Monday, 18 April 2011

Schools lifetime of memories

editorial image
 Deputy head Lesley Martin and administrator Pat Peel look through old school photos

AROUND her, other girls had moved on.

They were the daughters of miners, labourers, coal trimmers, seamen, about to embark on the next important stage of their lives – senior school, mostly.

But for one little lass, called Evaline, it wasn’t to be. Aged just 10, with her mother listed as a widow, she exchanged the cheery rumpus of the classroom for the sanatorium.

Was it because of tuberculosis, the ‘white plague’ that scythed through communities like South Shields in the 1920s and 1930s? It’s doubtful we’ll ever know.
Evaline drops out of the records of Stanhope Primary School in the town at that point.
But like the ‘footprint’ of the old school, which will be left when its £4.5m replacement opens nearby this September, she remains indelible on the pages of its history.
Evaline would be in her 80s now, and it would be lovely to think that she may actually still be out there, just one of thousands of pupils who have passed through the school since it opened two years before the commencement of the First World War.

It means, sadly, that when it closes at the end of the summer term, for the 249 pupils, aged from three to 11, to make the transfer, it will fall one year short of achieving its centenary.
But events surrounding the closure of the old school and the opening of the new will be as much about celebration as valediction, with plans by head John Vasey and his staff, to invite former pupils and teachers etc back for a farewell reunion in July.
“What we would like is for people who’ve attended the school over the years to come in, possibly with photographs and other memorabilia that they can put up on boards that we’ll have divided into decades,” said deputy head Lesley Martin.
“There will be light refreshments, and it’ll be an opportunity for them to have a last look around the building before it’s pulled down.”

What they will find is recognisably 21st-century classrooms and corridors with the dimensions and appurtenances, still, of the post-Edwardian era.
Narrow stone stairs go off at steep angles; nooks and crannies harbour original cast-iron fireplaces, and there are cupboards of proportions akin to the gateway to Narnia.
Outside, stone architraves above the doors recall what were originally separate entrances for boys and girls – features which will be saved, after demolition, to become part of the aforementioned ‘footprint’ that will record where the old school stood.

Most fascinating of all, though, is that a number of admissions registers for the school have also survived.

The earliest date back to within a decade of its opening, when the school, in Gresford Street, sat at the heart of a populous area bounded by Tyne Dock on one side and West Park on the other.

Registers listed fathers’ occupations at that time, so in all the dads who were rail clerks, engine drivers and locomotive firemen, for instance, it’s possible to find a reflection of the community, at Tyne Dock, that depended for its employment on the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and the great coal lines that served the dock itself.

Certain names and professions catch the eye for other reasons, however, like George Curry, who left the school in 1928 and whose father, Thomas Curry, is recorded as having been a professional footballer; also Harriet Freeman, whose father was a showman and whose address is given as ‘show ground, Barnes Road.’ Harriet is another who drops out of history at that point, ‘left the town’ the only clue to her departure.
The open event for former pupils and staff will take place on Thursday, July 7, between 4pm and 7pm.


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