Primary School, 1950s London

I have another blog, now more or less discontinued, called Notes on a Family. I wasn’t so much concerned about a wide audience, as about recalling my family and personal history for my children. It’s one of my regrets that I never talked enough to my parents about their own past. To my Polish father, who came over, like so many of his countrymen, during the war. To my mother: a clergyman’s daughter. He himself was Cambridge educated, despite being raised in poverty in a large family. Why did I never ask her how that came about? I was born in Yorkshire, but spent most of my childhood in London. All of these stories are told in my blog, and others too.. Here’s one from 22nd May 2016, for Fandango’s Flashback Friday.


A few posts ago, I told you about my first London school.  It became pretty obvious to my parents that it simply would not do.  But still … I was a Bulge Baby, born, like so many thousands of others, shortly after World War II ended.  There was still enormous pressure on school places.  My mother had found a good job teaching classics at Mayfield School, a Girls’ Grammar School in Putney, so really needed a place for me in a Putney school, so we could travel to and from school together.

There were no places.

Finally, they found somewhere.  It wasn’t a state primary,  though, but a tiny, old-fashioned private school, Ebley House School.  Even for the time, its fees were modest.

Ebley House School: Terms and conditions

It was a funny old place, run from a church hall, because its original premises had been bombed during the war..  The head, Miss Egleton seemed a rather frail old lady, with wispy hair gathered into a skimpy bun.  The only other teacher I remember was Mrs. Coate-Bond, whom  my mother thought rather racy, as she read the left-leaning Manchester Guardian.

The ‘babies’ or kindergarten class, were in the vestry, and the rest of us were divided into two groups, Lower Transition and Upper Transition, and worked at opposite ends of the hall.  Once I passed the 11+ and got to grammar school, I realised what an old-fashioned seat of learning it was compared with the lively places my new friends had been to.  I remember some of the lessons:

Copy book (Fountain Pen Network)

We copied line after line of this stuff, with scratchy steel dip-pens which at the least provocation spattered unwashable ink onto our books and over our cardigans.

PE:   We didn’t change out of our ordinary clothes, but stood just as in this picture here, doing star jumps, running on the spot and similar.  No games pitches, therefore no outdoor games.

These are young women. They are in America. In the 1930s. But this is a perfect image of our PE classes.

Monday mornings after break were worst.  The boys went off to …. hang on, I have no idea what the boys did.  The girls did embroidery.  Tray cloths.  Every single week.  We gossiped instead, of course.  It took weeks and weeks to complete a cloth.  At the end of every class, we’d line up and show what we’d done that week.  It was always a total exaggeration.  The only times we were compelled to put a bit of effort in was on those rare occasions when we had to start a new cloth off, and we really couldn’t pull a fast one about our achievements. Like every girl in the school, I loathed Monday mornings.  It put me off sewing for life.

1950s traycloth. Our achievements weren’t as polished as this (Etsy)

Most of the other lessons were reasonably conventional for the time.  I enjoyed English, spelling, maths, singing, and scripture (though I wondered for years why a good man like Jesus would promise to make his disciples ‘vicious of men’).  At play time, my earnest little friends and I wrote, illustrated and put together magazines with an extremely limited readership ( just us, I think).  In my final term, I wrote a dashing tale in which boarding school chums (modelled closely on the girls in Angela Brazil‘s school stories) got the better of a dastardly burglar.  It was performed at the school prize-giving.

In the  morning, I travelled to Putney with my mother, and at the end of the school day, walked over to Mayfield to return home with her.  When I was eight, though, she got another job teaching Classics at Fulham County School.  By then we were living in Victoria.  So every day I walked to the station, crossing two busy main roads.  I caught the Tube, the District Line to East Putney, sometimes  changing at Earl’s Court.

My train journey on the London tube. Read from bottom to top.

Then there were two more busy main roads to navigate.  I was a nervous little thing, but it never occurred to me to be frightened of this journey, which is not one the average eight year old  would do alone these days, I think.

It wasn’t a stunningly exciting education.  But I was happy enough.  Apart from the time when I missed almost a whole term because I was in Isolation Hospital.  But that’s another story.

