Grays Open Air School
Cruik Avenue, South Ockendon, Essex RM15 6EE
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1930 - 1986

Open Air School
In 1930 the Education Committee of Essex County Council established an open air school for 60 delicate children.

Grays Open Air School was located behind the 1908 buildings of the Junior School in Rectory Road, Little Thurrock, northeast of Grays.  It was approached down a long gravel drive (the sloping site was a former gravel pit) and completely of timber construction.  The main building contained the kitchens, cloakrooms and showers, the School Nurse's room and the Head's study, as well as an Assembly Hall with an external wall which could be fully opened.  The classrooms were in two separate open pavilions and all the buildings were connected by covered walkways.  

Classes were small and the pupils, many released from sanatoria, received personal attention.

The mornings began with a change from outdoor footwear to slippers.  The children were given a warm drink and a snack, and then attended morning assembly for hymns and prayers.  At the end of the morning classes they were given a freshly cooked dinner.  Following this they had an afternoon nap - outdoors in summer - on canvas cots.  The school day ended with more hymns and prayers in assembly.

The School had two asphalted playgrounds and, in addition, a vegetable garden, which was tended by the pupils supervised by the caretaker.

As well as receiving the attentions of the School Nurse, each pupil underwent a semi-annual health review -  'Doctor's Day'.  Wearing gym kit, the child would first be weighed and measured by the nurse, then undergo a brief physical examination by the doctor.  If it was decided that the child still looked too delicate, an iron tonic would be prescribed - Parrish's Chemical Food - a foul-tasting substance which apparently could turn the lips mauve.

At the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Open Air School closed down and its premises were used for an ARP post.  However, it was able to reopen the following March, sharing facilities with two other local schools on a shift system.

In 1960 the Open Air School departed the Rectory Road site, moving to the site of The Elms, a mansion and estate off Dell Road, a kilometre to the west.  (This was adjacent to another house - The Dell - which was the residence of the famous Victorian naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace.)  The Elms was approached by a winding drive, almost a causeway, between former chalk pits.

It appears that, in 1964, all or part of the open air school operations were relocated again - to Mardyke School in Cruick Avenue, South Ockendon, about 3 kilometres to the northwest.  Mardyke School had opened in the 1950s, with a junior and an infants branch.  The infant classes were moved to the junior school, while the former infants school, on the south part of the site, was given over to the Open Air School, which was renamed Branwood Special School for the Physically Handicapped.  

However, by the time of its opening, open air schooling had begun to fall out of fashion, thanks to better public health and more effective treatments.  Branwood was extended around 1975, but closed down about 1986.  It is unclear how consistently it had pursued the open air principles.

Present status (August 2013)

Following the departure of the Open Air School from Rectory Road, some of its buildings continued in use as offices, probably for the Local Education Authority, up to the 1980s.  The junior school, now called Little Thurrock Primary School, was extended by building a new 'bungalow block' at its rear, across much of the Open Air School site.  It is possible that some of the original buildings still survive within the school compound.

In 1964, after the Open Air School had relocated to Mardyke School, The Elms was renamed Treetops School to avoid confusion with a new residence built nearby, also called The Elms.  The facilities at Treetops were rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 160 pupils.  In 2008 the School moved to a new purpose-built building in Buxton Road, Orsett Heath (one kilometre from the original Rectory Road site).  It is now Treetops Special School, a day special school for children with moderate learning difficulties, including autism.

The Dell Road mansion, The Elms, later accommodated Thurrock Technical College.  Now part of South Essex College, this occupies a new campus site on the northeast of Grays.  The Dell Road site is out of use, its drive behind security barriers.

In Cruick Avenue, both Branwood School and Mardyke School were demolished in the 1990s and replaced by a housing estate.

Grays Open Air School

The first site of the Open Air School is now occupied by Little Thurrock Primary School (above and below).

Grays Open Air School

Grays Open Air School

The entrance to the second site of the School, The Elms, off Dell Road, is now closed (above and below).

Grays Open Air School

Grays Open Air School

The site of Mardyke Infants School, the third site of the Open Air School, is now part of a housing estate (above and below).  The School was located roughly where Chelmer Drive now runs.

Grays Open Air School

Grays Open Air School
The site of Mardyke Junior School is also part of the same housing estate.  Colne Close follows the line of the driveway to the Schools.
References (Accessed 7th June 2014)

http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk (1)
http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk (2)
www.british-history.ac.uk (1)
www.british-history.ac.uk (2)

Return to alphabetical list
Return to home page