Knebworth Schools

An oral history

By Ann Judge

New primary school, London Road

The following are memories of local people from the 1920’s to 1960’s, recorded by Ann Judge.

Them days

The school in Old Knebworth was erected in 1897 and enlarged in 1902 to accommodate 150 children.  With the development in ‘New’ Knebworth, the need for a new school was realised and a County Council school was erected in London Road in 1912.  The school accommodated all the elementary school children from the newer part of the village.  Both schools taught children up to the age of 14, when they left to start work, unless of course they were able to attend grammar school in Hitchin, or later on in Stevenage.


Memories of going to Old Knebworth School come from Alf W and Maud K.Alf says I went there when I was 5 years old, and I left when I was 14.  And I left, ‘cos in them days no work, no money. Well, them days there was discipline.  My teacher there, Mrs Ayres, she lived next door to the school in a house next door, and she was very strict.  She had a cane and if you done anything wrong, you’d feel it across your hand aswell.  I’ve seen some of the boys there, the back of their legs has been absolutely red where they’ve been, you know, been whacked with her cane.  But she overpowered ’em, and she used to, if you was very bad she used to lock you in the school after the others had gone out, and she’d come and let you out, probably about two hours afterwards.  I mean that’s where the discipline was them days. The rooms in the winter months was very cold.  And we only had two coal fires in one big room.  They used to be lit probably about half an hour before you went to school.  By the time the place got warm, it was lunchtime.  And you got no lunch at school, you had to walk home to lunch.  And I mean there was a family who lived at Rustling End, which was a mile and a half from school.  They had to bring their lunch with them, and they was allowed to eat it in school.  And they had to come through Graffidge Wood,  all the way through the Park to the school.  Hail, rain, or snow, I mean some of them, it was a big family that lived in Rustling End, and I know some of the poor boys that had hardly any shoes to wear.  They used to have cardboard inside of their shoes, because money was very scarce them days.  It was very hard work and, you see, no work, no money.  Those days.

No talking

Maud says  Mrs Harris was schoolmistress there then.  And she lived in the house across the road.  Now it’s a big house, there used to be two houses there. I can only vaguely remember her.  And we also had a Miss Day, that taught the infants.  You had the two rooms, a long room, where standard one up to standard 6 was, and then there was the infants till you went up.  They were very strictly really.  You had to take notice.  And you had to make sure you did things right.  No talking or anything like that, or you got a rap across the knuckles with a ruler.  Oh yes, she didn’t believe in holding back with the cane, did she, Miss Ayres our second teacher. Neither girls nor boys, if she thought you needed the cane, you had it.  And you all had to stand out in a row like this.  And I had it several times, I don’t mind admitting. But it didn’t do me any harm, ‘cos we knew then, where right from wrong.  But when I was nearly six, we moved to Burleigh Farm.  Because, our farmhouse we lived in was sold to Mr Gold.  He came from London, and he sold shoes and boots.  Button up boots.  I’ve got a buttonhook today what I used to use when I was a child, still in my purse. And Amy and I used to have to walk from Burleigh Farm, which is on the Hitchin Road. And we had to walk from there, either across through the wood, down by the lake and come up by Knebworth House, or go through the war memorial and come out at the bottom of the hill before you got up there.  And it didn’t make no difference ‘cos there wasn’t the traffic on the road those days.  ‘Cos I can only ever, never ever remember seeing a car them days.

Laundry and cooking

At the school in London Road, Cynthia H recalls Mrs Harris, Miss Fletcher.
They were very good. You went in the morning,  you sat in twos, behind each other.  And yes you worked quite hard. One week we used to do laundry, One week we used to do cooking.  Quite a variety of things.  I don’t think they have laundry, I don’t think, or cooking now.  And the boys used to do gardening.

Joy Abbiss who was at the London Road school during the war says yes, there was Mrs Harris, who lived in Gun Road Gardens I think, and another one, oh I think her name was Daisy Headly, she was quite strict.  Oh, then the little ones, when we were about 5, a plump lovely lady, I remember sitting on her knee.  So she was a bit softer I guess.  And then, yes I was happy there.

