Education on the Becontree Estate

Without checking any maps or having a quick internet search, could you count how many schools there are in and around the Becontree Estate area? Quite a lot, right? Maybe even too many to name them all. Yet when the Becontree Estate was first built, it became evident fairly quickly that there were not nearly enough schools to account for the number of children moving onto the estate.

Existing schools in the area had previously been built in the pre-war council style, with outside lavatories. One condition of the Becontree Estate was for all properties to all have inside WC’s and bathrooms, demonstrating the new emphasis on ‘homes fit for heroes’. While these houses were being built, the lack of schools in the early years of the Estate became very obvious. One main reason for this is that the London County Council actually had no statutory responsibility for schooling; it was the responsibility of the Essex County Council. In fact, the London County Council continued building houses even when it became evident that there would be inadequate school accommodation. Not only were there fewer schools than required, but the birth rate within Becontree was also twice the national average!

There were so few schools on the Becontree Estate, that the vicar of St Thomas’ church based in the Ilford area of the Estate offered up their church hall for teaching. 200 children ended up attending school there! There were also no schools close by to the children living in the North Dagenham area, resulting in them having to travel further away just to attend school (at a time when transport links were also very poor). Yet soon those schools also became overcrowded, with a school in Becontree Heath increasing by 100 in roll during the 1922/23 school year. Wooden huts were available to rent as temporary schools on reserved school sites, such as Green Lane and Chitty’s Lane, costing £5 for 6 months. It demonstrated the urgent matter for a new permanent school. Some relief eventually came to Dagenham North once Green Lane School opened in 1923, deemed as the most modern and largest elementary school in Essex. However, this was of course just one area of the Becontree Estate.

The London County Council continued building houses. By 1925, Dagenham South was also starting to feel the effects of a growing population with very few schools. Dagenham Village Infants School doubled their numbers in the 1924/25 school year and became completely full, while a couple of schools for older scholars also added many to their roll and became overcrowded. The situation was so inadequate that another temporary school was opened at Dagenham Drill Hall to accommodate 200 pupils. Thomas Arnold opened in 1925, allowing space for another 600 children, and Finnymore School (the current location of Godwin School), opened to accommodate an additional 900 children in 1926/27. The temporary Dagenham Drill Hall School was finally allowed to close. Of course, during this time the population in North Dagenham was still growing. Schools such as Charlcote School, Valence Avenue School (formerly Bonham Road School, now Valence Primary), and Richard Alibon School also helped to relieve the pressure in 1926/27 and met the needs of the new houses in the area, linking the Dagenham north and south portions of the estate together. By the end of 1929, the Dagenham portion of the Estate was complete, with a sufficient number of schools built and each child now able to attend a school within easy access of their home.

A London County Council Layout Plan of the Barking No. 14 Section, Becontree Estate. Layout of Roads and Houses. Includes Lodge Avenue (A), Woodward Road ( C), Sheppey Road (11), Stamford Road (13), Canonsleigh Road (5), Flamstead Road (7), Rothwell Road (14), Langley Crescent (9), Arden Crescent (10), Gale Street, Goresbrook Road (D), and Ripple Road. Also includes 2 sites reserved for 2 schools, and 2 sites reserved for church, Shop & Shovel Public House, Ripple Castle, and London Midland & Scottish Railway.
A London County Council layout plan, showing reserved school sites.

By the time the Barking portion of the estate was built, it seemed that the Essex Education Committee were more prepared. Excluding the first few months of residents moving to the Barking section, schools in this area were erected in pace with the growing population. Cambell was the first to open in 1930, with departments for all ages and both genders. Dawson School opened in 1931 to meet the needs of the growing population in Barking South, followed in 1931 by Erkenwald and Roding to accommodate children in Barking North. Monteagle opened in 1932 for the area below the railway, and Dorothy Barley brought the Barking portion together in 1933 as it covered the middle section. Education in the estate was beginning to grow.

A plan of Dorothy Barley School, 1934. Includes the building, playgrounds, green space, Harrold Road, Ivinghoe Road, Headingham Road, and Davington Road.
A plan of Dorothy Barley School, 1934.

