Harvey recalls Solomon Wolfson Jewish Primary School.
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).
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.