About the Project

 

 

Background

Plans to mark the 80th anniversary of Cromer Road Primary School in New Barnet were drawn up in 2012 and a committee of parents gathered together to organise the proposed events. The school’s actual birthday was marked on 17th September 2012 with the planting of an oak tree in the school grounds by a former pupil and Olympic marathon runner, Joyce Byatt, and by the Deputy Mayor of Barnet.

 
 
The planting of the oak tree in the school field on 17th September 2012.

The planting of the oak tree in the school field on 17th September 2012.

Getting started

The news that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded Cromer Road School a grant of £10,000 to fund its 80th Anniversary History Project was greeted enthusiastically in the school and was reported in both of the local newspapers, The Barnet and Potters Bar Times and The Barnet Press. This press reporting helped to publicize the project and the first photos and memories started coming in. An eye-catching display in the window of Chipping Barnet Library and accompanying postcards advertised two History Days at the school and asked for people to bring or send in their photos, stories and memories.

 
 
 
 

History Days

In the spring of 2013 the school hosted two ‘History Days’ for people to find out more about the history project and to take part in the project, whether by sharing their memories of living in New Barnet or by contributing materials to the growing project archive. Held in the school hall on Sunday 10th February and Sunday 28th April, these open afternoons together attracted over a hundred attendees, who were treated to talks by the local guide Paul Baker about the history of New Barnet and to look at the displays of old photographs and maps of the area. Former pupils of the school were invited to sign their names on the school timeline from 1932 to 2012 and to find their names in the original school registers, that had been kept in school since its first day.

Photographs and other documents that had been brought in were scanned and annotated. Attendees also enjoyed the chance to be taken on a tour of the main school building by the current head teacher, Mrs Helen Schmitz, which brought back many vivid memories. A guided walk around the local area took place on the second History Day, which revealed many surprising aspects of New Barnet’s history, such as the former existence of a wartime blood bank in front of the school. The expert knowledge of Jim Nelhams, of the Hendon and District Archaeological Society, was greatly appreciated and he subsequently volunteered to run a series of local history walks for the benefit of the current pupils at the school.

Oral History Interviews

The oral history element of the project began with a series of short interviews recorded on the second History Day, in which former pupils reminisced about what is was like being at school during the Second World War and remembered key historical events, such as the accession of Elizabeth II and the first landing on the Moon. Equipment was purchased for audio and video recordings to be made of the oral history interviews that would form a central part of the history project. A day’s training in oral history techniques, focussing in particular on the use of video interviews, was held at the school on 22 May, led by the oral historian Roger Kitchen. Many of the attendees at the History Days were willing to be interviewed and volunteers – whose memories ranged from the 1930s to the 1980s – were visited at their homes and interviewed, following a set of questions that solicited much information about school life as well as the experiences of growing up in New Barnet.

History Month at Cromer Road School

June 2013 was earmarked as ‘History Month’ at the school and the children engaged in a wide range of activities that were tailored to their age. Each year group – consisting of two classes – adopted a decade from the eighty years of the school and used their project time to study different aspects of life in that decade. Members of the local community came in to talk to the children about their experiences of being a child in the decade in question and answered questions about how the school had changed since their time as a pupil. Some of these conversations were filmed by the pupils and their teachers.

In advance of the History Month, the school log books from 1932 to 1976 had been studied in depth and extracts were made that provided an insight into the life of the school over this period. These extracts were used extensively in the project work of the Years 5 and 6 classes, many of whom gained inspiration from looking at the primary evidence provided by the log books. The Year 5 classes received a first-hand grounding in the range of primary sources that are available to study local history in New Barnet when they visited Barnet Archives and Local History Centre. In particular, the local newspapers provided much material for the project work that Y5 produced in connection with their study of the 1950s.

A series of local history walks led by local resident Jim Nelhams were organised. Two routes took the children on trails to discover local landmarks, such as the former East Barnet and District Town Hall, and to recognise historical features in the townscape, such as the fire hydrant points, parish boundary markers and stink pipes. A real highlight was when Jim showed the children the boundary between the counties of Middlesex and Hertfordshire and encouraged them to put one foot in each of the counties!

 

Visits were arranged for the Year 3 classes to walk to Barnet Museum, where they were given an excellent introduction to the collections of the Museum. One object was of particular interest to the children, which was a plaque donated by the people of Barnet to H.M.S. Cromer, a warship that fought in the Second World War, to commemorate the ship’s adoption by Barnet Urban District. It had already been discovered from reading the school log books that the parents and pupils of Cromer Road School had raised over £100 in savings stamps during Warships Week in 1942 to help pay for H.M.S. Cromer. Barnet Museum very kindly lent the plaque to the school for its celebratory event and anniversary reunion, where it attracted considerable attention and interest.

Celebration

The school’s 80th anniversary reunion took place on Saturday 22nd June 2013 at the Cromer Road School Summer Festival, which ran from 11am to 5pm. A large marquee was hired for the occasion and a programme of performances from the school children was staged on the school field. A wooden stage was donated and constructed for the occasion by a local firm of builders and each year group of children sang songs from the decade they had been studying. In addition, there were a number of old-fashioned fairground rides as well as plenty of stalls run by parents and children. Over a thousand people attended the festival and watched the performances, despite a number of heavy downpours of rain, which sent everyone running into the marquee for shelter!

 
 
 

Displays about the history of the school and New Barnet were on show in the marquee – which was dubbed the ‘History Tent’ – and folders of school photographs that had been donated were placed on the tables for former pupils to browse through and annotate. This met with a wonderful response, as the former pupils were able to remember remarkable levels of detail about their schooldays.  Several of the attendees had brought in photographs which were scanned and studied in depth as people chatted and jogged each other’s memories. A special cream tea was served for former pupils from 3pm onwards and the day ended with a tour around the main school building, where visitors could look at the displays of old photographs and maps, as well as the artwork and writing which the pupils had completed as part of their decade studies.

Bringing the project to a conclusion

The response from former pupils and members of the local community has been truly overwhelming and the months after the reunion in June were spent recording more oral history interviews, cataloguing the photographs and capturing all the information that has been provided. One of the most wonderful discoveries was the existence of the original plans for the school, dated 1930, which were found in a box of much more modern plans. Research into the photographic collections held at the English Heritage Archives in Swindon uncovered an amazing trio of aerial photographs of the school in 1937.

In the autumn of 2013, work began on creating a website for the History Project, which will display much of the material that has been collected, including excerpts from some of the oral history interviews. The website was launched on 25 April 2014 and a film of the school trip to Cuffley Camp in 1956 – which has been shared by a former pupil – was shown during a special assembly was held to celebrate the end of the project. A celebratory tea party and history day was held at the school on Sunday 27th April, which was attended by many of the former pupils who have taken part in the history project.

Susan Skedd

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