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A School at War – Barcroft Junior School

Originally it was built to accommodate 900 pupils in an Arts and Crafts Northern Renaissance style of architecture. This was all under the auspices of the local school board founded in 1894, in order to provide new schools. The board continued until 1903 when Lindsey County School became responsible for local schools.

Barcoft School was shared by ‘The Boy’s National School, fronted on the Lovett Street, and ‘The Girl’s National School and Infant’s School’ situated to the North and fronted onto Barcroft Street. The building later became Barcroft Junior School.

The school would close early on a Friday afternoon for the local fisherman’s children to walk to the docks and collect their fathers’ wages. This was known as ‘The Fish Dock Races’.

In 1901, the school became seriously overcrowded (1200 pupils, a surplus of some 300), which led to the building of Burser Street School in 1914, Ellison Street school in 1907 and Reynolds Street School in 1914.

In 1907 Barcroft School became an all standard school. A foundation stone was laid in Barcroft Street with the inscription, “Cleethorpes School Board”.

During 1916/17, the Barcroft school was occupied by the military and so the pupils were sent to other schools.

Running Barcroft School in Cleethorpes during the Second World War time was far from easy.

Detail on the school have been brought to light when an official school diary was produced at one of the regular coffee mornings run by the Sidney Park Friends in 2017. This detailed diary kept by the school head, shows preparations, problems, events and solutions over the crucial 1939 to 1945 period.

This log book for Barcroft school, was rescued at the point of destruction by Mike Smith, who being an ex Chair of Governors, realised the historical importance of this journal.

The events covering the Second World War start with the factual note in the school’s diary for 11.00am, 3rd September 1939 which states, ‘War was declared on Germany by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Neville Chamberlain’. The school was immediately temporarily closed for the children, though the staff were on duty the following day (Sunday) at 8 a.m. to receive Ration Cards.

In fairness, war had seemed inevitable for a few weeks prior and Cleethorpes Council had called all head teachers back from holiday to a special meeting on the 31st August. What was on their minds in particular was possible invasion, with Cleethorpes being a coastal town, along with the possibility of bombing, as the Luftwaffe had shown the devastation they could cause to civilians and property during the Spanish Civil War.  Then there were the dangers of poison gas – people still remembered the First World War.

Local plans had to be made – this time civilians would likely be on the front line.

England then entered an eight month period now known as the phoney war. Basically, although the declaration of war was initially over the German attack on Poland, which was done and finished in five weeks, all that could be done initially in Cleethorpes was preparation.

As far as the school was concerned, numerous meetings were held and the evacuation of children, which had started a few days before war was declared under a State of Emergency Act, was continued.

Initially children were sent to Laceby but later in the war to various other destinations such as the rural area around Gainsborough.

However it was not just a case of ‘shipping them off’; detailed registration and transport had to be arranged, including in some cases arranging loan desks and furniture.

The effect of arranging evacuation brought forward the important issue of how poor many families were in the area. It was noticeable that many children from the poorest homes had totally insufficient clothing.  The answer was to urgently produce more suitable clothes. Suitable teachers were consequently sent to Reynolds and Thrunscoe schools, which had been equipped as sewing centres and asked to organise the rapid production of suitable clothing for evacuees as quickly as possible.

Those that stayed, had to be temporarily accommodated elsewhere locally for educational purposes and consequently classes of 5 to 10 were accommodated in various private houses which had, in case of an air raid to be near their homes. The teachers cycled between each destination and conducting shorter lessons in these private homes.

The various children’s illnesses of the time such as measles, chicken pox, scabies, German measles and whooping cough continued, which meant regular changes in destination for pupils, as different alternative venues had to be organised when a pupil became ill and the premises (or occupants) were viewed as possibly temporarily contaminated. When diphtheria was reported in an occasional group, the members were understandably kept off education for a while altogether.

Through all this, the ‘head’ nurse known to the children as the ‘nit’ nurse dutifully continued her regular search for head lice.

Teachers were most upset when members of the public, not understanding these arrangements, were critical. A popular saying at the time was ‘what on earth do they do with their time. The kids aren’t going to school, so it’s one long holiday for the teachers.’

In fact, the staff were all extremely busy, not only with education but various projects to help the war effort.

