Chronicles – Albert Street School Part 2: From 1901 to D Day

Ventnor National School in Albert Street in 1901 provided a free elementary education to the children of the town but it was intended to produce young men and women who would work as tradesmen, clerks and domestic servants, and the lessons reflected this.

Girls, for example, were taught cookery and also plain sewing which was then sold.  On photographs here shows the price list for their ‘plain sewing’, while another shows a cookery class in 1910, the young girls looking for all the world like kitchen maids – which is probably what they were destined to become, as the class appears to be a demonstration of some sort. There appear to be around 50 boys in the classroom in the photograph of a classroom, taken in 1914. These excellently behaved boys may have been posed for the cameraman, but classes were certainly very large – in 1920 the Director of Education said that Albert Street Boys School was overstaffed, and that three teachers should be sufficient for 130 boys.

As the years passed the school, which had been built in 1859, began to show its age and there were ongoing problems keeping it fit for use, as the school logbook shows:

1902 ‘The School smelt badly this week and I have used Jeyes Fluid in the room.’  A Government report that year stated that ‘ . . . improvements are desirable in the backyard and its sanitation.’

1934  ‘This morning the stove smoked so terribly in the classroom of the Boys’ building that I had to put Standard 1 with Standard 2 in the larger room.  Later in the morning the woodwork at the back of the same stove caught fire.  The Rev L.K. Morton and Mr Ingram were informed, and an asbestos sheet has now been put behind the stove.’

Things came to a head in July 1940 when the building was inspected and condemned as unsuitable for permanent educational purposes.  However, the school did not close for another seventeen years, because by this time there were more pressing things on the agenda in Ventnor.

After the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk in 1940, the Island found itself on the front line, with travel restricted and the beaches fortified against the real threat of German invasion.  Enemy aircraft attacking the Radar Station on the Downs above Ventnor were making life hazardous, with bombs regularly falling on the town.  During 1940 and 1941 there were air raid warnings most days, there were regular gas mask inspections, and the school was closed for 17 weeks while air raid shelters were erected.  By 1942 Albert Street was thought to be such a dangerous area that children were being kept out of  school by their parents, and attendance was below 60% for weeks, and in November that year the children were moved to The Rugen, overlooking Ventnor Park. However, school life during the war was not all bombs and gas masks.  Schoolchildren were expected to do what they could to help the war effort: older children were directed to work on farms, and the children from Albert Street school were sent out blackberry picking. In September 1941 they picked 50 lbs of blackberries one day and 45 lbs the next, which would have made a lot of jam!

After D-Day in June 1944 the danger from enemy aircraft gradually ceased, and on 21 September 1944, with the war  drawing towards an end,  the school returned to Albert Street, where it remained until 1956/7 when the junior school children were  moved to the old Ventnor Secondary School site in Leeson Road, and Albert Street School closed for ever. There were many suggestions for the future use of the building – one of the best being that it should become a Museum or Heritage Centre – but instead, it was finally demolished to make room for a block of flats, which stand there today.

Next week: Albert Street School Part 3 –  The Final Years includes some stories, photographs and names from the last years of Albert Street School in the 1950s.

Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  Information from our Archives and from ‘A School Scrapbook’ by Fay Brown.  This article first published in the South Wight Chronicle in October 2015.

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