History: pensioner recalls days at 1940s Dagenham primary school

A former Dagenham pupil has recalled his days at a 1940s primary school, where dodging flying objects in class was not unusual and a young boy picked up a few of the footballing skills that would make him a world-class player.

Lol Stanbrook, now 71, was a pupil at South Wood Lane Infants and Junior School in Keppel Road, Dagenham, between 1946 and 1950.

“I remember those years fondly,” he told the Post. “As does my wife, Vi, who also went there. Our birthdays are four days apart so we were in the same class. Though we kind of ignored each other then - and didn’t get together until our late teens.”

Lol’s favourite teacher was a Mrs Pearl Billman, who hailed from a small village in Norfolk called Foulden.

“After training she was given the chance to take her first teaching position in Dagenham,” Lol explained.

“She chose to go to Hunters Hall Road School because she thought the hunters were horses and therefore the school would be in the country surrounded by stables and fields.

“As you can imagine she was a little surprised when she turned up and saw the school was surrounded by Ford Factory, Briggs Motors, May and Bakers and Samuel Williams,”

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Pearl was later transferred to South Wood Lane School and in 1946 was given a class of 48 children, including five-year-old Lol and his wife Vi.

“We all loved her,” the pensioner, whose full name is Laurence, said. “She was such a kind and caring person and played the piano. Years later Vi and I bought a house near Pearl and we became close friends.

“She showed us all these photos of us we hadn’t seen before. Sadly she passed away in August.”

Not all teachers at the school, however, were quite so caring as Pearl, Lol revealed.

“There was one teacher that used to throw things at you in class if you misbehaved. Usually it was the board wipe, but once she threw an ink well at me. It went flying through the room, missed me and hit another child.

“I had to clean up the ink though, which had gone everywhere. The annoying thing was I hadn’t actually done anything.”

The school, said Lol, produced two rather famous individuals - the legendary goal-scoarer Jimmy Greaves and lead guitarist and singer of 1960s pop group The Tremeloes, Rick Westwood.

“Rick, who was called Richard then, was a couple of years above me and I don’t recall so much about him, but I remember Jimmy well. He was a year older than me.

“We had a couple of teachers who were great football coaches - Mr Bateman and Mr Farley - but you could see Jimmy was a natural footballer - so clever with the ball. Obviously I didn’t know how successful he would become, but it didn’t surprise me at all.”

For a couple of years South Wood Lane School, which closed down a number of years ago, took children from Hainault, to deal with the overspill of children from that area.

Lol said: “There would be coaches taking the children back to Hainault every afternoon,” said Lol. “And often a few of us Dagenham lot would sneak onto the coaches and hide behind the seats. We’d then play in Hainault Forest.

“Sometimes we’d collect birds’ eggs there, which isn’t allowed anymore. We found it really interesting trying to identify which bird they had come from, but we made sure we only took one egg in five so as not to affect the numbers of birds in the area.”

Most of the pupils came from relatively poor families, explained Lol, and wearing a second hand uniform was normal.

“A lot of the mums would buy them from jumble sales. So quite often you’d see a kid at school wearing something that you had worn the previous year. You might go up to the child and say, ‘That was my jumper before’, but there was no embarrassment over it.

“Some families also struggled to pay for food for their child. The kitchen used to sell puddings after school that had been left over from lunch. It only cost a penny and you might get a rolly polly or some apple pie. For some kids that was their meal for the day.”

Lol and Vi, who now live in Hornchurch, received copies of Pearl’s photos and hope that by publishing them in the Post former past pupils might get in touch. If you recognise yourself in the photos and want to share your memories call the Post on 020 8477 3893 or email postnewsdesk@archant.co.uk.