Memories of Schooldays in Lancaster Road – Part 2

Harvey recalls Solomon Wolfson Jewish Primary School.



Harvey's older brother.

Harvey’s older brother.

I attended the Solomon Wolfson Jewish Primary School in Lancaster Road, W11 from September 1951, aged 4 1/2 until July 1958 aged 11 1/2.

There were two entrance gates to the school on Lancaster Road, one marked as “Boys” and the other as “Girls and Infants”.  Both opened onto the boys’ playground at the front of the school where the foundation stone was set into the wall, with the girls’ playground to the left side of the building and the infants’ play area at the rear. A wooden gate up two steps separated the infants’ playground from the girls’ part and was monitored  by different ladies on a rota, two of whose names I recall as Mrs Munday and Mrs Stanton. Both play areas had toilet blocks and rain shelters.

On the ground floor were four classrooms, the Infants’ classes, a cloakroom and toilet/washroom at each end, a staff room, the Mr Drake the caretaker’s room and the assembly hall. Five classrooms on the first floor were for the Juniors. This floor also with cloakrooms and washrooms at each end, housed the headmaster’s office and a staff room. A staircase at each end of the building via a lobbied area connected the two floors. Halfway between the two floors were landings with small rooms used for storage, with one room set aside for medical purposes. Meal facilities were at the top of the building with the food preparation kitchens and dining room separated by an open flat topped roof (this area later enclosed with further building development).

My teacher for the first two years was Miss Levy, who I recall was a very kindly lady liked by everyone. Although we moved into the next classroom for the second year it was nice that she stayed with us. This was in stark contrast to the teacher my brother who started two years earlier, a Miss Starr. She had a reputation for always shouting at the children so I was relieved at never encountering her.

The Head Teacher for my first year only was Mr Daniel Mendoza, a much loved grand-fatherly figure who had held the post for many years, but was retiring. He continued his link with the school through running a summer holiday camp with his wife at Seaford. Although my parents could not afford to send us, I did go one year on the basis of my mother going as a helper.

Mr Mendoza’s successor, Mr Somper, was, by contrast, very strict and authoritarian and held the post until he retired some years after I left the school. Apart from his disciplinarian regime, which included not ‘sparing the rod’, what was most memorable about him was the strong smell of tobacco emanating from his office, as he often smoked a pipe. When the door was open it often looked foggy inside – pity his unfortunate secretary Miss Cruickshank! The Deputy Head, Mr Shenfield was also a form master in one of the upstairs classes.

My second teacher, Miss Gotleib, noticeably younger than Miss Levy, taught my class for the next two years, eventually leaving to get married and to live in Israel.  It was with  her that I received my first ever award, a book, as a prize for progress at the end of my second year. One other teacher I recall from the infant classes who took us sometimes was Miss Baxter was for some reason was known as ‘The Sugar Plum Fairy”.

After four years of infant classes on the ground floor, it felt strange to move upstairs for the next three years and not to be able to use the infants’ playground. Being of the post-war ‘baby boom’  generation, my year was at this stage divided into two classes. One half went to Classroom 5 under Mr Rodney, while my half went to Classroom 4 under Mrs Ruth Walker, who remained our class teacher for both this and the following two years. For the second and third years we moved to Classroom 2 while the other half went first to Classroom 3 under My Jay and then Classroom 1 under Mr Lipschitz.

In contrast to infant classes where our class teacher taught us most subjects, we now had various teachers. Mrs Walker took us for English reading and writing, Nature Study and Music. Mr Rodney for Mathematics, Mr Jay for History, Geography and P.E and Mr Lipschitz for Religious Instruction.

Being a Jewish Primary School, religious teaching was of the Old Testament and reading and writing in Hebrew. Additional classes for this were held on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school hours and were taken by the Rabbi and senior members from the Notting Hill Synagogue. Separate religious instruction was held for non-jewish pupils.

Unlike the Infants’ playground, pupils were allowed to leave the premises in the main midday lunch period, usually to go to the local shops. One such was a small transport cafe in Ladbroke Grove next door to Barclay’s bank, another sweet shop on St Mark’s Road in a small parade of shops between the railway bridge and Rillington Place. Also popular was a gob-stopper machine outside the newsagent/post office in Ladbroke Grove. The Royalty Cinema immediately next door to the school was always of interest as it was where many would attend Saturday morning Minors matinee (TV not yet being a regular part of our lives).

Lancaster Road looking west from Ladbroke Grove, 1970. photo RBKC.

Lancaster Road looking west from Ladbroke Grove, 1970. photo RBKC.

Although school life was normally unaffected by outside events, there were occasions which had some bearing, two such in 1953. Firstly, the aftermath of bodies discovered in nearby Rillington Place and the police hunt for John Christie meant that school gates were kept closed and strictly monitored with no children allowed out unless accompanied. I remember walking by Rillington Place with my mother and brother on our way to school and seeing crowds of people looking down the dead end turning at the police activity. We heard a woman exclaim “Look, they’re bringing out another body!” At playtime, some of the boys including myself would try to scare the girls by saying “Don’t go to the toilets! Christie’s in there!” Needless to say we were proved wrong.

