24 February 2012

Soul Destruction

There had been a downturn in the birth rate but the Estate was still filled with children, as were the surrounding areas that were not strictly part of the Estate but which had help feed its school. Lots of children. All needing an education.

You know when a place is being given up on and abandoned to a nefarious fate when despite all those young humans running around, they close the schools. It is done apparently to save money for the local authority that abdicates all responsibility for allowing a school’s reputation and performance to descend to such a level that they see no other alternative. Had action been taken a few years previously, before the real rot had set in, then maybe the school could have been saved. The end when it came was inevitable. Middle class parents in the geographically close areas to the Estate would not send their children to the local school quite literally on their doorsteps because they did not want their children to be brought down to the level of the so called socially deprived children from the Estate, which in its turn was on a downward social spiral having had its soul ripped out by the closure of so many work places on the adjacent industrial estate and never having really recovered. I’m not sure whether it ever dawned on anyone that the children on the Estate would no doubt have enjoyed being brought up to an all encompassing, equitable acceptable level if that indeed was really what was needed.

Redhouse JMI School opened its doors in 1958 at around the same time that the Estate that shared the same name was built along with a plethora of private housing that had quietly gone up in the area since the end of World War 2. The Infants school opened first; the Junior school being built whilst lessons had already started. They shared the same campus but were separate buildings, each with its own hall, heating system, kitchens, classrooms and Head Teachers.

I started there in September 1967 aged five and a half. Such were the numbers wanting to attend due to the post war baby boom that I was a full six months over compulsory school age. This did hold me back for a little while but not for long due to the inspirational teaching of Miss Carne, an elderly (well it seemed that way) white haired, tweed wearing spinster, who was extremely stern but also incredibly kind and dedicated to her job. If there is one thing that has stayed with me throughout my life having received my primary education at Redhouse, it is that all the staff there, without exception, were dedicated to giving their charges a top notch education without any regard to which side of the road they came from. They all seemed to believe in equality in education and in pushing their students to their academic and sporting limits.

It was a real local school. It would have been considered strange to be sent to a school out of the area and by out of the area I mean Cooper and Jordan, up in the Village or to the foreign parts of Leighswood! When the cliché of school days being the happiest of your life is referred to I would agree that my time at Redhouse was very happy. School days were regimented and discipline was strict. You respected those teachers but they were wonderful teachers and knew that the only way to ensure that valuable knowledge was imparted to pupils was through brooking no unacceptable behaviour. Each teacher had their own methods and what would now be considered torture techniques. Mrs Wilkes had a cricket bat and a baby’s dummy; woe betide anyone who chatted too much in her class because there wouldn’t be time to draw breath before the dummy was placed into the offenders mouth. I was secretly relieved when I was allocated to Class 3 that year and not Class 4 and Mrs Wilkes! Mr Boulger had his training shoes or if not wearing them then the offender would be required to supply their own plimsoll or training shoe. With other teachers such was their demeanour that you didn’t even try it on, for example Mrs Whorton, Mr Ball and Mrs Thomas. In theory Mr Bennett, the Head Teacher, had a cane but it was rarely used because you just didn’t misbehave to that the extent that a risky visit to his office had to be made. The only time I remember it being used was when there was a mass fight after school on Gorsey Way and there were a few.

I could reminisce about the teachers, other staff and pupils of what was an incredible school and fill a book and that is what I may do. When I was researching a few background details for this blog it became apparent that there is no written history of the school. So if you have memories and would like to get in touch I would love to hear from you. Just drop me a line to taxwizzard at gmail dot com.

The two schools were amalgamated in 1987 and then ‘rationalised’ onto the Junior School site in 1992. The Infant School was demolished and housing built on the site. The school was finally closed in 2006 and demolished shortly afterwards. It didn’t quite make its 50th anniversary. The local children now face journeys to school rather than enjoying a short walk. I don’t think I’m the only ex-pupil who holds more than fond memories of what was an incredible school, the closure of which removed the final element of soul and cohesion from the Estate and its surrounding area.

This photograph appeared in the Walsall Observer in July 1973. I was the girls captain of the athletics team and Vincent was the boys captain. In the middle is Olympic medalist Pat Cropper. Our school, Redhouse had for the first time ever usurped the usual winners of the District Sports Day, Leighswood. It was a time to be proud of our achievements.

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