From Dolphin Lane to the Oaklands Primary School, the first thirty years 1929-59, by Harry Murch
For all the children and their teachers who moved to Acocks Green to start this new school
H. J. Murch : Headteacher of The Oaklands Primary School
(April 1981 to December 1995)
Printed & Published March 2004
Revised August 2006
Hard copies of this history may be obtained from Oaklands Primary School, Dolphin lane, Acocks Green, Birmingham B27 7BT.
The school has also published The War Years, by Harry Murch and Samantha Finch, in 2006. This gives a more detailed account of that time, and contains many memories of former pupils.
A school is more than bricks and mortar; it is the people who use it – the children, the teachers, the support staff, the parents – and all that goes on there. As such it is never static but always evolving and changing.
Using original diaries, registers, letters and the memories of pupils who attended the school, this booklet attempts to summarize its gradual development and some of the many activities that took place there between 1929, when the school was opened by Mr Sutton, and 1959 when his successor, Miss French, left to take become the Head Teacher of another school.
During this period the nature of the school changed on more than one occasion. It began its existence as a combined Junior and Infant School, before becoming separate Infant and Junior Departments, with different Head Teachers, on the same site. Later, as the numbers attending the school declined, it once again became a combined Junior and Infant School. The name of the school also changed during this period of its history. Opening as Dolphin Lane Council School, it was renamed in the city’s 1954 ‘Development Plan for Primary and Secondary Education’ as The Oaklands Primary School.
'When I was a child it is fair to say
We had just as much fun as children of today.
Now of all the places I have seen,
I’m glad I was a child in Acocks Green.'
From ‘Childhood in Acocks Green’ by Dennis Simons
Many people have given their help, support and advice during the writing of this brief early history of the school.
Above all my gratitude must go to Diane Worland, the present Head Teacher of The Oaklands School, for allowing me unlimited access to the school’s records.
I am also indebted to the many past pupils of the school who sent me photographs, items of memorabilia and letters containing their personal memories and reflections. Their support and interest has been a true revelation.
Special thanks are owing to Dennis Simons for allowing me to use his poems.
My thanks are also due to the school secretary, Samantha Finch, for all the technical advice, and secretarial help, she has given me during the preparation of the book.
I also acknowledge information gleaned from the publications ‘Acocks Green’ (by Mike Byrne) and ‘Acocks Green All Around’ (by John Morris Jones) and thank the Local History Department of the Birmingham Library Service for allowing photographs held in their archives to be reproduced.
Last, but not least, my thanks and appreciation go to my family for their patience and understanding during the many months it has taken to collate, from various sources, the information for this booklet.
Introduction: Goodbye Green Fields and Country Lanes
What we now know as Acocks Green was a vast track of open countryside dotted with small cottages and farms some of which, like Huyon Hall (later Hyron Hall) and Broom Hall, were surrounded by moats.
With the opening of the Birmingham to Oxford Railway in 1852 the first significant changes to Acocks Green began to occur. Businessmen could now leave the dirty, disease-ridden towns to live, or retire, in a clean, pleasant country environment.
Commenting about the pre-rail era Alan Fitton wrote:
‘In those days it would have been difficult to find a more entrancing spot, or one from which the noise and bustle of commerce seemed more remote. A few stately houses, for the most part standing in their own grounds, and a number of humbler cottages, picturesque, though doubtless unsanitary, comprised the homes of the scanty population………The roads consisted of winding lanes, bounded by hedgerows and guarded by great trees. There were broad stretches of meadow land ….. farms were tended and fruitful….. There was no bustle and little noise.’
(from ‘Acocks Green’ compiled by Mike Byrne)
By the end of the 19th century new, larger type houses were built in Victoria Road, Botteville Road and an area bounded by Westley Road and the Warwick Road.
In 1911, Acocks Green, then in the Parish of Yardley, was absorbed into Birmingham and it was this change that started the sequence of events that were to transform the area forever. The land south of the Warwick Road had so far remained as open fields and country lanes, but dramatic changes were not too far away.
By the early 1920’s, Birmingham was desperate for housing land and within a few short years, a large part of Acocks Green was built over with municipal housing. This low-density accommodation, with good sanitation and with general repairs as part of the rental package, was a much-needed improvement for the City’s less well off. However, discrimination was as rife for the many thousands of people who moved into the district, being considered by the local people as socially inferior because of their stronger accents.
As well as a drastic change to the landscape, with the loss of farms, fields and country lanes, Birmingham’s house building policy also created tremendous social upheaval. It was against this background that Dolphin Lane Council School came into existence.