Secondly, in June 1953, on the occasion of the Queen’s Coronation, those living on the route of her tour through West London and especially North Kensington, were allowed the day off school. Living in St Quintin Avenue, my brother and I were among those lucky ones and clearly remember her waving at the crowds as her car passed our house. One of our grandmothers, then living with us, was seated on the pavement and thought the Queen had come especially to see her.

It was under my time with Mrs Walker at about the age of 8, that my love for gardening was sparked off,  As part of Nature Study we were encouraged to bring a pot plant to the classroom and look after it, taking it home for school holidays and bringing it back when School resumed. My choice of plant was a Geranium. In addition, we were given seeds to grow such as Nasturtiums, with bonus class points for the best tended ones. Best of all was the Daffodil competition run for schools by the London Flower Lovers’ League. Participants were given bulbs to grow on however they wished, for judging in the Spring, the best entries being awarded a 1st Class certificate featuring a colour picture of a bunch of daffodils; second class certificates were identical but in black and white. I still treasure my colour certificate.

My final day at Solomon Wolfson was very memorable as many were fraught with sadness at parting with friends we had made maybe to never see again. We were particularly sad to say good-bye to Mrs Walker as she had nurtured us as part of a big family for 3 years. Those who went on the same schools would at least continue some of their friendships but inevitably others would lose contact as they mad new acquaintances.

I continued to visit the school as did others, to see our old teachers until such a time as when they had left or retired. Mrs Walker was always very enthusiastic to hear of my career progress at Kew Gardens, which she lived not far from and had visited many times. Those Nature Study classes had certainly borne fruit!
Prior to the school closing there was a big reunion in 1981 at which I met some of my former classmates and some teachers namely Mr Jay and Mr Lipschitz. On display was the book showing the date every pupil had entered the school. Presentations were made on the stage of the Assembly hall with three headmasters, Mr Mendoza, Mrs Somper and his successor and current headmaster Mr Bond all seated together. They all made memorable speeches about their time in office. This would be the last time I saw them.

At this stage, my niece and nephew had been pupils at the school for several years and would move to the new premises in North London. My father having retired in 1973, was a lollipop man on the Lancaster Road/St Mark’s Road pedestrian crossings and took a delight in seeing his grandchildren arrive and depart on the school coach. By now most pupils came from much further afield due to a shift in the population in North Kensington, probably a major factor in the school’s eventual closure.

Harvey Groffman 2014.

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26 Responses to Memories of Schooldays in Lancaster Road – Part 2

  1. Linda Pedder says:

    What wonderful memories!! I used to attend the Royalty cinema every saturday but looking at the photograph does anybody know the name of the pub on the corner opposite? My friend who lived in the Britannia Arms, her gran ran this pub but can’t remember the name, anyone help??

  2. Gwen Nelson says:

    Your memories of the day Christie was captured are very similar to mine. I went to St. Mary’s in East Row and those children who lived close by were sent home under police escort and others who could not were kept in the school with all the doors locked and police outside. Someone told me he was actually caught somewhere on the Embankment.

  3. Evie Marlin says:

    Do you remember Yvonne Herman? Was in class with Jeffrey Fisher, Stuart Solomon, Diane and Connie Valentine, Elizabeth Harvey, Edith Rosenberg….ring any bells

  4. Derek Newell says:

    I attended Lancaster Road Secondary School from 1944 to 1949. My family lived opposite the school so my attendance was quite good as teachers moving along the corridors could witness my movements if I was an absentee. Headmasters and masters I can remember were Mr Pomeraroy, Mr Clements, Mr Green and Mr Fullerton. My first school was Portobello Road Infants school from where I was evacuated from in 1939 the entrance being in Portobello Road. My mother worked there as a cleaner. We could pay for school dinners at Lancaster Road school. It cost sixpence and the ticket was divided into three being one 2d for soup, one 2d for dinner and one 2d for sweet these tickets were presented to a dining hall in Portobello Road next to the library.

  5. am seeking school rolls for 1930-44 for Wilbur Solomon – anyone know if these exist and where?

  6. Martin, You might ask the Michel Sobell Sinai Jewish Primary School (in Kenton I think) as when Solomon Woolfson closed down in 1981 that is what it became. Here is a link to their website.

    Other school rolls often went to the London Metropolitan Archives but I am not sure about Jewish Schools. The National Archives hold some records from the school – you can find details online but I did not see school rolls.

