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School memories that will survive bulldozers

Ex-pupils invited to visit main hall for last time before demolition this summer

28 June, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Brenda Southall with pupil Eric Gonggrijp, 5

IT’S the place where you are served daily hot dinners, sing hymns at full belt while sitting in rows and awkwardly try to dance with your classmates at the end-of-term disco.

But the main hall at Tufnell Park Primary School, which has remained unchanged since 1955, is being demolished next month, to be replaced with a bigger building and playground after a £14million investment.

Former teachers and students are invited to tour the building for a final time.

Brenda Southall, 63, who works as a meal supervisor at the school in Dalmeny Road, has barely left since attending in the 1960s.

Even after moving to Acland Burghley she would drop her younger brother off at her former primary school, and her own children would eventually become students.

A young Brenda

She even became a teaching assistant at the school, but now helps pupils choose their lunch.

“It’s upsetting that the old school is going. I have good memories of coming here and the school hall,” she said.

“We used to have to line up and get dinner first. Then line up again for pudding. They used to dish the pudding right here by the stage. We’d do PE here.

“We used to have a big radio and Ms Dunkie played the piano for us,” she said.

She remembers how it was “scary” when her headmistress stood by the bins to make sure everyone’s plates were empty after their meals.

“We don’t do that now,” she said. “We had liver and bacon. It was healthy meals with cabbage.”

Current headteacher Martin Scarborough said: “I don’t stand by the bins but I do encourage pupils to finish their meals. Current students do have cabbage and even broccoli in their meals – we have a salad bar.”

Steve Metcalf and, left, in a school photo: ‘I had a black eye as an older boy wanted to play fight’

Ms Southall recalled how a temporary tuck shop would emerge during lunch breaks when the dinner lady would sell biscuits.

“There were chickens and we didn’t have such a high fence,” she said. “There was a grass bank where we would do our readings. We used to have sheep come over from the farm and every classroom had a pet animal, from hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits.”

Former pupil Steve Metcalf, 58, a consultant in emergency medicine at St Mary’s Hospital, remembers how he was standing just outside the main hall as a seven-year-old when he told his friend Stephen he wanted to be a doctor.

“It’s funny how you remember some things so vividly,” he said. “I haven’t been inside the school in 40 years. I had a very happy time. It felt safe and it was my whole world.”

First day assembly in school hall in 1955. Picture: City of London Library

He remembers getting a Christmas pudding every year with a sixpence inside, bringing in collections of food for survivors of the Aberfan disaster in 1966 and pretending to be trees while listening to the BBC afternoon radio children’s show.

“We were all working-class, local kids. The school taught me kindness and respect for others without fear of authority,” he added.

He remembers having Beryl Gilroy – the country’s first black headteacher – as a form teacher when he was five or six. She was “strict but lovely”, he said.

Residents are invited to buy a brick from the demolished building to pay for new playground equipment.

Former teachers, students and parents are invited to a final party in the hall organised by Friends of Tufnell Park Primary School on July 12. For more information, ring 020 7607 4852

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