Some of Witham’s children have recently moved up to our two ‘big schools’, Rickstones and Maltings (formerly Bramston). But until 1937, when Bramston Secondary School was built, there were no ‘big schools’ in Witham. A very few children, who could afford the uniform and pass the test, went to big schools in other towns.
But the great majority went to one of Witham’s two Elementary Schools, where pupils stayed for the whole of their school career. Until 1921 the leaving age was twelve, and after that it was fourteen.
One was the Church School (or National School) in Guithavon Street, where girls and boys were taught separately. It was demolished during the 1960s, the site now being part of the car park.
The other was the Council School (or Maldon Road school) (now Parkside Youth Centre),which was mixed. In addition there was a very small Catholic school.
They all took infants, but there was also a separate Infants’ Church School which moved about until it settled in Church Street.
The Council school had three rooms and the National School not many more. So the pupils were used to sharing their space with other classes.
Mr Ted Mott described the arrangement at Maldon Road. “One room was Infants and Standard 1, middle room was always the biggest classes in there, 2 and 3. Then at the top was 4, 5 and 6. You were sitting back to back. You couldn’t see the other class. That was the thing. They were that way we were this way. We used to hear ‘em. We used to listen and all.”
Mrs Christina Lee went to that same school and said “the thing was, of course, they were open rooms, and the classes, you just had to keep a sort of concentration on the one [teacher] that was yours, and not on the one that was down there. Still, it was marvellous really what we learned. We had a very nice lady teacher there, a Mrs Andrews and it’s really marvellous the groundwork that you got from those little schools. It really was.”
She also spoke about Mr Quick, head of Maldon Road from about 1905 to 1920. “Oh, we had a wonderful master there for a time. He was over six feet but he was a musician. He taught piano and did other things and you know he gave us a wonderful musical appreciation. That’s where mine began I’m quite sure. Also he used to love to set out scientific experiments and all that sort of thing. He really was a wonder.”
Two of the heads of the boys’ National School also stood out in the memory of ex-pupils. Herbert Keeble recalled the long-serving Charles Cranfield, head of the boys’ National School from c 1876 to 1915. “A brilliant man. He was organist at Chipping Hill church for many years. He was the man who always told us boys there would be a War. Going back in 1910 and 11. He certainly turned out some good boys. He wasn’t a sleeping master. He was up-to-date.“
And Walter Peirce said “It was Mr Rowles (c 1920 onwards). He used to take us boys, we used to walk to Faulkbourne Hall and all the rest of it, and he created the interest of architecture in front of me, you see. I got so interested see, there ain’t many churches in Essex I haven’t been into.”
This article first appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times (number 25).