    Sue at northkenhistories

    • Yes I have tried all the archives and none have school rolls for the school; Sinai school said no aswell

      Martin Sugarman


  7. Loraine Parry (nee Lander) says:

    I attended Solomon Wolfson during 1960’s and especially remember Mr Somper. What a wonderful time especially when our class performed The Sound of Music in front of friends and family, and I was fortunate enough to play the leading lady, Maria.
    Upon leaving Solomon Wolfson, I had a short time at Sarah Siddons Girls High School before emigrating with my family to Australia. I wrote often to my then best friend, then known as Sharon Grant (from Willesden), but unfortunately after awhile we lost touch.
    I’m currently working with my Ancestry Tree and decided to google my primary school to find out anything.
    I also remember knowing a Raymond Markovitch and a Robin Presky, though unsure whether through school.
    Any help?
    Loraine Parry (nee Lander)

    • purrpuss1 says:

      Good luck with your research. Have you joined the Facebook group “Born in W.10” Lots of helpful people there. I wasn’t actually born there but lived there from age 6-21 so it very much shaped who I am today.

    • I remember you, vaguely, Loraine, by name at least. Also Robin and Raymond, whom you mentioned. I can’t say my memories of Solomon Wolfson, which I left in 1966, to attend the City of London School for Girls, are particularly happy ones. I loathed Somper. I do remember, with a certain amount of affection, Mrs. Nossak (if that’s how you spell it) the school cook and, especially, some of her desserts.
      One pleasant memory I do have is of the Friday afternoon Kabbalat Shabbat when we would often perform short sketches. I don’t remember The Sound of Music but I do remember we performed Mary Poppins.
      Other names I remember from my class are Daniel Halfon, (who, like me, now lives in Jerusalem), Eitan Ben-Zur, Maurice Bitton, Guy Sasson, Elaine Etgert, Rochelle Lorrimer, Keith Baxter or Barnett or Barrett, Jennifer Lissak, Annette Fantella, Stephanie Black, Jacqueline Freeman and Janet Stern. Do any of the names sound familiar? If you remember them, you may remember me, Simone Kessler.

    • Hi Lorraine,

      I remember you. I was in your class. I missed the last week and the Sound of Music because my parents pulled us away on holiday (one could do that in those days!). I was bitterly disappointed because Mrs Walker had given me the honour of playing Eidelweiss on the harmonica!

      I remember Robin Presky (I think he now works in advertising: and Raymond Markovitch. Both in our class. I can actually remember most of the names:

      BOYS: Craig Warren, Paul Cassel, Anthony Dagel, Ian Aarons, Sidney Edwards, Jamal Shampsi, Maurice de Leiu (not sure about the spelling), Paul Silverman, Morgan Price, Jeremy Collick, Paul Schonfeld, Steven Marcus, Michael Rubens, Alan Fineman, Marcel Rental, Stuart Lewis, myself (David Kessler) and the aforementioned Robin and Raymond.

      GIRLS: Sharon Grant, Sharon Buckman, Sharon Mara, Ingrid Schneider, Lesley Urbach, Oona Grimes (now an artist – I met her recently), Susan Lewis (who for years I thought was called Susan Lucy), Julie Berman, Ruth Kosky, Corine Epstein, Rosemary Hunter, Sandra Gelding (who may in fact have been a year older), Edwardine Jordan (whom Mrs Levine insisted on calling “Edwina”), Shan Price (twin sister to Morgan), Karen ??? (can’t remember her surname).

  8. David Appleby says:

    Hi My name is David Appleby.
    Harvey, I was a student at the same time as you. I was taught by Mr Shenfield, a man that I loved. He was a great teacher and friend .
    My best friend was Brian Glossman.
    Sadly Brian past away recently. Fortunately I had the pleasure to meet him again before he past.
    Malcolm. Parker. Tony Sonn. I had a crush on Gloria mannering. Stella Man.
    These we’re really happy days that I will never forget.
    Harvey, please contact me.
    Mobile 0424 757 943. I now live in Australia.
    With warm regards
    Apples. (David Appleby

  9. Pauline says:

    I’m so pleased to have found your page. My Nan Mary Durrack lived in Clyde House, a lovely big old pub converted into flats (rooms really). I visited her there all during the 1960s, then she moved to the near by Hudson House Flats in St Marks Place in the 1970s I think), its still there I’m pleased to say. I remember driving past Rillington Place on the way to Nans, but didn’t know anything about its dark history. Then when I was old enough, my Mum, also Mary Durrack, a very beautiful girl, told me she had been approached by Christie as she walked home from work when she was around 16. He was on his bike, she remembers his round glasses & he said some very crude things to her, she could tell he meant her harm so she ran to a nearby friends basement flat, and luckily her friend was in. It wasn’t until Christie was in the papers after being caught that she knew who had tried to assault her. My Nan lived opposite Christies Mum & they were friends. Believe it not many years later in around 1965/6 she sold a puppy to my Nan, who gave it to me…….. My brother is 12 years older than me so will have more memories of the area. My Granddad was William John Durrack & they had a daughter Rose & son William (Bill) as well as my Mum who was the oldest. I loved visiting Nan in Clyde House coz it had big rooms to run around in, happy days. Pauline Davis
    PS. My Mum is still alive aged 91 now.

  10. Helen Fox says:

    Loved this article. Brought back so many memories from my time at Solly Wolly from 1957. We lived in Portobello Road where my Dad owned the Fish and Chip shop. Lovely to read this article
    Helen Fox new Beliskey

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