Birmingham’s quest for new building land in the 1920’s soon overtook the lanes and remaining farmland that characterised Acocks Green at that time and amid what was quickly to become a vast building site, a location was decided upon for the proposed Dolphin Lane Council School. The site chosen, central to the first area to be developed, was on the in-filled moat of the original 16th century Hyron Hall.
By the late autumn of 1928, when the building was nearing completion, notice of this new Grade IV School was circulated by the City’s Education Department inviting applications for the post of Head Teacher. Mr George Harold Sutton was the successful applicant and was recommended for appointment on the 27th November 1928. Miss D. E. Hale was appointed Chief Assistant (now the Deputy Head Teacher).
With these appointments in place the Education Department formally advertised the opening date of the school, which was to be Monday the 7th January 1929, and the dates on which parents could apply for the places available.
On the first of the designated dates for registering at the school the names of 477 children were recorded for admission; on the following day a further 133 children were registered. Of the total number requesting places 148 of the children were aged 5, 117 aged 6, 122 aged 7, 88 aged 8, 80 aged 9 and 55 aged 10.
The number registered was far in excess of the 432 pupils the school was designed for but rather than refuse admission to any of the children it was decided to group them into eleven classes each with approximately 55 children. However, as the school only had nine classrooms, two classes would be taught in the Assembly Hall.
The letter confirming the offer of places, was sent to all the parents on the 19th December, and requested them to –
‘provide for each child a slip of paper giving child’s name, age and address. The children should bring these slips to school and hand them over to their teachers…’
The same letter informed parents that the school hours would be
All children 8.50 am to 12 noon
Children 5, 6, and 7 years 1.50 pm to 4.00 pm
Children 8, 9, and 10 years 1.50 pm to 4.30 pm
Where had all these families come from? Where were their new homes?
Most of the children came from schools spread right across the city, many of which were in clearance areas (Appendix 1), while others moved from schools outside the city boundaries. One hundred and fifty seven different establishments were recorded as ‘previous schools’ (Appendix 2) but this was not the complete picture as more than ninety children were noted as having come from Acocks Green Junior School or Acocks Green Infant School. The records of these schools show that in most instances the children registered were from families that had moved into their new homes before Dolphin Lane School was ready for occupation and were, therefore, only temporary placements.
The children’s addresses, registered on their admission, indicated that rather than a concentrated development immediately around the school, the whole area bounded by Fox Hollies Park to the south, Fox Hollies Road to the west and Olton Boulevard East to the north was one huge building site, with streets as far apart as Bretton Road, Pool Farm Road and Hartfield Crescent being named by the families (Appendix 3).
The opening day was the 7th January 1929. Eight teachers had been appointed to staff the school but because of the large numbers registered for admission four supply teachers were also made available.
What a sight it must have been as the majority of parents assembled in the playground with their children to be -
‘instructed by the Head Teacher as to the method of procedure’.
By 9.15am the parents had dispersed and by 10am all the registers had been marked. They showed that 585 of the 610 applicants had ‘presented themselves’. Getting all the children into the building and sorted into their classes in such a short time was either organisation at its very best, or, as one might suspect, more akin to a military style exercise. Whichever it was the operation was certainly viewed as a complete success.
As far as possible the children were arranged in classes according to their age but inevitably, with such a large intake and a limited number of teachers, some classes had children of different ages in them.
When the school Admission Register was completed Allen Artus, of Circular Road was the first boy recorded and Cynthia Beddow, also of Circular Road, was the first girl.
"‘The school as an educational institution had begun. A full report of the opening was asked for by the Chief Education Officer"
Buildings: meeting the changing needs
Plans drawn up in February 1928 for the new Dolphin Lane Council School were in the shape of a non - symmetrical ‘U’. The design showed a central block, housing the Head Teacher’s office, the Medical Inspection room and the Assembly Hall on the ground floor, separate staff rooms for the male and the female teachers on the first floor, and two single storey classrooms and a cloakroom either side of it. The single storey side wings were of uneven length, one having four classrooms and the other just one room. The space beyond this was identified as an area for a possible future extension. Separate entrances were identified for the boys and the girls, and a six-foot high iron railing divided both the front and the rear playing areas.
From the day the school opened it was evident it was too small for the immediate needs of the area it was to serve. Extra accommodation was urgently required and the Education Authority responded by providing a temporary wooden building, with two class spaces, on the east side of the main building. Work was started in July 1929 in the hope that the unit would be ready for occupation at the start of the new school year. In the event, however, it took until the end of September for the first classroom to be ready and mid October before the second room could be used.