The first materials for school air raid shelters arrived in April 1941, which then allowed a small proportion (73) of the children to return back to school. They operated in two shifts, to make certain that the air raid shelters were never overcrowded.

Meanwhile the school accommodation was also used for a variety of purposes, the A.R.P (Air Raid Precautions) Wardens, taking five of the seven rooms. The school was also eventually also used for Fire Watching, distribution of Gas Masks, fund raising, waste paper collecting, and many uses connected with the war effort as well as one room for the Rescue Squad.

The first air aid alarm recorded was on the 19th June 1940 which lasted for 4 hours. School attendance dropped to 43% the following morning. On the 20th there was another alarm and consequently due to many children being up all night, school start was altered to 10.00am. Then on the 22nd all local schools were closed for three weeks for the purpose of building more shelters. Eventually the shelters could accommodate 136 though by May 1941 there was still a problem, as the school had 192 pupils back on the roll.

The first bombs the journal records as being dropped was on February 27th 1941.

From that point, air raid warnings became a regular occurrence and consequently it was felt necessary for all schools to be given adequate firefighting equipment. This school was given 4 buckets, 2 rakes, 2 shovels, 1 bomb grip and one bomb scuttle. This equipment had also to be shared with the Junior Girls School!

All these warnings had, of course, an effect on the children (as well as the adults) and it was not uncommon for children to fall asleep in lessons.

The worst raid from the school’s point of view was in June 1943 when during the holidays an 1,000 kilogramme incendiary bomb fell on the school and destroyed desks, partitions and equipment. Again, on July 12th, blast from a severe bombing raid, shattered the school windows. The school had consequently to be closed but after much cleaning up by the staff, was reopened on the 16th, partially without some windows.

The war continued, and the staff continued to try and brighten the children’s lives. Occasional school parties were held (There’s a war on – bring your own food).

Though the biggest parties were to be held for the two days holiday proclaimed after VE (Victory in Europe) day on May 7th, 1945 and VJ (Victory over Japan) on August 15th, 1945.

All in all, the school staff apparently did very well for the kids during these difficult times. Perhaps it is still not a bad thing to remember them.

Entries in the school’s record book convey a nostalgic image of school life after the war. During the Christmas period, it was reported that “Two gentlemen entertained the children on the violin and accordion and also with card tricks. Popular songs and choruses were sung for the children under their leadership”. Another account of a school trip returning from a day in Derbyshire in 1954 states, “The school, pleasantly tired and returned suntanned about 8:30”. They also went on a trip to the cinema when “the third and fourth forms, accompanied by headmaster and their teachers, went to the Royal to see the film, ‘The Conquest of Everest’.

During the early to mid 1950’s Barcroft Street School was regularly used as a Polling Station during election time. To help support their local candidates’ parents of the local school would fasten the photograph flyers distributed by those trying to seek election onto a plank of wood or even an old cricket bat. With as many as 6 photographs pinned to the board or the bat the local children would then carry and parade the Cleethorpes Streets singing “Vote –Vote – Vote for Mr …”

Known as the oldest school in Cleethorpes, Barcroft Junior School sadly became out of date after one hundred years of wear and tear.

As a result, parents from both Queen Mary Avenue and Barcroft Juniors together became involved in a battle to press Humberside education authority to build a brand new school for the children, instead of the suggested proposal to merge and move into the infants’ school.

One hundred years after the school was built, the building suffered from a legacy of neglect. Children were still being educated but are reported to have spent day after day in cold, damp conditions, playing in the schoolyard surrounded by crumbling brick work. It is reported that they faced hazards from old storage rooms where doors had been ripped off and rusty hinges left hanging. Inside, broken old furniture was piled up. Staff and Governors raised £400 to repaint the school, however their efforts were soon ruined by the damp and water running down the walls.

For two decades, staff, parents and Governors fought to have the Barcroft Street Junior School replaced. However, when Lincolnshire was split and Humberside was formed, the plans were scrapped, leaving campaigns unfinished.

However, in 1992, Barcroft Junior School was closed, and a Government Fund of £1 million pounds funded the build of the new Junior School on land in Barnett Place, owned by Humberside County Council, known as William Barcroft Junior School.