Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Educating High Heaton

This photograph of pupils at High Heaton Infants School was taken in 1935.

High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935
High Heaton Infants School Pupils, 1935

Geoffrey Wedderburn, formerly of 60 Swaledale Gardens, is the boy at the end of the back row and he wonders whether anyone can help him out with other names. He remembers Dennis Hill, Leslie Fox and Tom Fineron from his schooldays but isn’t sure whether they’re in the picture.

The wooden school

High Heaton Infants School first opened on 20 August 1929 with 164 children on the roll. The school records are in Tyne and Wear Archives so we know the names of the first head, Mary L Ken, and her staff that day: Ethel Cooper, Joy Thompson, Alice Bertram Hodgson , Minnie Watts and Jeanie Richardson. Geoffrey remembers Miss Venters, Miss Hopkins and Miss Darling from his own schooldays. We found in the archives that Miss Caroline Isobel Venters joined the school on 7 April 1934.

The school was situated close to where the Spinney flats are now in a wooden building which later became High Heaton library. It was known simply as ‘the wooden school’. Geoffrey recalls that the buildings formed 3 sides of a square and that the open side gave access to a grassed play area. He remembers maypole dancing there on one occasion.

High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney
High Heaton in the early 1930s with the school in front of the trees of the Spinney
The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library
The wooden buildings which housed High Heaton Infants School and then, until 1966, the library

Geoffrey says that despite the fact the headmistress ruled by terror, he was ‘quite happy at the school and rather sorry when I had to leave’. The log book confirms it was considered a good school. An inspector is quoted in 1935 as saying ‘Good use is made of the adjacent hall for dancing and physical training and the neatly cultivated garden is a valuable addition to the amenities of the premises’.

In 1931 another inspector said ‘The children are of a good educable standard, thus some of the handicaps imposed by a poor environment are not felt here’.

Reading the entries in the log book, you’re struck by the number of days the children had off to commemorate royal occasions. The investiture of the Prince of Wales in February 1934 was especially noteworthy as the head teacher was invited to the ceremony at Buckingham Palace and was granted three days leave to attend. The lord mayor, director of education and chief ‘inspectress‘ visited the school the following week to congratulate it on behalf of the city on the honour bestowed on the head by the king.

Later in the year, the school shut again for the marriage of the Duke of Kent in 1934; in 1935 there was the wedding of the Duke of Gloucester and then the Royal Jubilee; and the funeral of King George V followed in 1936. All these on top of the usual general and local elections: it’s surprising any of the children learnt to read!

Cragside and war

But with the population of High Heaton growing as the city expanded and cleared inner-city ‘slums’, the ‘wooden school’ was too small to cope and it finally closed at midday on 25 March 1937 with Cragside Infants School opening its doors on 5 April. Geoffrey recalled that the opening ceremony ‘was carried out by the very young Princess Elizabeth’.

At Cragside, we read of a measles epidemic in 1938 and, of course, the disruption caused by World War 2. On 1 September 1939, the school evacuated to Morpeth. It reopened in High Heaton on 1 April 1940 but on 7 July some children were evacuated again – this time to Westmorland.

There were numerous air raid warnings ‘Children went to the shelter provided. No panic or fear or upset of any kind‘ (28 June 1940); ‘Air raid during the night from 1.10-3.00am. No school this morning’ (12 August 1940).

On 4 September 1940: ‘Air raid damage near school. Four window panes splintered. the three covered with net did not fall out’.

On 1 March 1941 a temporary headteacher was appointed ‘owing to the evacuation of the head mistress, Miss J S Nattress with the school party’. Miss Nattress returned a couple of months later. And in 1944 the school admitted evacuees of its own – from London.

Rain and snow

After the war, things slowly got back to normal. In 1946, the Education Committee granted the school £15 as a victory prize. Garden seats were purchased.

The following year brought one of the worst winters in living memory. On 26 February ‘Very heavy snowfall this week; snow drifting on the verandah makes movement very restricted’ On 14 March ‘Storm continues’.

And with normality, a resumption of royal occasions:

On 27 November 1952, children walked with teachers to Stephenson Road, where they saw HRH Princess Margaret passing on her way from launching a ship at Walker Naval Dockyard to Alnwick Castle.

But on 5 June 1953 the weather intervened: ‘a coronation celebration picnic on the school playing field was planned but impossible because of the rainy weather. Games were played in the school hall’. A familiar scenario to generations of Cragside children looking forward to sports day!

Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Torday
Children and Teacher at Cragside School by Laszlo Torday

Thank you

Geoffrey Wedderburn for his photograph and memories

Tyne and Wear Archives for their help

Newcastle City Libraries for permission to use the photograph by Laszlo Torday

The photos of the wooden school were taken from ‘Bygone High Heaton and district’ by William Muir, Newcastle City Libraries and Arts, 1988

Can you help?

We’d love to hear your memories and see your photographs of High Heaton Infants or Cragside School. Please either click on the link immediately below the title of this article or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org



  1. I remember Miss Venters but as the Headmistress of Chillingham Road Infants in the mid-50’s .
    My mother was a pupil at Cragside School from 1935 and she was evacuated to a farm in Bampton nr Penrith ….one of her lasting memories was of collecting eggs at the tender age of 10 or so and dropping one or two of these precious commodities !

  2. Hi Brian, interesting that Miss Ventner became head at Chilli Road. You can’t imagine being removed from your family as a young child, can you? Especially to somewhere so different from the place you’re used to.

    • I wonder whether that could be another interesting piece of research …where our members of 80+ ( or their children? ) can remember being evacuated to from Heaton schools and how was their experience ?

  3. Maurice W Ramsay has emailed his memories of Cragside:

    I went to Cragside School from 1941 to 1945, during the war of course, and in the early days we carried our gas masks as well as our satchels. There were air-raid shelters of brick and concrete in the playground and although I cannot remember any serious air-raids in school time, we had warnings on some occasions and had to file out of the classrooms and into the shelters. An emergency water tank for fire-fighting stood right in the middle of where the Newton Road roundabout is now.

    The Headmistress of the ‘Infants’ in those days was Miss Nattress and Miss Sturk was Head of the ‘Juniors’. Both were well liked and respected Heads who ‘ruled’ with a firm but kindly hand. Of the other teachers, the only names I remember are Miss Hopkins, Miss Henderson, Mrs Bass and Miss Gray.

    In my class were: David Wedderburn, Alan Mabon, Peter Muir, John Lamb, Eric Dale, Alastair Malcolm, Peter Dale, Jack Watson, Neville McKay, Alan Woodhouse, George Gilroy, Alan Cook, Brian Laws, Shirley Atkins, Anne Fairley, Anne Aire, Mavis Robinson, Audrey McDonald, Muriel Hodgson, Jean Heifer, Joyce Pollard, Joyce Quinn, Pamela Carey, Jean Bruce, Judith Richardson and others whose names I cannot recall. I wonder how many of them stayed in Heaton or still have connections there now?

    Eventually we had to leave Cragside and move to Chillingham Road School for six months, or in some cases a year. At that time for some reason, one could not take the ‘eleven plus’ exams at Cragside. ‘Chilli Road’, despite a good teaching reputation, was very old- fashioned in style and discipline compared to the happy atmosphere at Cragside, and the building looked old and forbidding even then. But we adapted to it.

    Other recollections … waving Union Jacks when the King and Queen drove down Cragside on a visit to Tyneside, I think in 1945 …. walking four times a day through the Spinney to and from school …. playing ‘hallers’ (!?) in the playground …. singing ‘Begone dull care’ and ‘Hope the hermit’ so often that the words have never been forgotten …. milk monitors and ink monitors …. and struggling hard to write ‘Compositions’ with titles like ‘A day in the life of a frog’ and ‘What I did in my school holidays’ .… and now, seventy years on, ‘What I remember about Cragside’.

    Happy days!

    Does anyone have further memories or know the whereabouts of any of Maurice’s classmates?

  4. C P Boylan wrote to say:
    I have read the article by Mr. Geoffrey Wedderburn about Cragside School. I started school there in 1943 and I recall the Head Mistress as being a Mrs./Miss Natress and my Teacher Mrs/Miss Kennedy. A fellow starter was Kenneth Rook who’s father was a Lloyds surveyor.
    Does Mr. Wedderburn have any recollection of these two staff members, It would be interesting to hear.

  5. Chris Boylan wrote:

    ‘I started school at Cragside Infants in 1943 and recall the head mistress Miss / Mrs Natress and my first teacher Miss / Mrs Kennedy. I wonder how many of your members who started at Cragside can remember them?’

  6. Chris Boylan asks:

    I started school at Cragside Infants School in 1943.
    Two teachers that I recall were Mrs / Miss Nattress and the other one was Miss Kennedy.        Do any of your members recall these two teachers?


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