From the 100 yard dash to the egg and spoon race

It’s the summer term so it must be time for the annual sports day.  All children at North School from nursery to year six have the chance to take part in a range of sporting activities that take place on the school field.  Parents are invited to come along for support and to see which of the teams – red, yellow, green or blue – will lift the winners’ cup.  Balls are chased across the playground, 100m sprints are raced and luckily for us, lots of photos are taken. 

Sport has always been a significant part of school life with teams competing in local tournaments and regional championships over the years.  We have collected photos recording the particular successes of girls and boys in the 1920s and 1930s in football, dancing, swimming and athletics including winning the Herring Bowl in 1934-35.

We’ve realised that the history of sports day at North Primary School is closely linked to the history of the playground and that sports days have been held both on and off site at various times.  When the school was built in 1894 the playground was described as mainly covered in asphalt and divided by a wall separating the boys and girls areas.  There can’t have been much room in these separate playgrounds to run races and former pupil Ronald Rose remembers going to a playing field on the Riverside estate in the 1920s for the annual inter-school sports day instead:

“All the Council schools at this time had a combined annual Sports Day, held on a sports field in Land Lane. Everyone tried hard to do well for their school. At one such meeting I was successful in winning the 100 yards race.”

A few years earlier headteacher John Harper recorded that “all the six prizes open to competitors from Elementary Schools were won by our lads”.   Its not clear what all six events were but we do know that children competed in high jump, long jump and the 100 yard race at this time.  

The wall separating the boys and girls was removed toward the end of the 1920s but the playground seems to have remained a mix of gravel and grass until a new turfed area was laid in 1967.  Daily exercise classes could take place at school but even in the 1960s children were taken offsite by teacher Mr Jones to play sports that needed plenty of space.  Mr Jones was a sports specialist and took buses of children to the rugby club in Myland for their weekly PE lessons. 

We’re not sure when the school started to have whole school sports days as we think of them today and when they started to be held only on school premises, but we do know that headteacher Mr Bezzant created 4 houses in 1954 “for the purpose of stimulating effort in both work and games”. The houses were named Abbeygate, Priory, Castle and Charter, and teams made their way to Castle Park each year for sports day.

It must be soon after this that the annual event started to take place at school. Christine Austin remembers sports days during the 1960s as a “good part of school life” and recalls “we received a prize for coming first, second or third. The dinner ladies used to push out the dinner trolleys with all the prizes on- balls, buckets and spades, games sets and numerous other things. I always remember being beaten every year into second place by the same girl.”

Robert Brown shared his photos of the egg and spoon and hula hoop races from about 1967, clearly on the school field with the air raid shelters in the background.

However, later in 1987, it seems that some sports days were still held in Lower Castle Park, such as this day when Christine Brown took part in the wheelbarrow race.

The school field was re-laid as Astroturf as part of the remodelling of the school facilities in 2012.  Now the field can be enjoyed all year round, and particularly for the summer races.



Going back to Nursery is “like coming back home”.

First days at school are often the most memorable and for some of the people who shared their memories with us these first days were spent in the Nursery with Mrs Alvey (Keeble).

Last week two of our year five researchers, Jayden and Selvina, interviewed Jenny who taught at North School Nursery for an amazing 39 years from 1967 to 2006. During this time she worked with four of North School’s eight headteachers and set the school careers of 100s of children off with kindness & creativity.

Jenny joined the staff initially to work in the reception class when the school had only recently become North County Primary School.  Before this the Infant and Junior Schools were separate with different headteachers.  In 1966,  headteacher Mrs Flood retired after 18 years in the Infants and the two schools merged with Mr Bezzant as head.  Over that summer holiday the Infant School was freshly decorated, and new school bells and telephones were installed.  A new staff room was created off the Junior Hall and the Heads’ study was moved from the end of the hall to the tower.  Between the Infants and Juniors were three steps where the ramp is now, so you really did ‘go up’ to the Juniors.

