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Brentwood historian reflects on Christmas past in Hutton Poplars

PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:26 20 December 2019

Hutton Poplars Hall. Picture: Brentwood Borough Council

Hutton Poplars Hall. Picture: Brentwood Borough Council

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This week Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent looks back at past Christmas in Hutton Poplars.

The interior of Hutton Poplars dining hall.The interior of Hutton Poplars dining hall.

It's odd how our Christmas recollections dwell in our memories, however old we become, particularly those from early childhood.

Brentwood resident, Doreen Waters, once the town's favourite lollypop lady, used to love escorting youngsters safely across busy Hutton roads which was not far from her own residential school - later known as Hutton Poplars.

Memories of Doreen's early years are still alive in her heart, particularly at this festive time. December was a memorable month for the children living in what some Brentwood folk called the orphanage, but many considered it to be a "safe haven".

Doreen recalls: "My brother and I went to live at the home in the 1930s because our mother couldn't support us.

"I don't remember ever being unhappy while I lived there.

"We were so well looked after by lovely ladies we called "nurses" or "aunties.

"During my early years there were 600 boys and girls at Hutton, although they were kept in separate blocks or buildings and the education we received was excellent.

"Christmas was a magical time. Our headmaster, Mr Higdon, always put on theatrical events, such as plays and we performed in a pantomime held on Boxing Day - we had a lovely stage at the school that even had a proper trap door.

"I remember Mr Shearing who was a fine pianist making the music for the dances that were held at the school. There were loads of parties in the other blocks.

"Father Christmas made his way down the huge dormitories and everyone had a full stocking when they woke up on Christmas morning.

"It was so wonderful what they did for us all. We particularly used to look forward to the exciting presents that would be sent by people who had donated them to The Evening News and from other newspapers.

"So, on the whole, I have no regrets and my young life was a happy one at the Poplars School."

For many years after Hutton Poplars closed down and work started after the buildings were demolished, Doreen became part of a team of people who had attended the school and from 1993 they organised annual reunions. Local press used to come along to take photographs, and often Lord Petre, their president, attended.

A newsletter was sent to those of the school's former pupils who showed interest and they and their families made the journey, usually in the summer, from all over the world.

The original residential school, set in 100 acres of woods and fields, was the brainchild of the Member of Parliament George Lansbury who organised its building which opened in 1906.

Royalty often visited and Queen Mary, grandmother of Queen Elizabeth, famously came to Hutton in May 1919.

For almost 80 years this school was home to thousands of children who needed love and familial stability. It closed its doors in the 80s and a private housing estate was built on the site.

The beautiful dining hall still remains; also the main school which is now the Mid- Essex Adult Community College.

Doreen still lives in Hutton and preserves many poignant photographs taken of the children and staff but retains - most importantly - her very own special memories of Christmas at Hutton Poplars.

More details on Hutton Poplars' history can be found in my newly published book BRENTWOOD IN 50 BUILDINGS in local bookshops. Visit sylviakent.blogspot.com

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