Ramsden Crays Council School was opened on September 6 1926, with 130 children in four classes. Before this, Crays Hill children went to Crays Hill Church of England School, which stood near the Church Hall, and Ramsden Bellhouse children went to the Church of England School in Ramsden Heath, which stood on the south side of Heath Road, between Park Lane and Mill Lane. This school building was converted into two houses called, rather wittily, `Eton' and `Harrow'. These have now gone. Some Ramsden Bellhouse children went to a small private school run by Miss Benson.
Mr Herbert Charles Bear was the first Headmaster. His detailed writings in the Log Book show him as a most dedicated man, who made the school his life's work. His pride and enthusiasm for the school comes out in every page. I remember him well. He was Head of a Rural School, and he made us deeply aware of our environment, instilling in most of us a love of nature and the countryside, and a knowledge of the hard work involved with agriculture. He was Headmaster for twenty-six years, and saw many changes, not only in his school, but in the world of education.
In 1926, the local Squire of Crays Hill, Mr Bacon and his wife, were Managers, as was Reverend Trousdale, the Rector of Crays Hill. Mr Harvey and Mr and Mrs Dovey of Ramsden Bellhouse, were also among the early Managers. The Attendance Officer, Mr Wheatley, paid weekly visits to the school, and the School Nurse came to inspect the heads. She usually found quite a few that were `verminous'. Contagious illnesses played havoc with the attendance figures, diphtheria, mumps, measles, chicken pox, scarlet fever, impetigo, scabies, and influenza got frequent mentions in the Log Book. There were nine cases of whooping cough in June 1929, and an epidemic of measles closed the school for a month in 1930, when half the school was absent with this disease. In February 1935, 17 cases of whooping cough are reported, and in the next year there were four cases of diphtheria, followed by 72 cases of measles. I personally tend to look back on my school days in the 1930's through rose coloured spectacles, forgetting how much children suffered at that time from diseases now controlled by vaccination and immunisation. One must not forget either the sad pleas sent from class to class asking for out-grown shoes for children unable to afford them. The Log Book reports in 1938 that three boys received new boots from the `After Care Fund'. Patriotism played a large part in our school life. Within a month of the school opening a National Savings Group was started, and during the War, special efforts were made for War Weapons and other special weeks to reach a target. The War Weapons weekly target of £100-0-0 was more than doubled -£252-15-0 was saved that week.
In the early years of the School, Trafalgar Day was observed, but the two main days when our love of country was fostered were Empire Day, and Armistice Day. The former was celebrated by a pageant in the morning, followed sometimes by a holiday in the afternoon. Armistice Day was always very solemn. Mr Bear explained to the top classes the horrors that war could bring. He fought in the 1914 - 18 War, and had received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, so he knew what he was talking about. We always observed the two minutes silence at 11 'o'clock, and usually the afternoon was a holiday. I wonder sometimes if we should have remembered those days so clearly if they had not been followed by a holiday. Royal Weddings and Funerals were marked, as were Jubilees and Coronations, with suitable books given to each child to mark the occasion. On October 20 1926, the School Library was started, not by the Education Authority, but by `staff and scholars' who brought books to school. A further example of helping themselves was the Gardening Class which began in November 1926, with the boys providing their own tools. Tools were however provided in March the following year.
The Gardens played a great part in the life of the older boys, and it was a crime punishable by one stroke of the cane to walk, or worse still, play on the gardens. Prizes were given each year to the boys with the best plots. In October 1929, Class One heard their first `wireless programme' called `Rural Survey; and in August 1933 Dr Keen of Roehampstead Experimental Station, who gave the wireless talks, came to visit the school in connection with them. There were regular inspections by a Horticultural Lecturer who gave very good reports on the Rural Science taught in the school. When in 1937 the senior pupils were transferred to Billericay School, the Rural Science was deleted from the curriculum. The final report of the RS Lecturer praises the work done by the school, combining geography with Rural Science, and hoped that the New School (Billericay) would carry on promoting the Rural Science interest. Billericay School has to this day a very active Rural Science department.