North County Primary School staff in the late 1960s
Top Row L-R: Mr Brian Jones, Len Fookes, Miss Barbara Underwood, Mrs Becky Tricker, Mary Dicks, Mr David Martland, Mr John Bezzant
Bottom row L-R: Mrs Jean Reynolds, Mrs Frances Fisher, Rosemary Buttle, Miss Hilda Oerhring, Jenny Keeble, Miss Stewart, Mrs Marion Houchin

When Jenny moved into the Nursery in 1969 children came for the whole school day, 9am to 3.45pm.  They had lunch at school which was prepared and eaten in the Nursery, and then a sleep or at least a rest for those who couldn’t nod off.  Many people remember the fold out camp beds that were bought out in the afternoon for an hour and which were taken outside on hot days. Children also had to bring a flannel and toothbrush with them to school and if they got really messy there was even a bath!

A major change came in 1971 when the nursery day was split into two sessions, from 9.15 – 11.45 and 1.15 – 3.45.  Splitting the day up meant that more children could attend with 25 in each session, but it made the beds and bath unnecessary.  Both found uses as popular playground equipment.  One of Jenny’s favourite memories is of the old school bath that inspired so much imaginary play.  Still there in the 1980s and 1990s the bath was a firm favourite with one group of boys nicknaming it ‘the doddy’ and using it as their spaceship. 

Listen to the children describing their magical adventures in the doddy.

Clowns Day in the Nursery, Summer 1986

Jenny also told our researchers about some of the exciting projects and themed days they had in the Nursery.  There was a summer display at Poplar Garden Centre in Marks Tey and one day in 1986 when everyone in the Nursery and Infants dressed up as clowns  and went to Castle Park in their outfits for a picnic.

In the 1990s, the nursery garden was redesigned with new equipment and play areas. A soft play surface was created and the sandpit brightened up. The mayor and mayoress unveiled a new sign, which can still be seen above the Nursery entrance today.

Mrs Sciachettano, Mayor and Mayoress unveiling the new sign.

Our researchers were keen to understand what a typical day in Nursery might be.  Jenny explained that at the start of the session all the children would come in and sit down on the rug for registration and would find out about all the things there were to do that day.  Then they would be busy painting, playing, reading, being outside and dressing up.  There would be a snack which they sometimes had all together and then towards the end of the session they made their way back to the rug.  Sometimes this was a magic carpet that took them off on adventures, other times it was a place to sit and watch Jenny’s puppet, Frederick the mouse who entertained the children while they waited to be picked up.

Thank you to Jenny for sharing her memories and donating the photographs to the school archive.

If you have any memories or photographs to share please be in touch with us, we’d love to hear them! You can add your memories to the CXXV website:

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!


Success with the Herring Bowl

Recently, we’ve been working through the photos kept at North Primary School collected as part of the centenary project in 1994.   Many of these photos are of the various sports teams – football, netball, athletics – swimmers and country dancers, and show the many successes of North Street School in the 1920s and 1930s. 

The photo on the left really caught our eye, so much so that we decided to use it to promote our open day on Saturday 11 May.  

When we’ve been working with our year five researchers we’ve been using the National Archive‘s LACE technique to help analyse our sources: Look, Ask, Conclude, ExpandResearching this photo was a chance for us to practise this technique with a real mystery.

On our first investigation of the photo we were able to identify a girls sports team, wearing numbered bibs suggesting a sport such as athletics rather than netball.  The girls are holding a trophy with a number of winners shields, but we couldn’t see the inscription on the cup clearly enough to work out when it was or what it was for.  The hair cuts and clothes looked 1920s/1930s, but who the adult couple were in the car was totally unknown. 

We did recognise the car as an Austin 7 which set us off researching models and car registrations as a way of dating the photo.  The two letter UY registration gave us a date range of March 1927 to May 1931, but of course this is only the earliest possible date the photo could have been taken, not the date of the photo itself.

We turned to what we knew.  The centenary work compiled a book of memories from former teachers and pupils, and a search through from 1927 to 1939 revealed many successes that resulted in presentations of trophies, shields, cups and certificates.  Which one was in the photo?  In 1928 “two children obtained 1st place, one Boys for Sword Dancing , and one Girls under 15” in country dancing and the girls went on to win a 1st class certificate at the finals in Chelmsford.  In 1929 the boys won a cup at the Carnival for morris dancing, in 1932 the boys team won a football league trophy, and in 1937 won the Championship Shield at the Town School Swimming competition.  We found photos of these teams with their various prizes but none were the same size and shape as the trophy the girls are holding in the car.