Rarely, if ever, are buildings constructed free of faults and Dolphin Lane was no exception. Before the end of its first year the ‘long overdue list of repairs’ included - flooding in the coal cellar, falling plaster in the latrines, faulty locks to some entrance doors, faulty window catches, problems with the gas pilot lights and the cloakroom rails that were too high for the children to reach comfortably.
The pressure on the school for places was continuous. Some relief was anticipated in April 1930 when a new temporary school, for children under seven, opened in Nailstone Crescent at the far end of this ever-expanding estate but in the event, only six children transferred to the new school so the situation at Dolphin Lane remained largely unchanged.
On the 3rd November 1930, however, Severne Road Junior Mixed School was opened and a directive from the Education Department stated that all the infant and junior children currently attending Dolphin Lane but living on the Gospel Farm Estate must be transferred to the new school. Sixty-two children moved, as required, but even this did not solve the accommodation problem. Furthermore it created an additional difficulty. There were as many children waiting for places at the school as the number of children who had transferred to Severne Road but they were all five year olds! As the children who had moved to Severne Road came from across the age ranges a complete reorganisation of the classes had to be undertaken to accommodate these new infant children.
With no let up in the demand for school places it was agreed to build three permanent classrooms onto the school’s eastern wing, where space for a possible extension had been earmarked on the original plans. An analysis of the school’s roll, which totalled 690 in March 1931 clearly indicates why such an extension, just two years after the school had opened, was necessary.
Work started on the new brick-built classrooms that same month and for the safety of the children the entrance near the caretaker’s house was closed off. This necessitated the girls using the ‘Boy’s Entrance’ to reach their classrooms.
In July the school received an official notification stating;
"I have to inform you that pending the erection of the second department to which the existing hut is to be attached, your school is temporarily recognised by the Board of Education as providing accommodation for not more than 672 Junior Mixed and Infant children (including the 96 places in the temporary hut)"
Signed Chief Education Officer.
By this time the classes being taught in the Hall had already moved to the two rooms ready for occupation; the third new classroom was completed during the summer break and was ready for use when the school reassembled in late August.
With more and more families moving onto the estate even this permanent extension could not provided the number of places needed. A summary of the classes numbers in October 1931 show the school now had a total of 742 children on roll, well above the Board of Education’s stated limit.
A rethink of school provision for this sector of the estate had become a priority; indeed a solution, in the form of plans for a new and separate Infants Department, had already been drawn up. The new wooden construction was to be sited at the rear of the existing Dolphin Lane School building and linked to it by covered walkways. Work on the structure started in January 1932 and was completed in time for the planned opening date of 4th July, the same year.
The opening of this new school had not come a moment too soon as by April of that year there were in excess of 800 children on the school’s roll.
Miss Hood, appointed as the Head Teacher of this new Department, had a staff of seven assistant teachers.
Three hundred and thirty one children were transferred from the original school to the new Infant Department and these, together with a the fifty-four new children admitted, made up seven classes each with fifty-five children in them.
Figures for the Junior Department in August, the start of a new school year, suggest that with two autonomous establishments on the same site the reduced number of children in the one building would substantially ease the management issues faced by the Head Teacher.
There would be two transfers of children from the Infant Department to the Junior Department, one at the end of January and the other in July. (These transfer dates were also used for the movement of children from the Junior School to Secondary Schools.) Until 1938 the age of transfer was 7 years and 3 months but in that year it was raised to 7 years and 6 months.
By March 1933 the number of junior pupils had risen again, reaching the upper 500’s, while by September of that year the figure had further increased to 640 children. The roll remained either just above or just below the September 1933 figure until the end of school year in July 1937. At that juncture Mr Sutton was able to report,
"There will be 577 children on roll after the holiday and a staff of 12 teachers. This means the school is now a normal school so far as official accommodation (576) is concerned, and that, for the first time since the opening of the school, 7th January 1929. The Hall of the school will be free from classes (as a classroom). It is proposed to apportion time to all classes for
- Lessons in P.T., Dancing or Exercises in Rhythm.
- Each Singing Group
- Dramatic Work."
No further improvements or alterations to the buildings were recorded until the decorators moved into the Junior Department soon after the mid-summer holiday of 1934. They continued working until the end of October, repainting both the interior and the exterior of the school.
