Post memories: Eighty years of Eastbrook School in Dagenham
- Credit: Archant
“There wasn’t any lighting so we couldn’t have any lessons so we used to sing Ten Green Bottles and other popular songs.”
That’s Thomas Burt describing what it was like sitting in an air raid shelter underneath Eastbrook School’s sports ground during an attack in the Second World War.
The 83-year-old visited pupils of his old school recently as part of an English Heritage project that brought back a number of ex-pupils to discuss what life was like there through the decades.
Thomas described how he and his classmates would have to dash into one of four shelters, which were each covered in a 10-inch-think slab of concrete.
“We would have been relatively safe in there… as long as it wasn’t hit by a bomb,” he said.
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The Q&A session with former pupils coincided with Eastbrook Comprehensive School celebrating its 80th anniversary this year.
Lord Halifax opened the school back in 1933, the current assistant head Simon Charlton tells me.
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“Originally it was built as two schools… one for girls and one for boys. They had two separate head teachers, two separate playgrounds and there was a line across the corridor so the boys and girls could look at each other but not speak and never cross over to the other side,” he says.
The school kept those divisions until it went ‘co-ed’ in the 70s and became a comprehensive school.
Over the years Eastbrook has been associated with some stand-out characters.
There was school governor Eva Hart, a survivor of the Titanic; the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey; and former England and Arsenal footballer Tony Adams was once a pupil.
As for the school site itself, it has seen additions along the years but the original structure from the 1930s still remains.
Simon Charlton has worked at the school for 30 years and has seen more than 35,000 children pass through its doors.
“Obviously the area is now much more culturally diverse,” he said. “When I first came here it was a white working class area. Now we have a really good ethnic mix. It has really improved the place and made it a really exciting place to work. People mix together and it has given the school a really good vibe.
“Also, when I started teaching it was the thing to have silent classes, heads down, but now we are much more dynamic, it’s far more fun.”
But within all the changes, he says some things never change.
“The thing about kids is that they will always be the same. Fashions change but the actual kids themselves don’t.”