In the early days of the school most children went home to dinner, and in consequence the dinner `hour' was from 12 noon - 2 pm, to allow those with long distances to get home and back to school. I had a mile and a half journey to school, but often came home to dinner during the summer months. During the winter, we ate our sandwiches in the classroom, and some children had Horlicks Malted Milk at 3d a week made by the Headmaster. School milk at 1/2d for '1/3pt started in October 1934, and became free in 1941. Hot school meals were started in 1942, coming from Billericay Senior School. In 1944 work on the School Kitchen began, the first dining assistant was Mrs Bashford, and in July 1945 the School Kitchen was opened. At the end of the first week, Mr Bear pronounced School Meals as a "huge success".
Christmases were always times for plays and parties. These have become, in present times, major events attended by parents, but in the early days they were small affairs, (less nerve-racking for the Staff!) with a bag of `sweets, oranges, apples etc.' for each child from the Staff and Managers. In a Rural School much absenteeism is due to the weather. Heavy snow fall, flooding in Oak Road, and stormy conditions appear frequently in the winter months of the Log Book. Sometimes the bad weather closed the School. There are a few cases of truancy noted in the Punishment Book, all dealt with quickly by several strokes of the cane. This appeared to be very effective, and no names appear more than once for this offence.
Another annual event was the Scripture Exam. A local Minister would visit each class, listen to the hymn singing, recitation of the Ten Commandments etc., and question the class of their knowledge of the Bible. Prizes were awarded to the best pupils in each class, and the rest of the day was a holiday. As there were no facilities for Woodwork and Domestic Science at the school, the older boys and girls were taken in Mr Harvey's lorry to classes at Wickford (domestic science) and Billericay (woodwork). In 1929 the Honours Board was made out of old desks, and hung in Mr Bear's class. All the names of the children who passed the Scholarship were put on this. By the time I passed, the Honours Board was full - what a disappointment! The cycle shed was also made by the Woodwork Class in 1929.
Medical and Dental Examinations were held in the school, and in the early years the dentist brought his equipment to school for extraction's and fillings. These took place in one of the little rooms upstairs, the two larger rooms being used as classrooms. Mr Bear had no Head's Room and no Secretary, he also taught the top class with an age range from 10 years to 14 years. The brighter ten year olds went into his class to be prepared for the scholarship. Extra lessons were given to them after school. There was no Staff Room for the teachers either. The first Clerical Assistant, Mrs Hall, took up duties in July 1945. School life was much simpler in the early days, without the masses of paper work inflicted on our modern schools. There was even time for teachers to send home a `termly report' on every child.
In 1937 Ramsden Crays Council School became a Junior School with 156 pupils and five teachers. About this time Safety First talks from the Police became a regular feature of school life. Then in 1939 the War came, considerably disrupting school life.
The Log Book reports that on September 4 1939 the School was closed, due to the outbreak of War. The cellar became the Wardens' Post and Mr Bear, the Headmaster was Head Warden. Mr Bestely the caretaker left to become a full≠time fireman in the Auxiliary Fire Service. Gas Masks had already been distributed from the school in 1938, so by 29 September 1939 the school was ready to
Finally I come to the actual school building, and from the front it does not seem to have changed much. This however is a false impression. I'll start with the wash basins and toilets. I remember them well in the thirties. Several enamel bowls of water were put in each cloakroom for washing purposes. I do not know how often it was changed, but by the afternoon the water was covered with a repulsive grey scum. The toilets at this time were outside earth closets - I still remember the cold, and much worse the smell. However all this was to change in the fifties. Proper wash basins were installed in 1950, and work started on new indoor toilets in 1959.
The building work necessitated classes 1, 2 and 4 being transferred to Fairhouse School, Basildon, until June 1960. A further upheaval occurred when on 14 January 1963, the school boiler burst, and once more a Basildon School, Ghyllgrove then empty, was used for staff and pupils.
In 1967, after many years struggling with overcrowding, and lack of a staff room, two new classrooms and a Hall were built at a cost of £25,000.00. The Log Books from which I have mainly taken this account, finish in 1968. In 1986 a celebration for the 60th Anniversary took place, when many of the first pupils returned to the School. Some talked to the children of their memories, and the children researched into the history of their school. Much of that research has been very helpful to me. From my experience as a pupil, and later as a parent, I think we can be proud of the achievements of our village School.
Isabel C Johnson