Hetty Fletcher

Bob O – I suppose my favourite teacher was Hetty Fletcher.  She taught history.  She was the Deputy Head aswell.  She’d been at the school ever since it opened.  And she was a wonderful history teacher, I mean she gave me the interest in history that I’ve always had.  We had another one,  Miss Smith, and they lived in Gun Lane, and her parents had been missionaries to the Eskimos in Labrador.  And she was such a gentle person, I always remember nobody ever came last.  If there were eight people in a race, and you were last, you weren’t last, you were eighth.  And she, once a year, for her class, she had all this stuff that they brought back from Labrador, all the Eskimo clothes and, she had a kyak and a paddle, and we were allowed to sort of dress in these clothes, and they were beautiful.

Private schools

As well as these two schools, there were also private schools, in private houses.  Nen B went to one of these, and refers to it as Miss Downing’s – well, it was a very small school, just a little house in Gun Lane. It wasn’t called a ‘Dame School’, but that’s what it was.  There were never more than 6 or 8 children there, some of them came from outside Knebworth. There were other private schools in Knebworth.  I don’t know why we went there.

Grammar schools

It was normal for children to leave school at 14, as to go to grammar school cost money if you didn’t have a scholarship. Maud K makes this point I didn’t have no option.  I mean your parents wanted you to work, to help.   I mean farm wages was terrible.

Vic H, who went to Hitchin Boys Grammar School, says ‘cos it couldn’t have been easy for father, because all four of us went to the Grammar Schools at Hitchin, and none of us were bright enough to win a scholarship, so he paid the school fees for all four of us, and for quite a considerable time there must have been at least two at Grammar School together. So, I don’t think it could have been very easy for them.

By the early 1950s when Joy Abbiss was at school, the 11+ had been introduced, and the school leaving age raised – well, you were expected to do well at school.  No mucking about.  You went to school and that was that.  And then at 11, it was the 11+  in those days, and only two, I think out of a class of about thirty, got places at the grammar school.  And I was lucky enough to get there.

This page was added on 04/06/2009.

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  • In the 1940s I’m one of 40 Boys who use to live in the Orphanage on London Road, Just behind the Primary School quite a few of us attended it, One of the few memories I have, Was making Ice slides in the shool yard in Winter time, also playing marbles,and flicking small cards trying to get them to land onto your opponents card to win his cards, It was fun. Michael. PS, As well as the African boy’s, We also had an African House master for a short time, When he left the Home he took the last remaining Afican boy with him to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) the boys name was Alleck Dagee we were such good friends I missed him a lot when he left. I was11at the time, This is my first contact with England since leaving for Australia Nov.1958 I’m 84 now and this connections has brought back a flood of memories, 😊

    By Michael W. (07/05/2021)
  • John Kennett used to write and produce wonderful pantomimes. I was in the chorus of 2, one was Alladin, can’t rememeber the other but it was also in eastern costume. I think Miss Sexton was in charge of my first class then Miss O’connell, Mr Kennett, Mr Parkinson and Miss Edwards.

    By Felicity Veazey (10/02/2020)
  • I remember being at Knebworth School. I was already 6 or 7 when I started – moved from Welwyn and before that, Jedburgh, Scotland. Started in Mrs Desborough’s class. Noone knew I was short sighted, couldn’t see the blackboard, so was designated either stupid or plain awkward by Mrs D. At one point I was in Mrs Aitchison’s class – she had a son called Duncan, also at the school and in my class. I moved to Miss Balch’s (?) class at some time. She did not like me, and did not bother to hide her feelings….the feeling was mutual!! I liked Mr BV Kennet’s books, but he was very sarcastic. After him was Mr Parkinson, who liked nothing better than to give us “the slipper”! Even little girls like me (I must have been very naughty!) had to “bend over and touch your toes”! Miss Edwards was scary from a distance, but when I was in her class, I adored her! In spite of the odd piece of chalk aimed (accurately) at my head when I was reading a book under my desk instead of listening to her! She got me through my 11+, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that. Good times!!

    By Liz Boden (31/05/2019)
  • I remember London Rd school well (1954-1960). Mrs Desborough taught me to read, Mr. Kennett and Mr. Parkinson were only male teachers, Miss Edwards, Miss O’Connell, the headmaster Mr Briden, then Mr Ovens who used to occasionally give me a lift from Old Knebworth in his shooting brake en route from Codicote. I got a good basic education there. Great school, outings to Hampton Court, Heathrow and Norwich.

