The Chester Road schooldays which shaped so many lives

Chester Road School.
Chester Road School.

Chester Road School left a big impression on George Ford.

After all, he went on to a career in education and has now retired as an executive headteacher in South West Durham.

The huts which faced on to Leamington Street.

The huts which faced on to Leamington Street.

He admitted: “My memories of my own primary and senior school days at Chester Road were often in my thoughts.”

Today, he shares them with us.

The Chester Road School of the 1950s and 1960s was a large one.

And yet, said George, in the context of the current educational climate, it was “a perfect model, with infant, junior and secondary pupils all on the same site”.

A Chester Road classroom line-up, courtesy of George Ford.

A Chester Road classroom line-up, courtesy of George Ford.

Perhaps a different set-up to today, but for George it was ideal. “It was a three-form entry school, the infant school faced onto Stewart Street – Miss Reid is a name I remember when I started school in 1954.

“By the time children had moved into the junior building, which faced onto Chester Road, there were four year groups with 12 streamed classes, – A, B and C – each of 30-plus children.”

There were some signs of the times, he admitted. “Although mixed in the classroom, the girls had a separate playground to the boys and this trend continued into the secondary school.

“There was no wall between junior and secondary boys and although they did not mix, many will remember the snowball battles – it seemed to snow more then?”

Another sign of the era was discipline. “Corporal punishment was the norm, usually the cane,” said George.

“Teachers recalled from the junior school were Mr Spencer (gym shoe replaced the cane) and Mr Burge, in fact they were my only teachers for four years.

“There was also Mr Thompson who ran the cricket team and Mr Smith, one of the teachers, became junior head in about 1959.”

The big defining factor for every child of those times was the 11-plus test.

It saw a percentage of pupils going to Bede Grammar or Southmoor Tech. “The rest stayed on the site and were at Chester Road Secondary, leaving at 15.”

In 1960, Cowan Terrace closed and a few pupils transferred schools. “They all seemed to be great footballers,” said George.

“The head in 1961 was Mr Hutton, whose son David went on to be Bishop of Liverpool. The main secondary building contained the hall, the domain of Miss Ruth – music seemed to be all that mattered there.

“The huts outside, facing Leamington Street, saw Mr Oyston teaching science with a few volts to help us remember the path of electricity, and a swordfish’s ‘sword’ replacing the cane. He was an enthusiastic teacher.

“Who could fail to enjoy those lessons?

“Mr Martin was in the next hut for art, soon to be replaced by Miss Tagg, Miss Bolam was also a young teacher at this time.

“Mr Johnston was great at French cricket, with the waste basket as a wicket (although my parents were not so keen when I ended up in the eye infirmary following a collision with the school gate attempting a catch off his spin bowling).”

The young George Ford had an experience to remember in 1961.

“I had the opportunity to go on a trip abroad – Echternach in Luxemburg was a base that enabled visits to France, Germany and Belgium. £22 all in for a week.”

George added: “I remember my dad coming to the school to settle the balance. Nothing unusual in that except he was a policeman, and although not in uniform he was ‘noticeable’, as many of my peers pointed out!

“Interestingly, the trip was organised by Mr Metcalfe, a teacher who specialised in maths – prior to that he had been a policeman.”

Another memorable visit in the early 1960s was a little closer and involved a walk down Chester Road to the Tech College to look at their newly-installed computer – “the size took up half the room!”.

While secondary school science was a great motivation, another was woodwork. “Once a week we walked up Hurstwood Road for lessons from Mr Friend at huts on the field at Richard Avenue.

“Adjoining these were the kitchens for school dinners, and the football pitch – embarrassing when your dad shouts ‘Come on 3B’ through the fence during PE lessons. Again thankfully not in uniform.

“This area all now replaced by Richard Avenue Primary School, but still holding memories for many.”