William Read School- 85 years of History
The school now known as William Read Primary School was built in the year 1924, and opened on October 7th, to the singing of the official school song, ‘Play The Game’. Called ‘Long Road Public Elementary School’, it was brick built, rendered and painted white, in the shape of a square and enclosing an open air quadrangle with a fishpond in the centre. However, it was unfinished, and there were more children than the school could cope with! The solution was to bring a temporary timber building onto the site from the old school opposite St. Katherine’s Church, to increase the seating to 250 (still not enough for the 356 children). The building, which housed the infants and was known as ‘the hut’, was made of timber and was raised up on stilts.
There were only ‘primitive’ outside toilets, which were reached by crossing a dyke, which had rats living in it! As a former pupil remembers “The toilets were terrible- they stank. There was no sewerage, so it all went into a cesspit. The boys and girls toilets were next to each other, separated by a wall- but the wall didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling, and the boys used to climb up and peek over!”
Several other shed like huts, were used as extra classrooms for domestic science, science labs, and woodwork rooms. Only teachers and prefects were allowed to go across the quadrangle of the main building other than for assemblies and worship, when all the pupils sat around the edge of the open space beneath the partial canopy roof that lined the inside edge of the quadrangle.
Although it was a mixed school of boys and girls, the two were kept strictly separated out of class; boys and girls each had their own playgrounds. The land, then known as ‘Little Gypps North’, had been donated by George Chambers (the Chairman of the Parish Council), and the new ‘Long Road Public Elementary School’ was actually the fifth school on the island.
The first Headteacher at the school was William Dring Read, B.Sc. (who came from Charles Street School in Birmingham). He was also a Councillor (1929-35), Vice-Chairman of the Council (1930 and 31), member of the South East Essex Divisional Executive of the Essex Education Committee (during the war years), a licensed lay reader (for 25 years) and member of the Church Council, and a vicar’s warden (for 18 years). He was described by former pupil Jean Cook as ‘A man of little stature, a small man. He had the school in the palm of his hand and the children respected him.’ Another early pupil said “He was a very kind man, but he maintained discipline.”
The earliest pupils, though only five years old when they started school, had to turn to the back of the class to look at the ‘times tables’ written up there, and learn them ‘parrot fashion’ (by repeating them over and over).
The Ministry of Health was approached and on 19th December 1929 an enquiry was held at ‘the Council School’, resulting in the building of permanent access to the island. On 21st May 1931 it was officially opened, and all of the William Read School pupils were marched across the island to be able to watch the opening ceremony.
Although it is thought there was a ‘masters house’ near the school, in 1937 there is a record showing that Mr. Read lived at ‘Brandlands’ in Lionel Road. In 1938 a new school was built further west along Long Road, which was named Canvey Island Council School (although it has always been known locally as Long Road), and was mixed junior and infants (later to have a separate infants school built in 1951). At this time, the older at Long Road/Craven Avenue was altered to ‘Canvey Island Secondary Modern School’.
During World War II, the old ‘temporary’ infants building suffered bomb damage, but was repaired and used again. More dramatically, in 1943 a bomb fell by the southwest corner of the school, and there is a story that the unexploded bomb could not be found- and that it is there still!
Mr. Read served as the school’s Headteacher for 21 years, so would have retired around 1945. He died in 1952 and is buried at St. Katherine’s Church, to the right of the path. After Mr. Read had retired, Mr. Murray served as Headteacher for a relatively short period, until 1948 (he may have been a temporary appointment until the position was permanently filled). In 1948 Jack ‘Jock’ Cairns became Headteacher.
In 1950, a planning application for a dining room and kitchen (partially on the area of the present junior building), but although there is no official record of whether it was built, a former pupil remembers it as positioned between the brick main building and the timber hut. He recalls that food was served out of large tureens (his favourite serving was sultana pudding).
In the early hours of February 1, 1953, there was a terrible flood of Canvey. Teacher Mr. Leonard Littlejohn lived at Hadleigh at the time, and afterwards he reported to Benfleet Primary School and used his motorcycle to give a lift to the Headteacher to the school. They saw the water still running through the seawall but the main road was by then free of floodwater, and they used waders to get across the playground and in through a window. They found the building dry inside, but they had to do a lot of clearing up and cleaning. Mrs. Olive Littlejohn remembers ‘putting’ up some of the contingent of young Welsh teachers whose accommodation had been affected by the flooding (trainee teachers had to spend two years outside Wales before they could teach there). “It was hectic.” she said, “But we were young, and we managed.” After the flood, the old ‘temporary’ infants building was used as a rest centre.
