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.