adults they got married!

Brenda Cant

Clive Blanchett remembered that in the 1950s there used to be a medical room where the nit nurse checked your hair – yes that was a job – this is now the kitchen. Mrs Skinner’s class, used to be Mr Boyes classroom, he taught the handicraft lessons.

There were some great reunions. Frances Fisher, nee Miss Ellie, (pictured with Mrs Nicholls and former teacher Mr. Betts), who taught at North between 1956 – 1969, visited her classroom which is now the ICT room.

Three generations of teachers – Anthony Bette, Ash Nicholls and Frances Fisher.

Our visitors travelled great distances to join us for the open day. David Gane came all the way from Newark, (about 150 miles away), meeting up with his classmate from the 1960s Susan Wilson. They were delighted to meet up with their former teacher Mrs Fisher and reminisce about the past. David said: every inch of this school has a memory.

It was great to see the Year 5 pupils Ellie and George put their oral history training into practice with Mrs Jasper, Mrs Wood and Miss Griffith recording visitors’ memories.

Our project historian Claire Driver was kept very busy with so many people sharing their photographs. The memories, photographs and oral histories will be added to the school archive, retelling its 125-year history. All this information will gradually be added to the project website or you can follow us on Facebook North School CXXV. If you have a memory to share about your time at North Primary School, we would be delighted if you complete the memory form and uploaded any photographs.

The success of the day was down to the support from the project team, teachers, governors, NSA, pupils – and of course, all of our visitors. A big thank you to them all!


My thoughts on North Street

by Eric Shaw, attended North 1951-1956

I first attended age 5 in 1951 and started in the nursery which was the building on the left hand side before moving into a classroom which was the first on the left in the hall area and my teacher was Miss Leech.  I think that it was just after that Mr Bezzant joined as headmaster and his daughter Susan was in my class. I was always in trouble, I was quite often required to go to his office but I never found him scary he seemed a nice man.

My home life was not very good with my mother struggling to bring up three children on her own. She had to go off to work at 6.30 and we were left to get ourselves to school and sort breakfast out.

As the pantry was often bear my brother and I used to go to the side door of Stowes bakery in John Harper Street and most mornings we would get a couple of crispy rolls just as they came out of the oven and my lingering memory is digging out the hot middle then crunching the roll down.

My memories of the school were all good. Our teacher Miss Leech was very strict. The teacher we were scared of had a classroom outside of the main building I think he took RE his name was Mr Bennett.

My personal saviours were the dinner ladies,  who looked out for me and often gave me a cuddle. All in all I have only good memories of North Street School.

Images kindly shared by Eric Shaw.








A Primary School with a Difference

Memories shared by Eve Douglas, attended North 1967 – 1972

In my day most children at North Primary lived locally. I was in the minority – my mother wouldn’t let me go to the village school – she wanted me to have a ‘proper’ education. So every day I put on my maroon cardigan and tie, and caught the bus in with all the older kids who went to St Helena’s. I hated the journey – but loved my school – North Primary really was something else. It seemed to operate more like a secondary school – once in the juniors we trooped in and out of everyone of those rooms off the junior hall – Maths with one teacher, English with another – I think they even had some sort of streaming system – and music with Miss Erving – who labelled me as a growler – and refused to let me sing in the choir.

Plans of the hall with classrooms leading off.
Architectural drawing for North Street Board School, c1893. Showing the classrooms leading off the Junior Hall. Image courtesy Essex Record Office, E/E 187/4/2

There was even a TV room where we watched strange experiments and saw geological formations in countries we’d never heard of. We watched the investiture of the Prince of Wales on that tiny TV – wheeled out into the hall – so all 6 classes of juniors could squint together at the black and white images of soldiers and horses and a boy in a crown striding across the ruins of some distant Welsh castle.

We learned French (I still failed my O level!) – colouring pictures of Monsieur and Madame Dupont packing ‘la famille’ into ‘la voiture’ to go off on ‘les vacances’. We sung hymns every morning – words on an enormous flip chart suspended from the ceiling.

We hung from the bars of climbing frames that folded out from the walls of the infant hall that doubled as a gymnasium. There was a school nurse in a little room off that hall – where I had the ‘measles’ injection – I think we were one of the first schools to be targeted – I had a negative reaction and collapsed soon after.

First thing we had to do every morning was change our shoes – only plimsolls were allowed on the highly polished floors. We drank warm milk, washed bottle tops, saved for ‘Guide Dogs for the Blind’ – and bought salty snacks to munch at morning break.

The Junior Hall 2014, still with its polished floor!

There was a toilet block in the middle of the playground – with its fixed wooden seats and hard paper, was always freezing cold.

We played netball at break, turned cart wheels on the grass, stung our legs with the fraying elastic we used for ‘french skipping’, and leap-frogged over the metal dustbins, short legs stretching to straddle the handles on either side. We hung on the arms of dinner ladies – Mrs Hines (everyone thought it was spelt ‘Heinz’), Mrs Gordon, Mrs Felgate?

We had ‘houses’ – Priory, Abbeygate and Castle – the precursors of Gryffindor, Slitheryn, Ravenclaw and Hucklepuff – and once a year on sports day we trooped over to Castle Park to run and jump to prove the prowess of one house over the other.

On Monday mornings in the summer term, we met at the open air pool and submerged ourselves in 57 degree water, feet going numb, but never wanting to be the first one to give in and get out. In the winter they bused us to the heat and humidity of the Garrison pool.

North pupils competing at the open air swimming pool. North’s archive collection.

I don’t remember the name of my infant teacher – only the piles of Janet and John books we read to her – and the stories she read to us at the end of each afternoon. My junior teachers were Mrs Beecles – who read us ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, Mr Jones – who played chess with the boys and left the girls to read books on horses and ponies, Mr Webber – who drove a blue Zephyr, and Miss Witty – renowned for her strictness and discipline. And not forgetting Mr Bezzant – headmaster – whose office I sat in to retake my 11+, in the days where the majority failed exams – with everything that North Primary offered – I never understood why more of us didn’t pass that ‘milestone’ test – and fill the Girls High, Boys Grammar and Gilberd – the majority went on to St Helena – still then a ‘secondary modern’. I have a library of memories – but this will suffice for now.

Mr Bezzant, headmaster 1954 – 1977.