The School Crocodile

For most of the 1960s Brightwell School was in two parts. Half of the new school had been built at Greenmere, the present site, and this housed the two infant classes, the kitchen and dining hall. The two senior classes were still at the old school (now the Village Hall), so every school day they had to be marched up to the new school for their midday meals and back, of course, for afternoon lessons.

Well over a thousand of these journeys were made during this period, and as they are surely part of our village history, I felt that they should be recorded before becoming lost in the mists of time.

So, about noon, some sixty children would line up in twos, forming a long "crocodile", ready for the first part of the journey. They were escorted by Mr Fred Heyworth, the Headmaster, Mrs Barbara Wood, who was the playground duty and meals supervisor for the older children, and myself. We passed through the Square, across Church Lane, holding up the traffic when necessary, all along Back Lane, which at that time was much narrower and more overgrown, left at the "Four Corners", up the Mere and into the new school.

Once, as we were approaching the new school, a boy, who would never have won a prize for good attendance at school, was spotted half way up a tree. The line was stopped. Words were exchanged. The boy remained aloft. The line moved on. (More later.)

After enjoying excellent meals prepared by Mrs Lois Wells and Mrs Vera Palmer and after a very short playtime it was necessary to return to the village school. These journeys were rarely void of incidents of some sort. Girls would complain that the boys behind were stepping on their heels, as indeed they, undoubtedly, were; one boy persisted in walking backwards so that he could talk to his friend behind; a small girl hadn't got a partner and had lost her handkerchief; three of the older girls up front insisted on walking three abreast in the narrowest part of the lane. Once in a while a large dog would infiltrate the line - causing a certain amount of mayhem.

For our part the difficulty was that, even with a member of staff at each end of the line, and one in the middle, these incidents were hard to reach and deal with in such a long line of children and in a very narrow lane. Sometimes members of the public, who had forgotten to check the time of day, found themselves halfway along Back Lane facing the on-coming, chattering "crocodile". They usually took refuge in the hedge.

The weather, of course, was the chief factor on these journeys. Sometimes it was kind to us and sometimes it rained, and I mean, rained. Then the lobbies, in the afternoons at the old school, were full of wet, steaming coats and macs - which had to be put on again when lessons ended at a quarter to four. In the 1960s the journeys home were invariably made on foot and unescorted.

Finally, the young truant from up the tree came back to school the next morning. If my memory is correct, I think he wished he hadn't.

Ron Wood

First printed in The Villager (June/July 2001 edition)

Extract from 'Education in Brightwell-cum-Sotwell'

By Joy Heyworth, 1981

'Meanwhile the village expanded and the post-war "bulge" of children caused extra schooling space to be needed. And where did it go but into the same room in the Stewart Memorial Rooms that had housed grandparents when infants themselves. All too soon this was not enough either, and after some persuasion Berkshire County Council agreed to build the first phase of a new school. There was no additional Rectory land available this time, so an entirely new site was selected where, finally, two infant classes, an assembly hall and a kitchen were erected in 1961.

The junior children, left in the old building, had to walk in all weathers to dinner in this new department, but the home-made dinners produced by splendid cooks made the effort worthwhile. These modern advantages were much appreciated in the bitter winter of 1963. In the old school there was more than ink to freeze now and for almost one term it became wholly untenable and junior and infant scholars (to their great delight) alternated in morning and afternoon sessions within the new buildings.

Difficulties in the old school did not diminish, curtailing the new methods of education recommended by educationalists. After an interval of seven years the new Junior Department was added on the new site, and at last all the children were once more under the same roof.'

The new school building in the 1990s