A century of schooling in West Oxford primary

Oxford Mail: From left, pupils Fiona Jeffrey, nine, Saoirse Walsh, eight, Ismail Yalcin, eight, Abbas Hussain, eight, headteacher Clare Bladen, Abigail Bishop, eight, Leda Schenke, nine, Alan Lambert, nine, and Connor Bird, nine, while, below,Year Three teacher Gwen W From left, pupils Fiona Jeffrey, nine, Saoirse Walsh, eight, Ismail Yalcin, eight, Abbas Hussain, eight, headteacher Clare Bladen, Abigail Bishop, eight, Leda Schenke, nine, Alan Lambert, nine, and Connor Bird, nine, while, below,Year Three teacher Gwen W

TEACHERS were armed with a slipper or ruler to threaten punishment for poor discipline.

But 100 years later the slippers are left at home and rulers used to draw lines at West Oxford Community Primary School.

The first pupils walked through the doors of the new school on January 14, 1914.

Now, to mark a century of teaching Oxford’s children, a school history book of staff and pupils’ memories is being put together .

 

Oxford Mail:

Lynne Rushton and  daughters Abby, four, and Kate, seven, has been digging into the school's history

Lynne Rushton – who has two children at the school – has been researching the school’s history for the project.

Mrs Rushton, 41, of Oatlands Road, said: “100 years should definitely not go unmarked, big birthdays like that are important. I have found it really interesting. The school is very much part of the community rather than just a school. It is a very happy and friendly place which is important for children.

“Going to primary school is the first time they are part of the wider world, and part of a community which isn’t their family.”

Oxford Mail:

Esa Hussain, five, Imogen Rail, 10, and Charlie Urwin, seven, ‘face the cane’ by assistant headteacher Nick Barwick at the school’s Edwardian Day

In June pupils turned the clocks back to dress up in Edwardian style clothes of the kind children at the school would have worn.

They were taught old-fashioned lessons such as cross-stitching, handwriting and geography about the British Empire.

To mark the centenary, open days will be held on Tuesday, January 14, from 6-8pm, and on Saturday, January 18, from 1-4pm.

The exhibition will include items from the school’s history, guided tours, a cafe, raffle and the chance to buy a centenary mug. On the Saturday there will be a film-maker to record people’s memories of the school and live music.

Mrs Rushton has asked people to bring their written memories on the day or send them to westoxfordschool100@hotmail.com

 

A hand-knitted swimsuit which sagged badly

Oxford Mail:

Duke Street resident Mary Timbrell, 76, remembers life at the school from 1942 until 1952

I was enrolled as a pupil at West Oxford Infants School aged four and a half, and left what was then West Oxford Girls School at the age of 14 to go to the Oxford College of Further Education.

There were wartime shortages of a great many commodities when I started school, including paper. I remember we wrote on slates with a piece of chalk. We didn’t feel particularly deprived as we’d known nothing else. We carried our gas masks to school in a cardboard case with a shoulder strap, and had the occasional air raid drill, about which we were warned in advance. At the sound of the siren we all stood by our desks, then marched smartly across Ferry Hinksey Road to the two air raid shelters in Oatlands Road Rec. There we sang songs until the All-Clear sounded, and we all tramped back to our classrooms.

There were open coal fires in each classroom and Mr Dines the caretaker, who lived in Ferry Hinksey Road, would light them in the morning before we arrived. I cannot remember being cold in the classroom, but my friends certainly can.
Bottles of free milk – a third of a pint - arrived in crates at the school gate every morning, and during the cold winter months the bottles were arranged in a semi-circle around the fire to thaw out as they were frozen solid.
A class register was kept of school attendance and unless we were ill or the toilets were frozen we were expected to be there. We braved all weathers, including deep snow. Truanting was unheard of. If any child was absent for an undue amount of time the parents could expect a visit from the dreaded school board.

I forget the exact year the canteen opened – presumably about 1944 or 1945.
There always seemed to be a strong smell of boiled cabbage coming from the windows. But I was never forced to experience this culinary extravaganza as I went home for lunch.

All pupils of my generation remember tramping along the towpath and being ferried across the Thames in a punt for our swimming lesson in Tumbling Bay. Thanks to wartime rationing, elegant swimwear was nowhere on the radar. Any tatty garment was good enough to swim in. I well recall my own hand-knitted yellow bathing costume – probably made from an unpicked jumper – which sagged unflatteringly in all the wrong places when wet. One contemporary remembers refusing to wear a second-hand bathing costume bought by her mother because it had moth-holes in it until the holes were transformed into ‘daisies’ by embroidering white petals around them.

Once changed into our bathing costumes, we clung tightly to the rail as we descended the slimy green stone steps of the intermediate section, with minnows darting around our toes. The water came up to our chests and the cold took our breath away.

Mavis Amos certainly earned her lifesaving qualification by retrieving a brick three times from the slimy depths of the deep end. She recalls: “I still remember feeling my way around the cold mud...it was pure luck if you retrieved it, as you stirred up all the mud as you searched, which reduced visibility.”

Mavis’s success spurred her on to competitive swimming.

 

Built to replace St Frideswide’s

West Oxford Community Primary School, in Ferry Hinksey Road, opened as West Oxford Council Schools.

It was built to replace St Frideswide’s Schools near St Frideswide Church in Botley Road, which had become rundown. It opened in 1914 for 350 girls and babies from St Frideswide’s.

But by 1956 the number of children at the school had dropped so much that the building was turned into two separate schools.

A secondary modern school on the first floor was used for teaching senior girls, while boys from the closing St Frideswide’s Boys’ School, and a junior mixed and infant school were taught on the ground floor.

The secondary school closed in 1963. There were 172 full-time pupils in the junior school in 1972.

 

Oxford Mail:

Head Clare Bladen

Being the new headteacher of a school that was due celebrate its centenary was a fabulous opportunity to host an event that would bring many different members of the school and community together.
We organised a centenary tea party for the whole school in the summer term. It was fabulous to see smiling, happy faces enjoying cakes and tea in the sun
For the children to appreciate first-hand what it would have been like to attend the school 100 years ago we also had an Edwardian re-enactment day. All the children and staff dressed in Edwardian clothes and all lessons were conducted as they would have been 100 years ago. Great fun was had by all.
After a successful Ofsted on November 26 and 27 during which the school was judged as good, we look forward to celebrating the first time children were taught in the school. We have planned two open days and invite former pupils and people from the community to visit the school in January. A book about the first 100 years of the school is also planned.

Comments (1)

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12:00am Sat 4 Jan 14

Dick Wolff says...

Former head teacher of West Oxford Primary, Mel Summers, has recently died. I conducted his funeral on Dec 19th, when a couple of memories of his time there were shared. His widow, Gwen, still lives in Oxford.
Former head teacher of West Oxford Primary, Mel Summers, has recently died. I conducted his funeral on Dec 19th, when a couple of memories of his time there were shared. His widow, Gwen, still lives in Oxford. Dick Wolff
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