Some memories of my years at Leigh Beck Primary School


I walked to school across the fields – there weren’t any houses in the area then.

I remember Miss Vincent, the headmistress, and Mr Groves who was my teacher in the top class. Because of a mix-up with dates, my birthday being at the end of September, I had to stay in the top class for an extra year before moving on to Secondary  School.  Mr Groves encouraged us all to make bamboo pipes Рhe obviously helped with the tuning holes and the mouth piece, but we painted and varnished the pipes and learnt to play them and learnt how to read manuscript. I have had a life-long interest in music Рa wonderful hobby.

Of course we had no television or computers. There were blackboards in the classrooms, and sometimes we had to clean them with a chalk rubber or duster – a very messy job. I remember having some lessons in the hall – if it was cold or some teachers were absent, then several classes were held at the same time in the hall. There was just a curtain to divide the classes.

I think the desks and chairs were fixed together as one piece of furniture, and the ink monitors had to see that the inkwells were filled with ink which was made by diluting blue powder – another messy job!

Some children had to ‘line up’ each day for their cod-liver oil and malt. We all had 1/3rd of a pint of milk at break time. In the winter the milk would be frozen, and in the summer we often thought it had ‘gone off’ and didn’t want to drink it!

You could have school dinners, or go home if you lived near enough. At school you moved your plate along the counter, and the diner-ladies would give you meat and vegetables etc. I do remember that we had to eat everything on the plate before we could go outside and play. When we had semolina or rice pudding, I would ask to have ‘just the jam please’ – and to this day I can’t eat milky puddings!

We didn’t have a uniform – in winter I remember wearing layers of vests, liberty bodices and stockings – my mother was determined that I wouldn’t catch cold. The toilets were outside and rather unpleasant!

In 1953 I was in the top class and we were due to take the 11 plus examination in February. However, following the East Coast Floods, Leigh Beck School closed. We returned to school in May/June time. We then took the 11 plus exam – but all the grammar school places had already been allocated to children in the borough. The Canvey Island pupils had obviously been overlooked. I am very thankful that Miss Vincent encouraged my parents to raise the issue – other schools on the island raised concerns too and eventually about 8 Canvey children were given places – we all had to travel off the island to schools in Westcliff, Southend or Rayleigh.

I enjoyed going to school and am grateful to staff at Leigh Beck for giving me a good start in life.


I have added the picture of Graham with his bamboo pipe in the gallery below

Comments about this page

  • Hi Susan
    Thanks for putting your memories of Leigh Beck School onto the C.C.A site.

    As you may recall I was in Mr Groves class at the same time but I must admit I’d forgotten quite a lot of the detail that you have remembered. I particularly, remember the bamboo recorders, in fact, they were the only musical instrument on which I could play a complete,if simple, tune! Somewhat in contrast to your accomplished renditions of complicated piano pieces such as ” Die Fliedermaus”.

    Mr Groves also used to give up his Saturday mornings to take groups from the class on nature walks on Benfleet Downs. I often think how fortunate we were to have such a kind- hearted and dedicated teacher.

    By Graham Stevens (28/04/2009)
  • Hi Susan, Do you remember Miss Bell? I think she married and became Mrs Cross. She used to do magic tricks in class and produce flowers from a cake tin etc. What about Mr Broderick and his skill with a board rubber if someone was talking in class? There were 48 in my class and yet most of us could read and write. I left when I was about seven to go to the newly opened convent but I’ve never forgotten my time at Leigh Beck. I seem to remember the cod liver oil and malt was delicious or is it my imagination. I think a lot of Canveyites have a lot to thank Miss Vincent for.

    By Maureen Buckmaster (02/05/2009)
  • Hi I was in the class one down from you, I remember Mr Groves he had all the non scholarship kids polishing pennies with blue bell,

    By David Larkin (07/04/2010)
  • I went to Leigh Beck Primary School…….I remember Miss (Polly) Vincent, she was horrible to me as she didn’t like my long hair, which was in ringlets!  I also remember a Miss Bell too!    and she wasn’t much better either.   I left there to go to Long Road School, while Furtherwick School was being built.

    By Sandra Heather ( nee Tayler ) (17/06/2016)
  • I was at the school from 1949-55, starting at 5 and a half as the school was overfull.  I spent 6 months in each of the lower classes, ending up in Mr Groves’ class at 9 and waiting to be allowed to take the 11+.  It was really annoying when John Bamfield was allowed to take it aged 10 as he had an early September birthday!  That was how I caught up with Susan, whose father was a local pharmacist, and others.

    I am full of admiration for Violet Verbena Vincent, Wilfred Groves, Eleanor Bell and the amazing team who held Leigh Beck together after WWII and again after the 1953 flood.  My husband cannot believe stories of us collecting chalk from the beach and bringing in roofing slates for infant classes so money could go to replacing musical instruments, etc.   How Mr Groves taught 40+ 9’s to 11’s in 3 mixed ability groups I shall never know!  Modern teachers require an assistant to teach 20.  Those who were able reached grammar schools and did well.   Discipline was a bit harsh with Miss V and Mr Groves holding caning licences and Mr G and Mr Broderick being aces at wielding Size 11 plimsolls onto upper legs and cracking ruler sides down on knuckles to restore attention to the blackboard.   Miss Bell and Miss Greer rivalled the legendary Mrs Skinner, of Canvey Junior for reddening forearms with resounding slaps.  Most of the staff were quite short and I remember being taller than all but Mr G and Mr B at 10 years of age, much to the amusement of waiting parents as we left school.

    Sadly, I missed the bamboo recorders but Mr Groves gave me a few piano lessons at Whittier Hall before we lost the Canvey pianos to 4ft of flood water and they all ended up in the Piano Smashing Competition! 

    By Yvonne Creasy nee Burgess (24/09/2019)
  • Ah, Miss Vincent. She caned me once for pushing and shoving at assembly. It was a freezing cold morning and the pain was awful. I never pushed and shoved again.
    She gathered us all together in the hall one morning to tell us all that Germany had capitulated and the war was over.
    Another morning that one of the girls on her way to school had been run over by the only car on the Island, I think it was the doctors car, as she got off the bus right outside the school and walked out in front of it. She broke it to us by saying ‘God took her’. It was twenty years before I would think seriously about words.
    She and Miss Price shared a flat above a paper shop, Tremaines I think, next to the Rio cinema.

    By Stan Pierce (09/03/2023)

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