Luton History: Surrey Street School

The hidden memories of Surrey Street School.
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Surrey Street school dates back to 1891, it's scarcely recognised in our local History books, in fact I found great difficulty acquiring a photograph, but thanks to Luton Museum and the skill of a wonderful artist I found one.

Surrey Street school was built to relieve the overcrowded Dunstable Road and Chapel Street schools, they were bursting at the seams, but questions arose at the School Board meetings, "was another school really required?", or rather could they afford it?

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The initial outlay would be £2,712 and spaces for 302 children, after several more board meetings, the most common denominator to sway the decision was the significant increase in the population of the town, so it was agreed the school was urgently needed.

Surrey Street SchoolSurrey Street School
Surrey Street School

In 1892 Surrey Street school was opened, Miss Jessie Wilson was appointed Headmistress and Kathleen Wilson (possibly related) her assistant.

The school logs for 1894/1895 show the school is struggling, teachers were in short supply, the wages were poor compared to other schools, the attendance of the children was low due outbreak of sickness and diseases prevalent at that time.

Miss Adams called the attention of the School Board to the fact that she had "admitted more scholars and was desperately short of teaching staff".

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A few years later the school had improved, teachers such as Miss Drawbridge, Miss Horsfield, Miss Bayford and Mr Shoosmith, these are just a few who contributed to the school's success.

Prior to the First War, Surrey Street had been extended, fuelled by the increasing number of pupils, a glowing report in May 1914 states " a marked progress with teachers and pupils showing considerable intelligence in Arithmetic, and the order and tone of the School are very good".

In the 1930's Mr Duncombe the Head teacher retired after 34 years at the school, and new scholars joined the school the most popular being Arthur Hailey the Novelist, and my father. According to quotes from Arthur Hailey's mother" we had to remove our son from the school because we couldn't afford the fees", this I doubt is true, certainly my father's parents couldn't afford to pay, however my dad loved the school, he said he never wanted to leave, it was the happiest of years.

In 1934 Surrey Street celebrated the School swimming events that took place at Waller Street Baths, Surrey Street carried off both Shields for both Boys and Girls, beating Denbigh School by a few points.

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Another War was looming, many of the early attendees were now in Uniform, sadly some never came home, but the girl pupils hoed and watered their allotments contributing to "digging for Victory. (photo available. Luton at War book)

The War over ,Surrey Street hits the headlines, "The Dog that went to School", apparently the dog was a regular visitor to the classrooms for over 9 months, the owner Mr Potts said in Court ," his dog had a thirst for education", Mr Potts was cautioned to keep his dog under control, the case dismissed.

Arthur Hailey the Novelist made a return journey to the school in 1958, he praised his teacher at the time, a "Mr Swallow" for encouraging his journey into writing, according to Mr Swallow ,"Arthur was a dunce at Arithmetic."

I am sure there are numerous more memories to come, these are just a few.

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