We had a feeling this was an athletics team and Mrs Peggy Everitt had shared her memories of competing, between 1922 and 1931, in high jump, long jump and relay.  Mr Donald Wilby, at school from 1928 to 1935, had captained the boys team for their win in the inter-schools annual athletics event held at Land Lane.  Donald was presented with the Herring Bowl trophy by Colchester Mayor, Councillor Arthur Cross, giving us a date of 1934/1935.

A quick google search didn’t reveal the Herring Bowl but it did show us a picture of a very similar trophy and we felt we were onto something.  At this point we concluded that the photo was probably taken at some time between 1931 and 1935 and that it was possibly the Herring Bowl for athletics.

Last week, while scanning some more photos we came across the picture on the left and immediately spotted the bowl.  This time we could zoom in and read the inscription: Herring Bowl.  Curiously this photo is dated 1932, a date when we have no mention of an athletics win.  It shows a boys and girls team, headmaster Captain Twyman and other teachers, with a display of objects including the Herring Bowl, a box brownie camera, bucket and spade, book and brief case. 

We know that Captain Twyman retired from North in 1932.  Could this be his leaving photo surrounded by mementoes of the years or maybe his leaving gifts?  As one mystery is solved, another presents itself.



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.

The beginning of North Street School and the start of CXXV

Foundation plaque for North Street Board School, 1894

Who were the people with their names on the foundation plaque and just what did they do?   How separate were boys and girls kept after entering the school through their different doors?  Did anyone ever sit in those shelters at the back of the school field?

As a researcher it helps to be curious, to notice things around you and to ask questions about them.  CXXV – the 125th anniversary of North School project – is perfect for curious minds as there are intriguing clues all around just waiting to be explored.

To make a start we’ve been going right back to the beginning and asking where North School came from and what was happening in Colchester in 1894 that needed a new school. We might need to ask this again in 1938 when the new Infant Department was created, again when the Reception bungalow was added, and most recently when the year 6 block was built.

North Street School’s first headmaster

So far, we’ve discovered that in 1894 North Street School opened with 181 children in the Junior and 103 children in the Infant departments. This new provision went some way to address an estimated shortfall of 1000 school places in Colchester at the time.

North Street was the first school to be completed by the newly established Colchester School Board, which had been set up to ensure children were being taught by trained teachers in appropriate buildings.  We take this as given today, but before North School and the other Board Schools at Old Heath, St John’s Green and Wilson Marriage were open, this wasn’t the case. Children at the nearby St Peter’s National Infant School had one untrained mistress teaching 74 children.  We wonder if John Harper was proving his teaching credentials by wearing his gown in the photo above?

We are just at the beginning of our research journey.  We’re interested in the changes to the school buildings and changes to what happens inside with the curriculum, clubs and special events.  We want to find out about the teachers and pupils of North School and what happens to them when they leave. 

Over the next few months our project research will take us off in many directions and to many sources of information. Former pupils have already come forward with their memories of being at school and with their class photos. One of our researchers has visited the National Archives at Kew to discover inspection reports from the 1950s and 1960s. The Essex Record Office in Chelmsford stores many school records including weekly reports from the original builders and the first furniture orders. ERO also houses the school admission registers and log books. The school itself has a collection that we can use to understand the curriculum and some of the sporting activities students were involved in.

We look forward to sharing our findings over the coming months here and at school open days.  


School Celebrates Lottery Funding

Daily Gazette and Essex County Standard:
‘CHILDREN are embarking on a project to unravel 125 years of their school’s history.

North Primary School in Colchester was awarded cash from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the project.

Teachers and pupils will work with historian Claire Driver, to explore the school’s archive at Essex Record Office, which includes maps, architectural plans, photographs, log books and admission registers.

The school also plans to hold events and open days in which they will invite current and former staff, pupils, families and older residents, to help it identify its social history and its place in the community.

Head teacher Alan Garnett said: “This amazing building has seen so many wonderful people pass through it and I am looking forward to learning their stories with our pupils. Not only will it be informative for them, it will a fascinating lesson in the important part a school plays in the formative life of a child, its family and their community. A history to which they will be inspired to make their own contribution.”‘