Fandango’s Flashback Friday

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

51 thoughts on “Primary School, 1950s London”

  1. I loved reading this, some parallels with my schooldays….and your telling of the tale as in “my earnest little friends and I” . That journey for an 8 year old! I was 10, I think, when I cycled 2 miles to the GP surgery and back, alone so a bit older. But that’s how it was

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story, I really like these sorts of posts. I started mine so that I could tell stories like this, I hoped my children might be interested. They might be one day.

    On Monday morning I imagine the boys went off to do woodwork or something similar.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘They might one day’ struck a chord. I was just the same – and left it too late to ask those questions which will now never have an answer. Yes, I guess you’re right about the woodwork. Though nothing interesting or useful, I’m sure.


  3. I did enjoy reading this. Though my schooling wasn’t quite the same, some parts are very familiar. For my first school I had to, age 7, navigate my way across Glasgow by public transport. My dad walked me to the bus stop, then went across the main road to his bustop to travel to work, then at the other end I had to cross a busy road to get to the road my school was on. We’d never think of it now, but no-one batted an eyelid back in the ‘olden days’. Before the age of 7 my mum and baby sister accompanied me on the journey but presumably by 7 I was considered old enough to go it alone. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think kids are too protected these days, they often don’t have that independence until much older. No wonder many can’t cope when they leave home.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I remember the change in freedom happening. As a child in the 1970s, I roamed widely with friends and alone, only vaguely telling my parents where I was going. We played in mill grounds and wandered across the farm that was hanging on in our urban industrial bit of the world. I’d be sent on shopping errands on my own from the age of 7 – I link it to joining the Brownies, for some reason!

        At secondary school in the early 80s, I walked to and from school, 1.5 miles each way, across three busy roads. The change came one day when school had finished, we’d all set off home, and some of us encountered teachers driving round the area to pick us up and take us home if we were alone. The police had notified school that someone was exposing himself to women. After that, either mum, dad or my brother would drive me to school, and we were all told to travel home in groups and take the bus where possible.

        My niece and nephews had much more restrictive childhoods, and our friends who have children, especially girls, fret more about what might happen to them if allowed out into the world unsupervised. 24 hour news doesn’t help settle the mind.

        Having said that, although it took longer for my niece and nephews to fully leave home than their parents did (mostly due to economics making it harder to go away to university or afford a first home of their own, rented or mortgaged), they are fully functioning adults and their relative lack of childhood freedom doesn’t seem to have done them much harm. My friends’ children who are in their teens are showing signs of the same. Don’t despair too much!

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      3. Our experience outside the school gates sounds similar – even down to the dodgy guy exposing himself, which happened to a friend of mine on the tube. Good to know that the present generation’s wrapping in cotton wool does no lasting harm.


  4. I really enjoyed this Margaret, and I wandered off to read a bit of your “Notes on a Family” too. We never considered that a journey to school was dangerous, or arduous, we just got on with it. My school journey started with a mile and a half bike ride to the nearest village, a bus journey of half an hour, then a walk across town to the school. Such memories!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How fascinating! I often used to walk to/from infant school alone when I was six. A mile crossing busy roads through Retford (Notts) as the A1 bypass hadn’t been built then. It was just what you did and I distinctly remember telling my mother that I wasn’t a baby! The school is still there but used as the premises of an undertaker now – in fact it was the one I used when my dad died and I felt very odd being in the office which used to be the headteachers room!

    I agree with Sandra, more of these posts please.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, that sounds quite a journey for a six year old. And visiting the undertaker must have been a very odd experience for you. OK. More posts coming – by popular request!


  7. True about being expected to get oneself back and forth from school back in them days. I too developed a negative relationship with sewing and with PE in school. Sewing had to be copying and devoid of even a glimmer of creativity, and PE was the physical equivalent of rote learning with a sprinkling of humiliation as far as I remember. For the most part, school for me added another R to the three R’s – Resentment. Lots of it, but thank goodness for the library and for books to provide an escape!
    I look forward to more of your family stories.


  8. Oh I think it won’t just be your children, but one day your grandchildren who will really appreciate reading about your life and their roots.

