We had moved to Harpenden a few years before I started at Manland County Primary School in September 1959. In those days there was far less provision for the under-fives – no such thing as Mother and Toddler Groups in the 1950s – so starting school was a really big event. I don’t have many memories of my pre-school life which is a shame as I’m sure my Mother spent more time with me during those 5 years than in the rest of my life put together. The Second World War had only ended 14 years previously and it would still have been very fresh in the minds of all the adults in positions of authority.
The distribution of primary schools within Harpenden was most peculiar. Manland, ¾ of a mile away from my home, was easily the closest school and luckily was regarded as the best in the town. There was another school in Batford (mainly catering for the large council house estate there), St Dominics (Catholic) quite close to the town centre and Roundwood on the opposite side of town to Dalkeith Road. So it was Manland or nowhere, especially as in those days my Mother couldn’t drive a car. The school on Crabtree Lane, 50 yards from home, wasn’t built until many years later.
I started school just before my 5th birthday and I can still recall odd bits of my first day. My class teacher was Mrs Avis-Jones and I sat next to a girl called Helen who was wearing a brown cardigan with flecks of other colours in it. I can remember being terribly surprised that there were children in the class who couldn’t read. I thought it was some kind of strange joke when I was the only child in the room who could read all the words written on pieces of coloured card mounted on the walls.
We sat at desks arranged in rows and teaching was rather formal. Of course it needed to be because Classroom Assistants were a long, long way in the future and Mrs Avis-Jones was expected to cope on her own all day and every day.