There is no denying that education was a prominent issue in the first decade of the Becontree Estate, with some children not attending school until the age of 6 or 7. They were often left to play on the Estate and occupy themselves if they had no school to attend. By 1931, there were provisions for 22,270 children made by Essex Education Committee in over 30 schools. All children living on the Becontree Estate finally had a school that they could easily attend, there was higher employment both within the construction of schools and for teachers, and the Becontree Estate was starting to come together as a place to not only live, but to work and learn too.

6 thoughts on “Education on the Becontree Estate

  1. I was born 12th October 1931, and by Oct 1936 I was ready for school. My school was Spurling Road school, now called Parsloes manor I believe. At that time it was a mixed Infant, junior and senior girls school. 1939 war was declared and I was now old enough for the junior section. Two large brick built air raid shelters were built in the playground, although during the blitz my junior class mainly did lessons in the reinforced corridors next to our class. When I say ‘lessons’, during the heavy raids of the blitz with the noise of anti aircraft guns and bombs from throbbing German bombers , we mainly had games or sang songs very loudly. It was at this time that the teachers of Spurling Road, showed how brave and courageous they were. Our teacher quite young herself never showed fear or panic to us kids, when the buzzer sounded to let her now a raid was approaching, we were told to stand up and she calmly led us out to the corridor. We were her her class and she refused to allow or let anything to alarm or hurt us. I have many memories of that period in my school. And the courage of all the teachers in Spurling Road school is just one of them.

  2. A very interesting article, one question though, it mentions a Valence Avenue School was this not Valence School at Bonham Road where I attended? I was also born in Bonham Road.

    1. Hi Malcolm,

      Yes, it is written as Valence Avenue School in some older records but we believe that is what is now Valence Primary School (also originally named Bonham Road School). The article has been updated to clarify this now.

        1. I went to Valence aged 5 and left aged 11 (1959-1965) and at that time I am sure it was Valence Infants and Valence Juniors – there was a head teacher for each, and separate playgrounds, and toilets.

  3. I was born in 1940 in Henshawe Road and from 1945 to 1951 attendend Valence Infants and Junior school in Bonham Road. I seem to remember there was a small garden where vegetables were grown, by whom I do not know, near the outside toilets or were they brick bomb shelters? While in the Infants I seem to recall that you could purchase Parish’s Food ( a dark black coloured liquid) from the Headmistress, also Cod Liver Oil and very probably Orange Juice a well, to take home. You could have milk mid-morning for which I paid either 1/2d or 1d (old pre 1971 coinage) for a beaker full. This was on a low wooden table covered with a white cloth upon which the upside down white tumblers were lined up beside a white jug containing the milk. You placed your money on the white cloth and your class teacher poured out a tumbler of milk for you. The table was situated in the corridor outside your classroom, each class had its own table, you drank your milk then went back into your classroom. I also remember oval rush mats that were piled up in either the hall or your classroom, I don’t remember which, and we used to take one from the pile and sit on it for story time or when we used them to lie down for a rest.

    I can remember being taken with the rest of my class into a classroom that had glass cases containing stuffed creatures and feeling a bit sad. Not sure whether this was the Infant or Junior School.

    The schools were built in a square figure of eight and in one of the loops was the Infant School garden and the other loop was for the Juniors, the Junior School garden had a pond in it. While in Junior school we sometimes had lessons sitting on the grass during the summer, also the headmistress would listen to the pupils read to her on a one to one basis, in the garden in summer and her study in winter. One memory I have of being in the junior school playground in the front of the school as a funeral was going past, with a man in top hat and tail coat walking in front of the hearse, who suddenly ran across the road in the direction of the open school gate. There were terrible screams as a girl shouted “I don’t want to go. Don’t touch me. Get away from me” as he freed her leg which had slipped between the rails on the gate and become stuck. Sometimes children would stand on the bottom frame of the gates, and this time her foot had slipped through the gate. Quite a lot of children went home for lunch in those days and one summers day I went home wearing a pink taffata dress when it started to rain heavily. I started running and the taffetta clung to me and the dress split right down the front, I wasn’t very happy soaking wet and no dress! There used to be a holly bush by the railings which ran alongside the pavement in Bonham Road. The branches of the holly bush curved down to the ground making a ‘den’ inside into which several children could fit. I used to often get handed a fruit bun or sweets through the railings at playtime, while in the ‘den’, from my mum or grandmother who sometimes walked past on their way back home from the shops. I seem to recall that the front playground was for the girls and the back playground was for the boys, and that when it was icy we could make slides in the, usually not used, side playground.

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