    By Clive Norris (07/07/2018)
  • I was in Peter Frost’s class and remember John Kennet and his books very well. A rewrite of Coral Island was my particular favourite. Have very fond memories of my first teacher at Knebworth, Mrs O’Connell.

    By Cathie Felstead (28/05/2018)
  • I’d like to hear more about Knebworth and your recollections generally, and especially about Mr Kennett. We had some of his books at my school, and my son and I are reading “Moon Venturer” by him now. It’s a science fiction story about a rescue mission on the moon.

    By Rob Morton (13/01/2018)
  • John Kennett wrote several original books: The Peril series – “Peril for the Guy”, “Walk Into Peril”, “Peril All The Way”; There was also a book about a Canal Boat which I’ve not read and can’t remember the title. I still have the Peril books – not bad reading to be honest. He also wrote quite a lot of “Retold for Children” classics such as “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Kidnapped” which, in hindsight, were a terrible way to introduce Children to reading those wonderful books- essentially, they boiled the story line down to the barest essentials and left out anything which could be thought of as literary quality in the belief that by doing so it made the stories accessible to children. There you go. Man of his time.

    I have a couple of other anecdotes if anyone would be interested.

    By Roy Varley (06/09/2017)
  • I was at Knebworth until aged 8 (long time John, since Monk’s Walk). OVens head, loved Miss Massom! She turned up later at Applecroft WGC. I think the teacher you called Knight was John Kennet, he rewrote the classics for kids. One vivid memory was when the kids from Nigeria went to the home by the school, lovely kids! My first experience of meeting a non white person!

    John, met Graham, PAUL and Chris in Bath last September.

    By Peter Frost (08/06/2017)
  • The picture at the top of this page shows the School in 1960/61 after the new inside toilets were built
    The old ones were outside, slightly to the left of where the photographer was standing
    The cubicles in the girls’ and boys toilets had roofs
    The troughs had no roofs over them

    By Leslie Harland (18/09/2016)
  • Yes, my memories are similar to John Hogarth’s. I remember Miss Massam and the swimming pool. Also, collecting stick insects. Miss Edwards was indeed feared. It was not Mr Knight, it was Mr Kennett, who was the class teacher below the top form. He did write books, mainly rehashes of some of the classics into kid friendly form. He also wrote a book called Peril for the Guy which I believe was made into a film. For some reason, it became a taboo to mention it to him. God knows why.

    By Stephen Morris (04/07/2013)
  • Hi there. I remember Knebworth County Primary from about 1960. Mr Ovens was the Headteacher, Miss Edwards (a feared woman) was head of the top form…we all used to worry about going into her class. Mr Knight was the teacher of the class below…he used to say he was a renowned author..he only wrote useless books that nobody read. Miss Massam, who joined in about 1963, brought a sense of future normallity. I remember the swimming pool was opened following our parents digging it out, when the phone exchange opposite the school was demolished, and we were each given the glass lead acid battery housings to keep a stick insect in….to when we were all made to stand in the street and wave a flag for the Queen who was returing from tea at Knebworth House, and when the Cupola at St Martain’s Curch following it’s extension, was lifted into place

    By John Hogarth (22/06/2013)
  • If you would like to know more about life in Knebworth in the late 50’s and early 60’s…. The nursery school opposite the old Great North Road Hotel….. how parents of pupils at the County Primary school dug out and made the swimming pool ….how the Knebworth St Martain’s 26 mile night walks were managed..the Station Master managed to grow the grape vine up the walkway and platforms…..we had to queue for the only telephone box for miles at the station entrance…..or my father used to steal coal from Lowes coal yard because we were so poor, the windows and my bed used to freeze. Life in Knebworth in the 50’s and 60’s ….something I can talk about and give details of…but I never want to revisit. A bit like the times I was sent each summer to Lingdale in North Yorks. I don’t know why. I can pose some questions…just like the rest of the kids who were at the children’s home in London Road. Just ask!

    By John Hogarth (22/06/2013)
  • I remember when I went to knebworth. My teachers were the best!!!

    By Jacob Callaghan (28/01/2013)