Hilltop Primary School
The day it opened
Looking at your page on education I felt inspired to add some memories of my early days at Hilltop School, Hill Avenue. I started School on the day it opened which would have been early in January of 1967. Juniors and infants were in the same building then as the separate Infant School wasn’t opened until 1972. I recall my mother bringing me in. My class looked out on where the infant school now stands. I was sat next to a kid called Graham. Opposite were Kenny and Paul (I do remember the surnames too but not sure if they’d appreciate me naming them). My teacher was Mrs Griffiths and we were basically called Infant One. The next year up was Infant two then Junior One, Two etc. Not the most imaginative way of naming classes but later on they were named after colours, Junior Blue, Junior Brown etc.
In charge of Infant Two next door was Mrs Sibbly. The headmaster was Mr Scott and he was a very formidable man who used to scare the life out of us. Red face, Brian Ferry hair do, jet black suit and a broad Yorkshire accent. He rarely spoke softly, more of a permanent bellow. The deputy head, Mr Johnson was far more approachable. A mild mannered man usually dressed in brown who was strict but very fair and had a great way of dealing with kids. He later became the head of Grange Junior school.
I didn’t get off on the best footing on the day I started. I did the time honoured crying as my mum left me but within ten minutes or so had cheered up after striking up a friendship with Kenny sitting opposite me. While Mrs Griffiths was giving us a basic run down of the school rules he and I started playing a sort of hands clap game and she stopped in mid flow and called me over. As I reached her she grabbed me by the hair and sat me down under her table. Not that I object to the physical treatment as it was the done thing back then and it never did us any harm, but I’d only been in the building for half hour or so and I was already in trouble. I’ll never forget she was sitting on the table with her legs dangling down in front of me while I sat there thinking, “I really don’t like this place”. I had to stay there till break time and got a smacked hand before being allowed to go out and play. In later years it occurred to me that I quite possibly hold the distinction of having been the first kid ever to be told off in Hilltop. The worst bit was getting home thinking “Thank God school’s over” and learning that I would have to go back there the next day to and so on for another 11 years!
We were taught to read on Janet and John books which I’ve always thought did the trick pretty well. Art was my favorite and our mediums were powder paints and wax crayons. Like all kids though I hated Maths which Mrs Griffiths used to call ‘Number.’ Whenever she announced that this was the next topic I’d run off and hide in the toilets. The infant toilets were in our class room and had no locks on the doors. The toilet rolls were made of a sort of tracing paper which was most uncomfortable.
One thing I always liked though was milk time. We would all be given a little bottle of milk with a straw and our mums would give us a couple of biscuits to take in and eat with it. It’s a shame that tradition came to an end in 1970. Assemblies were held every morning, usually by Mr Scott – “Good morning Children,” and we’d have to say in unison, “Good Morning Mr Scott, good morning teachers.” Then he’d deliver his lesson of the day before playing us some classical music and getting us to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’. On Wednesdays a class would put on a play and on Fridays he would first award the shield (silver shield on a wooden frame) to the class that had the least amount of absences for the week, then kids who had done good work would be asked to stand up which was a huge honour which throughout my stay there I only experienced on three occasions: once for a poem, then a drawing then a model of Basildon Hospital that I built out of cardboard which Mr Johnson particularly liked. If you were talking or misbehaving in any other way you’d be pulled out and made to stand at the front to await your fate which largely depended on Mr Scott’s mood and would be dealt out at the end. This I experienced on many more occasions!
School dinners cost about a shilling (around 5p) a go and usually consisted of a sort of meat like substance with mashed potato, mushed greens and tomatoe sauce poured over it. There was also a tuck shop which was built about a year after the school opened near the entrance which sold crisps and drinks.
Another interesting thing was that the school was built on land that once hosted what is believed to have been a Roman Farm and while the Infant School was being built they were unearthing loads of old Roman pottery. We used to sift through the piles of mud during break times picking it up, and I still have my collection.