A pupil who had moved to Canvey shortly after the Flood and started at the school after the waters had receded remembers “We were all lined up in the food hall to receive the gifts from the flood appeal. Children who came after the floods as I did were handed tins of food but the children who had survived the flood were given blankets etc.” She also recalls “The school had a well kept quadrangle where we sometimes learnt country dancing. We had lunch in an outbuilding at the back of the school and also took lessons such as sewing in this hall. The infant block was at the rear of the school adjacent to the playing field. In the summer we had dancing round the maypole but I was never picked to take part, still it was fun to watch. Unfortunately I seem to have been a bit talkative in class as all my reports mentioned this. I still have happy memories of my junior years at the school.”
After Mr. Cairns left, Mr. Ernie Eales acted as Head for a while. He was known by pupils (and teachers) as ‘Slasher’ Eales! A former pupil remembers “He made a great impression on me, and no doubt on quite a few other people, with his size 12 slipper!” Another former pupil wrote on an internet blog site “The name ‘Slasher’ Eales still sends a tremor through every old school pupil when recalling school days, a strict disciplinarian, a 24 hour teacher who’s beady eyes were always on you even after school, he also took gardening classes and scripture lessons and when Slasher said ‘dig’ you dug. On Saturdays and Sundays he could be seen cycling up and down Long Road and if his telescopic and X-ray eyes caught you doing something wrong or acting the goat then on Monday morning woe betide you. When you look back in retrospect this man was responsible for keeping thousands of us rascals on the straight and narrow, taught us the meaning of respect, obedience and the will to work hard, in fact the type of teacher that is required in schools this present time where the aforementioned virtues are sadly lacking.”
In 1954 Fred Stanley Watkins became Headteacher. Originally from Northicote School in Wolverhampton, he was just 34 when he moved with his wife, toddler, and six week old baby to Canvey Island. He was an ex-military man, and used to carry a baton under his arm. At this time the pupils had something of a reputation as being ‘tearaways’, but as Mrs. Watkins recalled “He tamed them quite quickly.” According to a pupil at the time, on Mr. Watkin’s first day he commented “This school has a terrible reputation, and I’m going to change it.” He is described as a very dark haired man with a little dark moustache, striding quickly up the aisle between the two sides of the assembly hall. By all accounts he was a strict disciplinarian, but several people tell of a softer side to his nature.
Somebody writing on a forum website wrote (of his time at Furtherwick School) “Fred as he was ‘affectionately’ called by the pupils, was a strict disciplinarian… which I think came from his years in the military. I can visualise him now striding along the corridors as though he was marching on a parade ground – very erect, very purposeful! And if you were the recipient of his discipline, you sure knew about it! But Fred did have a softer side to him which he rarely allowed to be seen. We had a family tragedy and he had to call me into his office to tell me about it and he was kindness personified. Very caring and understanding.”
On the same forum, another ex-pupil wrote “I found a different side to Fred when my father died, he came around the house regularly to see how I was getting on and even spent an hour with me at home one day helping me to catch up. I will never forget that.” A former pupil of the school recalls “There was a tradition at the school of terrorising the infants by telling them that when they came up to the junior school, they would be thrown in the ditch- just after the reeds had been trimmed and were all spikey!”
The island had an increasing population, and the school had some 300 pupils with insufficient space to expand any further, so a new school was built in Furtherwick Road. In 1957 it was opened- despite the building work being uncompleted, so one year group of pupils had to remain behind. The new school took over the name ‘Canvey Secondary School’ (it would later be renamed Furtherwick Park School in 1966), and Fred Watkins moved there to become Headteacher (he would serve until 1981). The older school was renamed ‘William Read School’, after its original headmaster, and became a junior school at this time (a separate infant school would open here later). After Mr. Watkin’s departure, Mr. Sherlock took over as Headteacher.
A pupil from 1960 to 1963, remembers “We used to do lots of country dancing, plays, and loads of playground games. The school dinners and free milk were also very popular. It was a very happy school.” In 1962 Mr. Harry Clarke became Headteacher of the Junior School (his daughter Sally was a pupil). The Swimming Pool was built in 1964, and a pupil recalls that parents dug out the foundations with each parent digging for an hour for each of their children at the school- her dad had four children there, so put in a lot of work! She also remembers acting as a lifeguard at the new facility.
The present Infant School had its planning permission granted in 1965 and opened on 6th January 1966. Miss. K. Highly was the Infant School Headteacher until her retirement in 1968, and Mrs. N. Ashley took over as the Acting Headteacher for the Infant School. Mrs. O. George was appointed as Headteacher of the Infant School in 1970. In the same year planning permission was granted for the present Junior School, and the original building was replaced in 1971.
