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History: What do you remember most about going to school in Brentwood?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 November 2018

St Thomas' Church of England School in Coptfold Road. Picture: Sylvia Kent

St Thomas' Church of England School in Coptfold Road. Picture: Sylvia Kent

Sylvia Kent

This week, historian and vice-president of the Brentwood Writers' Circle Sylvia Kent writes about what some people remember most about their days at school.

Ursuline School in 1900. Picture: Sylvia KentUrsuline School in 1900. Picture: Sylvia Kent

One of the many topics I enjoyed while writing Brentwood Voices some years back, was recording some of my interviewees’ schooldays. I could have filled a whole book with tales, some of teachers’ kindness, but others of punishment and chastisement.

Imagine the very disciplined schooldays of many local children spent in the following: Brentwood public school and its Prep, Ursuline, St Joseph’s, Warley, Christchurch, Crescent Road, Junction Road, Ingrave Johnson, Hogarth, Dunkeld House, Milton House, Brentwood County High, Arnold House, St Paul’s Bentley, Hutton Residential, Herington House, The Endeavour and St Thomas’ Church of England School in Coptfold Road (pictured).

There are, of course, many others, some of which have name changes, but what a wealth of stories I managed to collect covering the last century – some funny, others so sad!

An old photograph of Brentwood School, Middleton Hall Lane, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia KentAn old photograph of Brentwood School, Middleton Hall Lane, Brentwood. Picture: Sylvia Kent

One particular school had been demolished by the time I got around to talking to a group of former pupils.

This was St Thomas’ Church of England School in Coptfold Road.

My friend, the late Geoff Perrior, remembered the big fireplaces in the main classrooms, surrounded by a heavy fireguard.

The ‘lavs’ (toilets) were in the playground and on a cold snowy, winter’s day, the children hated having to make the hazardous slippery journey across the playground.

Geoff recollected: “Dr Ward was our first headmaster at Coptfold Road.

“He was firm, but kind and helped me so much with geography and English.

“He supplied me with copies of the National Geographic magazine, suggesting they could help in my future career – and they did! “Corporate punishment was then in vogue and some teachers were particularly cruel.

“One, Mr Bond, would rap us across our knuckles with a thick three-cornered pencil.

“I’ll never forget him!”

Some of the above Brentwood schools were privately run. One was Beacon Hill School which was called Boyles Court.

One interviewee, a relative of Bertrand Russell’s wife, Dora who ran the school.

Her plan to educate the upper classes by introducing “progressive and free-expressive” education into what she saw as the then Establishment’s “restrictive system” didn’t last long.

She wrote: ‘There was no pressure on us to attend lessons.

“We were on first name terms with the teachers, unheard of in those days!

“Nothing was taboo – we could swear if we wanted.

“At first, we ran wild and could climb the huge cedar tree in front of the building (it is still there) and everyone fought to get the best swinging position with their rope.

“H G Well’s son attended and I suggested that he had called his son Gyp – by a dog’s name. He just shrugged.

“Boredom eventually drove me into “class” but I learned little of real value.

“We never opened Bibles nor learnt about God – except in derisory terms.

“I learnt very little of academic value there, but learnt to smoke, buying tuppenny packets of Woodbines from our excursions to our local sweetshop in Mascalls Lane.

“I’ve often wondered what reflections my contemporaries have from their days at Beacon Hill School.”

Some of the world’s politicians, actors, entertainers, novelists and artists were educated in our town and I have included numerous other stories in my book Brentwood Voices (still available in bookshops).

Sylvia Kent will also be publishing her next book Brentwood - 50 Buildings next year.

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