    I see you didn’t mention the punishment regime for misbehaviour. Although my village school in the 1960s was considered to be cutting edge with new fangled approaches to primary education, one outstanding memory at 8 years old was having my palm smacked with a ruler. The whole class had to stand up and each child in turn punished, no idea now for what, but just remember a burning sense of injustice at collective punishment when not individually guilty.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my god, you took that tube ride on your own??! 8 years old? Nowadays, most London kids would’t even take that ride together with an adult, their parents would drive them everywhere in the car. I really enjoyed reading about your school days and I’m impressed you remember so much. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tray cloths almost sound exciting, Margaret! I spent a whole term sewing a plain white apron with very wobbly hems back in the day. And never a word of praise 🙂 🙂 My brown soup wasn’t a huge success either!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I remember making a tray cloth but I’m sure it wasn’t at school – maybe it was for my sewing badge in Brownies. School sewing wasn’t too awful. I made a set of six napkins out of green gingham with a cross stitch pattern in one of the corners. My mother still has a couple of these! I also made a stuffed toy cat with a fur head and a real tail (which would give me the horrors now!). The cat was fully dressed with knickers, a full-length dress and an embroidered apron. We must have made other things but I can’t remember them now. My journey to infant and junior school was a walk of just over half a mile until we moved when I was nine and the walk was increased to just over a mile. Your long trek across London doesn’t surprise me. Children were expected to be self-sufficient from a very young age. I remember my sister going to visit a friend who had moved away from Bromley where we lived to somewhere in Wales. She was seven and my parents put her on the train in London and asked the guard to keep an eye on her. She arrived back home a week later, none the worse for her adventure.
    I don’t need to ask my mother questions, she talks non-stop starting most sentences with ‘I remember…’ My problem is she overloads me with information and I *can’t* remember!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That reminds me that I too went alone, aged about 8, to stay with a friend who’s moved to the coast. I even got to see television while I was there – we didn’t have one at home.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is a wonderful read, Margaret. Very atmospheric. It makes sense for me of the umpteen bits of embroidered cloth my mum had in a drawer with the tablecloths – too big to be napkins, too small to be tablecloths. Now I know they must have been tray cloths, made by my mum at school. There were so many!

    And the idea behind your other blog is perfect. I’m an archivist. Much of my job is helping researchers, including genealogists, understand the world their predecessors lived in. This sort of reminiscence is fascinating.

    Now that I’m older, too, I’m more interested in where and who I come from, and wish that I had asked more questions and paid better attention when my parents and great aunt were alive. I didn’t know my grandparents, but thankfully did absorb some of the family lore my dad in particular liked to talk about.

    I hope you do share more of your memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With you and another blogger, Becky encouraging me, I’d better give it another go! And you’ll have to start using your mum’s traycloths.


  13. oh this is wonderful Margaret, what a treasure trove this will be for future historians and your own grandchildren. So very wonderful. MrB is just starting to do something similar, but his will be handwritten. Like you though I wish I had asked so much more of those ancestors we knew – every generation does exactly the same though. The youngsters rarely ask.


      1. So glad you had a fabulous time.

        And i think it should be a winter project, as it’s not just breathing space you’ll be enjoying now, I’m lots of other marvellous things to do now!

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. My own early 1960s primary school was very different in many ways (400 pupils, some modern ideas for the time about teaching, e.g. starting French at 7 years old) but I recognise some aspects. I walked the mile each way on my own as soon as I was considered old enough, although there was a ‘lollipop man’ to help at the busiest road 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha yes, I guess – but just a typical London suburb primary in many ways. One ‘avant garde’ aspect was that in our final year we were encouraged to manage our own time. We were given a set of tasks to be completed during the week but not told when to do what (apart from a number of set lessons, PE etc.) So we might have to read a certain amount, work on a project, create a painting etc. etc. We were told it would be good training for secondary school but when we got there the following year everything was regimented again, apart from homework!

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  15. I really love this Magaret and I love that you have a blog so that you can pass on these memories to your children. That is a really valuable thing for them to have to pass onto the next generation too. I can’t even begin to imagine an 8 year old taking that journey to school now. Although, I imagine some do have long journeys that they have to navigate on their own. My children are completely spoilt by me driving them the four miles to school each day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had friends in France who talked about their own days in Primary School, walking only with their peers five miles each way! They spoke about those walks with great affection.


  16. It does seem a long journey for a child, but your Mum probably didn’t feel she had much choice. Luckily, you came to no harm. I walked to school with my little sister at a similar age, but it wasn’t far away and we had a lollypop man/lady. There was a ‘bad’ corner and children were quite regularly knocked down there! We were allowed to roam in the nearby fields but not to go down into town.


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