Saturday, 1 April 2017

Traffic Street School Derby

I never visited Traffic Street School.

But then there was no reason why I should.  It wasn’t my school and I can’t think of anyone aged 9 on holiday that would elect to go and look at a school even if it was just round the corner from where they were staying with their grandparents.

All of which is a pity, because I think it was the place my great grandmother as well as my mum and uncle attended and where my dear old friend Cynthia sent her two sons.  Now that is some continuity.  Great grandmother would have been there in 1879 when it opened, my mother and uncle attended from 1925 and Cynthia’s two sometime thirty years later.

It was one of the new Board schools which began to be built after 1871 and between 1873 and 1887 six of these new schools were built in Derby and another taken over.  In total they offered 8,681 school places, and were supplemented by eighteen church schools many of which dated back to the mid century.

It was a pretty impressive building and very much reflected similar schools built across the country.
Mine built by the London School Board in the 1880s straddled two floors.  The classrooms were arranged around two large halls, one on the ground floor and the second above it.
They had been built with huge fire places which were only replaced by central heating in the late 1950s. The lavatories were outside in the playground where not a blade of grass, or flowers were in evidence.

So in the years after the last war many of these places were seen as old fashioned and no longer fit for purpose.  In their place came the new schools of the mid 20th century with lots of glass allowing sunlight to illuminate even the drabbest of classrooms.

All of which was fine and worked on paper and looked good in the design briefs, but were less than wonderful if you had to sit through double Maths on a hot June day.  On such days there was no hiding place.  The rooms heated up, the glare from the sun made it difficult to see the board and opening the windows just allowed in the noise from the street or the distractions of a girls netball game just under the window.

Add to this many of these new wave schools fell victim to economies which led to shoddy materials, metal frames which buckled, let in the rain and rusted.  Some that went up in the brave new age of the 1960s lasted but two decades.

Now I not only sat in them as a student but returned and taught in similar 50s builds. One school  I worked had been designed with an upstairs corridor which was lost in a spending cut and so you were left having to go through one classroom to access another, and the added number id students on the remaining corridor caused havoc.
Not so the Board schools.  They were built with thick walls, and high windows which meant they were warm in winter and cool in summer with the added advantage that enough light came in but with non of the distractions from being able to stare out at that net ball match.

They gave out just that right image.  Here was somewhere which took the business of learning seriously and accepted that the children who came through the doors should not be palmed off with a second rate building.

And over the next few weeks I want to explore what was on offer to my great grandmother as well as my mum. It is a topic I have written about my book on Chorlton* and it is one that will take us from the highs to the lows of classroom experiences in Traffic Street School.

Next; classroom size, attendance and learning in the Traffic Street School of the 1880s, or learning the basics by rote and the cane and ebony ruler

Pictures; from the collection of Cynthia Wigley.


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