The corridors along the wings of the main building were open to the elements and during inclement weather they became slippery and dangerous so enclosing them, or resurfacing them, seemed an obvious solution. There was, however, the problem of the cost involved in making such a simple improvement and the Education Department’s reply to Mr Sutton’s request was very much to the point,
‘Owing to expense relaying would not be justified at
the present time’.
Instead mat wells were provided!!
Improvements to the Infant Department building were made in 1937, when French Doors were fitted into each of the classrooms. Essentially they were to provide a quick and safe exit in the event of a fire but they also gave the children easy access to the grounds outside their classrooms.
With the onset of the war any improvements or renovations to the buildings were put on hold. Certainly the most pressing need, in terms of building, was protection from air raids. Initially the school, as a single complex, was allocated nine shelters and these were completed and ready for use by January 1940. This provision was insufficient for the number of children attending the school and after a lot of pleading a further five shelters were built.
The next significant change to the school building was accidental ‘demolition’. On the night of 11th/12th December 1940 an anti-aircraft shell hit the roof of the main building and exploded. With rain, snow and water pouring through the roof and flooding the Hall and corridors all efforts to mend the hole with sacking, tarpaulins and even blackboards, were unsuccessful. The G.P.O. finally came to the rescue. The school had already been earmarked as a temporary sorting office for the Christmas post so the repairs needed to weatherproof and windproof the Hall were carried out by the Post Office. In spite of the best efforts of the G.P.O. the continuous inclement weather still made some parts of the school uninhabitable. The situation was so bad that a letter forwarded to the Education Department stated ‘that repairs are urgent if education is to continue at Dolphin Lane.’ A claim for £630.1s.1d was eventually submitted for the damage caused by the shell.
Metal was in much demand as the conflict in Europe accelerated and as a result the partition railings that separated the boys and girls playgrounds had to be sacrificed as part of the war effort. Removed in 1943, they were never replaced.
Plans were already in place for the school to be used as an Emergency Feeding Station if necessary when a request was made for it to have a School Canteen. As part of this new initiative Miss Hood reported
"Workmen have been here this week
putting in an Ascot heater and a hot cupboard in preparation for the serving of dinners."
With the majority of the staff in favour of having the facility, it became operational in March 1944. There were three part time cooks -
‘to serve meals and
see to cleaning and washing of utensils’
but the collection of money and the supervision of the children was the responsibility of the teachers. The meals were supplied, and delivered by motor van, from Severne Road Meals Centre.
When the war was over it was back to requesting more routine improvements such as resurfacing the playgrounds and repainting the school. The air-raid shelters had also outlived their usefulness and request after request was submitted for their removal without any noteworthy success.
When Miss Hood retired, in July 1946, it was decided not to appoint a new Infant Head Teacher so the two separate Departments were amalgamated into a single school once again under the leadership of Mr Sutton (p.19).
The number of children at the school had been declining slowly and by early 1948 the five hundred and five children on roll were based in four infant classes and seven junior classes. With less need for all the classroom space available, the temporary wooden building erected as emergency accommodation in 1929 was removed and four of the other empty classrooms were temporarily loaned to Acocks Green Secondary School, to accommodate their excess numbers.
The repainting of the school, requested in 1946, was finally carried out between October and December 1954. Two years later banks of hand basins were installed adjacent to the Boy’s and the Girl’s Entrances and also in the air-raid shelter that had been built along the east wing of the school. A request was also made for the open corridors to be enclosed.
The rise and fall in pupil numbers at the school and the onset of a World War resulted in many changes to the layout of the building during its first thirty years; as educational ideas developed and diversified there would be many more changes in the years ahead.
Introduction – Goodbye Green Fields and Country Lanes
Buildings – Meeting the Changing Needs
The School Staff – Comings and Goings
A Broader Education – Talks, Festivals and Visits
Concerts and Performances – A Chance to Show Off
Royal Occasions – Visits and Celebration Holidays
Physical Activities – Athletics, P.T. and Games
Fund Raising – Helping Others and Supporting Ourselves
Medical Matters – The Doctor, The Dentist and the ‘Nit’ Nurse
Accidents and Misfortunes – Cuts, Bruises and Even Worse
Transgressions – Naughty, Naughty!!
The Air Raid Shelter Saga – Keeping the Children Safe
Evacuation – From Birmingham to the Countryside and Back
Appendix 1 Birmingham Educational Districts & School Lists
Appendix 2 New Pupils’ Previous Named Schools
Appendix 3 Sketch Map of the Local Roads Housing Dolphin Lane Pupils
Appendix 4 Memories – Dennis Simons