Monday, 20 March 2017

Uncovering the fascinating story of Frank Jefferson .............. historian, teacher, and soldier

I think we should all know more about the life of Frank Jefferson.

He was a teacher and later head teacher at the Open-Air School in Shrewsbury Park, was a noted historian of Woolwich and served in the Royal Artillery during the Great War.

Now that is a pretty impressive track record many of us would wish to emulate, more so because he had the rare gift of achieving much but carrying it off in the most modest of ways.

I came across him only recently when my friend Tricia alerted me to his book, The Woolwich Story.

It is one of those wonderful history books which is fun to read, offers heaps of information but has a light touch which carries the reader along.

Before I knew of his chosen career, the style, humour and ease with which Mr Jefferson delivered the Woolwich story made me think he must have been a teacher.

That said there was very little I could find about him until I contacted Jim Marret who is secretary of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society.

The Society had published the book and Mr Jefferson had been its President for three years.

Jim provided me the a copy of the obituary written by a friend of Frank Jefferson and from there the story tumbled on to the page.

He was born in Essex in 1889 and in 1911 was living with his family in a pleasant eight roomed semi detached on Nadine Street.

Five years later the family were at 6 Russel Place in Woolwich and it was from there that the young Frank enlisted in November 1916.

He survived the war and in 1929 as head teacher oversaw the move of the Open-Air School from Shrewsbury House to Charlton.  According to his obituary “we must not forget that he was one of the instigators of the ‘Open –Air’ school in England, at Shrewsbury Park, at which hundreds of children were aided to recovery from ill-health.  

The full story is told by Frank in his book except for one important detail- he has omitted, with typical modesty, to mention his own part in the work there.”**

And that I think is where I shall end for now but like all good stories it offers up the promise of much more.

For now I would like to thank Mr Jim Marrett of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society who provided the obituary and cover of the book on the Open Air School.

The Society has let me join and already Jim has told me of the society’s effort to have plaques erected to some of our almost forgotten historians and as they say for the rest watch this space.

Location; Woolwich, Eltham, Welling

Pictures; cover  England’s First Open Air School, 1957, courtesy of the Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society, The Open Air School Bostal Woods, circa 1909, from Open Air Schools Leonard P Ayres, 1910 page 39 and cover The Woolwich Story, E.F.W.Jefferson, 1972

*The Woolwich Story, E.F.E Johnson, 1972

**E.F.E. JEFFERSON 1899-1970: An Appreciation J.J. Morrow

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