Mr. John Selby became Headteacher of the Junior School in 1972. In 1974 Mrs. E. South took over as Acting Headteacher of the Infant School. Mr. Bowles (Deputy Head of the Juniors) was offered a job in industry and resigned, and the post was offered to Mr. J. P. Thayer on 23rd of April 1974. Miss. S. Bean became the Infant School Headteacher in 1975, and later married to become Mrs. Madams.
Swimming at the school was discontinued in 1980 when the county ceased to finance it (it would be recommenced in summer of 1984). The school had shared a catchment area with Canvey County (Long Road) School, but from 6th September 1989 this arrangement was changed to the school having its own area.
On 11th January 1990, Miss. Tatchell was interviewed for the position as Headteacher and was successful, and even before she took up the position she was active in the school, helping to arrange for pupils to take part in the Infant Music Festival at The Paddocks Community Centre. Mrs. Madams left the school on 6th April 1990, and she wrote in the school log: ‘I have had fifteen happy years as Head Teacher here. May god bless this school and all who work in it. Best wishes to Heather (Tatchell).’
From 23rd April 1990, Miss. Tatchell served as Headteacher of the Infant School, which at that time had four infant classes. By this time the school buildings were not in a satisfactory state of repair, and Mr. D. Jarvis (Head of Buildings) came to look at all the defects, with a view to carrying out substantial refurbishment. At the end of her first year with the school, the Board of Governors asked Miss. Tatchell to act as Headteacher of the Junior School (which then had eight mixed-age classes) after Mr. Selby was due to retire, and quickly changed the mixed age arrangement of classes which was unpopular with parents and teachers. From then on, Miss. Tatchell ran two separate schools, but as there was so much duplication (staff meetings, Governors Meetings, budgets, etc.) the Board of Governors went through an 18 month consultation on amalgamating the two schools.
The playground was resurfaced on 4th September 1991. Also in 1991, around September, the nursery opened. On 20th September 1991, Mrs. Hazel Dand, who had been School Cook for 30 years, retired. On 26th September 1991, it was decided that the school buildings would be recladded, with work due to start on April 1st 1992. During the Half Term break in 1991 the Playground was painted with various designs- and a major gas leak was found! It was coming from the Chart Store and Boiler House, and was dealt with over the 29th, 30th, 31st of October and the 1st of November.
Mr. Selby retired from his position as Head Teacher of the Junior School, on the 9th of April 1992. The long-planned reclad of the school buildings began on 13th of April 1992- the work took longer than expected, and the Infant School opened in the September term with only one classroom (with work finally completed on 28th Sept. 1992).
On 27th April 1992 Miss. Tatchell officially became Acting Headteacher of the Junior School and managed both posts until on 28th January 1993 she was appointed Headteacher of William Read Primary School, which officially came into being as a single Primary School as of 1st April 1993 (the start of a new financial year). On that day she wrote in the school log, ‘I look forward to this new challenge. Its going to take a long time to formulate policies etc., but I know the whole staff are already working together for the benefit of the children.’ She later wrote of this time ‘I wanted to create a caring school that was always striving for the highest expectation of all the pupils. I worked hard to improve behavior, manners and respect for each other and the staff; raise attendance, attainment, results, progress, raise the profile of music and the arts, and indeed to raise the profile of our school with the other schools on the Island and with people at County Hall’.
Around this time, parents expressed a wish to change the uniform, and an artist was employed to work with the pupils to design a school logo. Pupils also came up with a school motto ‘We Learn To Live’. Miss. Tatchell wrote ‘The children were all involved in putting their ideas down about what they wanted from their NEW primary school and these ideas were put into our school song.’ ‘We were not about just teaching academic subjects – although we did recognise how important they were for all of the pupils. We were educating the WHOLE child.’
She led The Celebration of Christmas (a gathering of all the schools on the Island in one of the secondary schools to sing and perform for each other), organised the Infant Music Festival for all the infant and primary schools in the South East of Essex – including Southend schools (some 2000 children performed in them every year, over the course of two weeks), and organised and led the Junior Music Festival that performed at the Cliffs Pavilion every year (some 3000 pupils over the course of a week)- something she is still president of (as of 2009) and the history of William Read Primary School continues…
IMPORTANT NOTE : This history has been researched as thoroughly as official records (which are very incomplete) allowed, but has also relied on the recollections of ex-teachers, former pupils, and other Canvey people. If you think something has been recorded incorrectly here, or can provide any additional information, Tom Jea (email firstname.lastname@example.org) would be delighted to hear from you.