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.