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Primary Schools mid 20th Century

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A new primary school for 1930s suburbia

What is a primary school

At that time, the term 'primary' meant that the school was for infants and juniors with ages 4 to 7 called infants and 7 to 11 juniors.

Why new schools were needed in the 1930s

New schools were needed to serve the children in the new suburban housing estates that were springing up in the 1930s. My first school was typical. It was built in the 1930s and Edgware Primary School, and as its name implies it was in Edgware, Middlesex, north London - now Edgware Infant and Nursery School.

A recent photograph of what was Edgware Primary School in the 1940s

A 21st century photograph of what was Edgware Primary School, courtesy of Tony Woods.

I started just before I was five in 1944 while the Second World War was still raging, and I left at 11 for my grammar school.

The headmaster was Mr Bird.

The site

The site was a large field backing onto the Edgware Road. The main playground was in the front, directly onto the Edgware Road, which by today's standards seems rather strange because anyone could come in and interact with the children in whatever means they chose. As far as I know, there was no untoward activity. The reception class had their own playground at the back.

While I was there the field was still rough and uneven, and was only used for the underground Anderson shelters during the WW2 air-raids.

Car parking for the school

I don't remember any facilities for parking cars which says a lot for the state of the traffic at the time. Children and staff either walked to school or used a bus - children were seldom accompanied by an adult. It never occurred to anyone that it might be dangerous. I suppose there was some safety in numbers, and there was certainly almost no traffic around then because there was still petrol rationing due to wartime and post-war austerity.

Access to the school

Access was either from the Edgware Road, through the main playground or via a long pedestrian side alley from Station Road. This alley also led to the local secondary modern school for children who had left the primary school but had not passed the 11-plus exam for a grammar school. That site is now a Sainsbury's supermarket.

The school building

The building was quite small. As you went in from the main playground there were cloakrooms on the left. On the right was the school hall which struck me, as a young child, as enormous. Seating was on the floor, although there were chairs at the side for the staff.

Classrooms were towards the back of the building and were reached from a corridor open to the elements on one side, and on its left was an open grassy area which was used for class photographs. Further on was the headmaster's room.

There were more classrooms upstairs and presumably the staff room and storage facilities, but I don't remember much about them.

The school lavatories

The lavatories deserve a special mention. What stands out in my memory is their floors. They, like other lavatories of the time, were of a stone-like composite, particles of which glistened in the light. I used to try to get to one of the 'sparklers' to pick it up, but by the time I reached it, the light was no longer on it and it had turned to dull grey stone. The lavatories themselves were low, and they flushed with a pull-chain - so things in the 1940s had improved since my mother's experience of school lavatories in the early 1900s!

Experiences at older schools

Guest contribution

A left-hander forced to write with the right hand

I was born left-handed, but everyone was supposed to write with their right hand. To discourage me from using my left hand, I was constantly being hit on the back of my left hand until it swelled up and bled. One time they even tied my left hand behind me so I could not use it, even to hold the paper or slate steady enough to write on it.

It was how things were at the time, and eventually I did manage to work with my right hand - with difficulty and not a great deal of success. Looking back, school was more like a mad house of indoctrination than a place of learning.

Stan Clark


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.


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