|LOST HOSPITALS OF LONDON|
Hazelbury Open Air School
Haselbury Road, Edmonton, N9 9TU
Open Air School
In 1938 an Open Air School was opened by Edmonton Borough Council, under the Middlesex County Council, on part of a site in Hazelbury Road (now Haselbury Road) already holding other local schools. The new School was set up behind the other local schools, down a long straight drive from the road.
The Open Air School was intended to accommodate up to 170 pupils. While its original aim was to provide healthful education for tubercular children, it soon widened its reach to support other delicate children, such as those suffering from asthma.
The school buildings were centred on a hipped-roof hall, which was used for dining and assemblies. This hall was flanked by covered walkways leading to separate toilet blocks for boys and girls, and two separate open-sided rest shelters, measuring 20' by 60' (6 by 18 metres).
Between these and the school playing field were four classrooms in two pavilions, featuring large windows which opened completely above waist height onto the gardens and playing field.
On arrival at school each day, the children changed their clothes to welcome the air and sunshine - the boys into shorts and the girls into (rather scanty) bib-fronted cotton sundresses. Kepi-style caps were worn to prevent sunstroke.
In good weather the children carried their desks (on their heads) out into the open for classes. Otherwise lessons were held in the classrooms, almost always with the windows wide open. In winter, when the inkwells sometimes froze, they shivered at their desks in overcoats, balaclavas or pixie hats and fingerless gloves. The arrival of smog - one of London's celebrated pea-soupers - at least meant the windows had to be closed.
Children were provided with three nourishing meals a day of breakfast, lunch and tea (in the 1950s at a charge of 5 shillings (25p) a week). These were served cafeteria-style in the assembly hall; children could request large or small portions but whatever they chose, they were expected to eat it all up.
Lunch was followed by an hour's rest (no talking allowed!), the children having unstacked the cots and fetched blankets from storage. In good weather the rest could be in the open air or in the shelters. In bad weather it would be in the shelters, with the rain coming in.
The site contained vegetable and flower gardens, both on the boys' (east) and girls' (west) side, which were tended by the children. As well as gardening, practical courses included needlework, woodwork and nature study in the fields around.
As well as being exposed to the natural environment, the children also received sun-ray treatment with ultraviolet lamps. Initially using the facilities at the North Middlesex Hospital a mile away, by 1942 the School had acquired its own equipment, baking four (knickered and goggled) children at a time.
The School probably closed down, as did most others, at the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, when children were evacuated from the London area. However, it had reopened by 1940 and carried on throughout the wartime period. Shelters built near the driveway were used during the Blitz periods.
After WW2, medical advances in the treatment of tuberculosis and an improvement in living conditions meant a decreasing demand for open air schools. While the Open Air School in Hazelbury Road continued actively into the 1960s, by 1970 it had changed into a special school for disabled children. In 1972 it took over some of the premises of the neighbouring secondary modern school.
Present status (June 2013)
The community special school continues as the West Lea School.
Looking down the long driveway to the School from Haselbury Road (above and below).
The west side of the School.
I was born in 1941 and attended this School from the age of 6 until 15 because I had a heart condition - mitral stenosis and a leaky heart valve.
The motto of the School was "Health Before Education". The Headmaster was Mr Rapley until he had a heart attack, then my teacher Miss Mosscrop took over as Headmistress.
We were not allowed to wear our coats but were given a thin blue blanket to wrap around our waists.
The dinner ladies.
We weren't taught fractions or decimals. We never had a history lesson - except once, when the Headmaster stood in because our teacher, Mr Robinson, was ill with goitre (he later passed away). I was about 10 years old then. The Headmaster, Mr Rapley, strutted up and down and recited all the dates of English battles. Us kids just sat there, not saying a word - the dates just went over our heads!
Mr Robinson played piano in Assembly. He also taught cane work. I was eager to make a shopping basket for Mum, but I was dismayed when he pushed the bottom out, saying it was not strong enough.
When I visited the School, now taken over, I was astounded to see that the old showers were still there - and also the poplar trees.
Jean (Harlow, Essex)
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