St Neots museum is marking the occasion with a dedicated exhibition on its history. Our curator’s been busy collecting your memories of the school, so here she is with a few recollections from the school’s early pupils…
In 1944, the ‘Butler’ Education Act raised the school leaving age to 15, and secondary education for all pupils from the age of 11 was introduced. Although the school leaving age had been raised to 14 after the First World War, most children would only have attended primary or ‘elementary’ school, leaving school aged 12 or 13 due to the need to find work. Fourteen years after the Act’s introduction, Bushmead Secondary School in Eaton Socon opened in February 1958, serving the Eatons and many local rural villages in east Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. At this time, St Neots’ residents were very disappointed that St Neots still had no secondary school, however, as plans to expand St Neots gathered pace during the 1950s, and the post war baby boom led to more children needing education, plans for a secondary school in St Neots began to develop.
The first day
Longsands School was still being built as the first eleven year old pupils were welcomed to their classrooms on a grey rainy day in September 1960. Understandably, some of the past pupils still have vivid memories of that day. As first days of school go, at Longsands it seems it was particularly chaotic! Here’s some of their recollections:
‘The first day was a rainy day with water everywhere and pupils had to gather on the tarmac outside.’
‘School was noisy with the work of building still going on and muddy as part of a building site; it was several months before the school was finally finished. ‘
‘On the first day Longsands school was in chaos, there was mud everywhere, a couple of janitors were always cleaning and scrubbing the floors, as bulldozers had churned up the ground. It was just a muddle.’
A lasting impression
Though the first days left an impression of chaos, the school itself had a huge impact on its pupils. Once inside the brand new building, past pupil Rodney Todman recalls that:
‘Starting as a pupil at the brand new Longsands secondary school, in a smart new uniform, was the dawn of a new era. It was a clean new start after the grey war years. Not only was the school building clean but, more soap and shampoo were now available and everyone used them more often as people had a bit more money.’
The school also impressed the local students who had come from the St Neots council school, with its warm air central heating and roller blackboards. The first headmaster of the new school also made a formidable impression:
‘The headmaster at Longsands when the school opened was Mr Whiting, a rather frightening man, his black academic gown would flow out behind him as he marched down the school corridors and pupils would stand aside, backs to the wall, to let him pass.’
In contrast to the headmaster, one of the PE teachers, Mr Hunter, was ‘a very popular teacher, a lovely man who never got annoyed’. Another teacher recalled by early pupils was the needlework teacher, Jill Handley. Three pupils can be seen here, modelling clothes made in her class by student Gaye Bocock. Ex-pupil Michael Murfin is modelling a dark turquoise leather jacket with orange and black herringbone tweed trousers; which he recalls were ‘rather itchy’!
Discover more on the story of the school from the opening day to more recent times in this new exhibition which runs until 7th August. We’re still collecting information and photographs for the exhibition, so if you have memories, photographs and items that you would be willing to lend, please do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org