Hethel CP School
1951 - 1958
HETHEL PRIMARY SCHOOL
For 7 years Hethel had its own school - for children living at Hethel Camp on the old Hethel air base when it became housing for Forehoe & Henstead Rural District Council. When allocating housing there, priority was given to families, so there were plenty of children. At first families had a choice of sending their children to either Bracon Ash & Hethel School or East Carleton School, both of which entailed a trek of nearly 2 miles, depending where on the site families live. But as numbers grew it became obvious that Hethel needed its own school - or the other local schools would have to be considerably enlarged.
In early 1951, each family was visited by Mr Russell - until then somewhat feared as the County Council truant officer. But he was tasked with finding out how many children might attend a school within the camp itself. Numbers justified the Education Authority taking over and refurbishing the old Officers' Mess. The building was gutted, new walls built, tiles laid on the floor, hot and cold water, electricity, inside toilets, and a kitchen installed, and a solid fuel stove to heat each room. The whole building was painted white inside and out (below - with Janet Coates in doorway).
There were 3 classrooms, equipped with new desks and chairs; an assembly hall; a separate dining room with a large kitchen; a woodwork room with benches and tools; a head teacher's study; cloakroom, toilets and storerooms; and a small room which became the library. The library served everyone on the base and the books were changed occasionally by the County Library Service. The woodwork room was used by boys from other schools in the area who were bussed in for a day - but Thursdays were reserved for the Hethel boys. And the school was also used for adult evening classes. Outside, the original parade-ground became an ideal playground and a neighbouring meadow owned by local farmer Mr Myhill was used for football and sports activities.
Despite the 1944 Education Act, Norfolk was slow to build enough Secondary School and Hethel was designed as an all-through school with separate classrooms for Infants (up to 7); Juniors (7+ to 11); and Seniors (11+ to 15). Some pupils moved to Grammar Schools if they passed the 11+ exam. The initial intake was almost 100 pupils, but numbers rose as more families moved in, and more 'camp babies' reached school age. Within 18 months of opening, the Juniors had to be split into 2 classes, with the smaller class using a corner of the hall as a classroom.
The new school opened in September 1951 as Hethel County Primary School. The Head teacher was Mr Carder (Maurice to his family, though actually Richard Carder). To begin with, he lodged at a farm on the Wymondham Road, but was found accommodation on the base and moved in with his wife and two children, Maureen and Malcolm, into the house that had been lived in by the local Scoutmaster (Mr Larwood, rehoused in Swardeston) on Site 6, 'The Meadows'. Later the Carders were rehoused in a new Council House in Flordon. This was the pattern for most families in the Camp - to live there for up to 5 years and then move to one of the surrounding villages as the District Council built more and more Council Houses. So, although numbers at the school peaked at around 140, there was considerable fluctuation as families moved in and out. After 1955 it was mostly moving out, and empty sites were cleared. Hethel County Primary School finally closed at the end of the summer term 1958, the building demolished, and the land returned to agricultural use.
The School logbook and other documents are kept at the Norfolk Record Office and the school staff are listed under Head Teachers.
Above: Hethel School opening day, September 1951 - the Junior Class with Mrs Storey. Michael Coates is seated at the back of the second row, with arms folded. He has unhappy memories of that day:
Mrs Storey - the first Junior Teacher - was 'the most sadistic bully that I was ever to have the misfortune to meet', who left after 2 weeks. She was replaced by Miss Joy Isobel Rees (later Mrs Ingate) who had began as the Infant teacher and then moved to take the Juniors when Mrs Storey left: 'an attractive young lady' fresh from Training College, who was keen to keep her pupils abreast of current affairs. She was also a talented musician and played the piano for the school. Mrs Ingate left in March 1954 to have a baby.
The school playground was marked out for netball and tennis, and netball posts and supports for a tennis net were made by Mr Warner in the woodwork room. The girls played netball and took part in a few inter-school netball matches.
Mr Myhill's meadow was never properly marked up for football or races. The goals were marked by a pile of coats. There was never a proper race-track, but Hethel pupils did take part in the Area Inter-Schools Athletics - and finished 2nd in the Senior Competition at Cringleford in 1955, which was a very wet afternoon and Michael Coates remembers '... there was a lot of slipping, sliding and falling as the runners tried to keep their feet on the wet grass'!
Land and buildings near the school were pressed into service for a school small-holding. 'A long, brick-built building was used to house about a dozen chickens, a pig and some rabbits that were looked after by some of the senior pupils.' (Michael Coates 'Memories....'). The manure was used to improve the vegetable gardens, which were small plots fenced off around the edge of the playground. A beehive was also introduced. The fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey were sold to parents and the proceeds went into school funds.
Based on Michael Coates, 'Memories of a Hethel Childhood 1950 to 1955' (privately published 2008, available from 389th Bomb Group Museum, Hethel) with permission.