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An edited version of this story (with other photos) was published in the Chingford Guardian (London, England), on March 25,2004.

A Letter from Australia
As a boy, Eric Shackle lived in Chingford. In 1929, he emigrated with his family to Australia, where he became a journalist and where he still lives in Ettalong, Sydney, New South Wales. Some months ago, we published a letter in the Guardian asking for information about Eric's old school, South Chingford. Here is the article he has written about it, and some of the replies he received.

From time to time over the last 50 or more years, I've had nostalgic thoughts about my first school, in faraway England. I was six years old. On the very first day, in 1925, we had to draw a cricket bat and ball on our slates. We also tried to sing a song called The Ash Grove, which still lingers in my memory.

The school was South Chingford Primary. In those far-off days Chingford was a quiet, pretty village in Essex bordering picturesque Epping Forest, where English kings once hunted deer. It's no longer in Essex. The Chingford of my childhood has been swallowed by the capital city, to become part of Greater London.

Two months ago, I thought I could easily find out how South Chingford Primary School was faring by consulting the internet. Wrong. To my surprise, not one of the search engines seemed to have heard of it.

So I emailed a letter to the editor of the Chingford Guardian asking whether anyone could tell me what had become of South Chingford Primary School. A few hours after it was published, I was delighted to receive four emails from helpful readers:

From Paul Diamond <>

Our old school is still there although now it's called Larkswood School. I joined the Infants' School in 1929, went on to the Junior School under Mr Gratton but left at the age of nine and a half, during the slump, when my father lost his job and the building society foreclosed on our house in Larkshall Road. I got back to Chingford in 1969 when I bought a house in Lichfield Road off Chingford Lane.

The Infants' School celebrated it's 75th anniversary several years ago and held a reception for old pupils. They produced a booklet of reminiscences from alumni. I've got it in a file somewhere and if I can dig it out I'll send you a copy.

I was especially amused by your memories of the old busses. You may remember that they travelled a circular route, one way only. We had to walk to school from Larkshall Road but could get the bus home. There was a 'General' bus owned by what became the London Passenger Transport Board who charged a penny for the journey. I remember the 'Reliance' which only charged a ha'penny half for children. When you asked for your ticket the conductor invariably said "'Apenny 'arf to make you laugh' which at five I thought was very witty.  

Photo Tim Gregson

From David Branchflower

I believe South Chingford Primary School is now Larkswood School and locally is known as New Road School. My father attended in c 1908 when it was first built and he always referred to it as "Gratton's College". A Mr Gratton was the 1st head teacher.

Waltham Forest Council have plans to rebuild it but are being hindered by a conservation order being put on it.

From Lawrence Lustig <>

The school still very much exists. However you will not find reference to it on the web as it has had two name changes since your time as a pupil.

Some time after you left, the school was transferred from the old L.C.C to the Essex County Council and was renamed New Road School and remained this way until the 1960s, when I was a pupil there. Further boundary changes saw the school transferred to the Waltham Forest Borough council and renamed Larkswood infants and junior school until last year, when it was renamed Larkswood Primary.

The school, with its original buildings, remains on its same site on New Road and would be pretty much as you would recall it.

The buildings are now 97 years old and there are plans to rebuild and although it will be sad to see the "old place" go, as a parent and Governor, I understand, if the plans are passed, it will be in the best interests of the children and staff who spend their days there.

I know the head Stephen Fisher enjoys receiving correspondence from former pupils and sharing their memories with the children. His e-mail is stephen.fisherAT...

My quest was nearly over. I now knew just what had happened to my old school, and why it had been so difficult to trace on the internet. Armed with all this info, I emailed the headmaster for the latest news.

Stephen Fisher <> replied:

  The school does still stand, but not for much longer, I'm afraid. In May 2004 the builders will move on site (well, the demolition men, actually) and begin the process of building a new Larkswood Primary School. We will be a building site for two years - nobody is looking forward to that - but we will have a fantastic facility at the end of it all.

The heritage decision was taken hastily and then overturned by the Dept for Culture, Media & Sport. The new school will be open before the 2007 Centenary, I think. I'll send you an invite from my garden shed on the building site!

Yours from sunny Chingford (7:45a.m. and 2 degrees but a blue sky).
Stephen Fisher

Larkswood (formerly South Chingford) School, 2004.
Photo kindly taken specially for this e-book by David Branchflower.

I'm writing this story in Sydney, Australia, where I arrived with my parents and younger sister in 1929, after a six-week voyage from England. Our ship, SS Demosthenes (11,000 tons) passed between the two ends of the Harbour Bridge, then under construction. The sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, countless ferries and sailing boats ploughed white furrows through the sparkling blue water. Life was good.

Seventy-five years later, as I complete this story, life is still good. The temperature in sunny Sydney is 35 deg C.


Here are edited extracts from a paper written by Leonard Davis in May 2000, published by the Chingford Historical Society: Chingford Notes, Volume 6, Extra No. 12.


World War I
Two air raid warnings we given but the children stood around the walls and soon resumed work. In July 1918 four minutes each day was devoted to talking about "Our food in wartime and our indebtedness to our brave seamen."

The Log Book of the Boys' School shows that in 1917 attendances were low following the noise of gunfire aimed at hostile aircraft during the night, and in 1918 sometimes 10% of boys were absent because of the shortage of food. The boys used to go to Walthamstow to line up for margarine, sugar, tea etc.

Mr George H. Gratton remained headmaster and Mr A. Walker was Chief Assistant, but he acted when Mr Gratton was absent on war service. In 1918 many boys were absent because of the influenza epidemic.

World War II
When World War II began in 1939, the girls were evacuated to villages around Colchester: Frating, Bradfield and Great Oakley.

The boys were evacuated to Fingringhoe, near Colchester, Dedham and Ramsey. Correspondence and tutorial classes commenced.

In 1940 there was a second evacuation and the school was occupied by refugees. Later it was bombed and closed. [Can anyone tell us the extent of the damage, and when the school reopened?]


  Travelling to and from South Chingford School, I enjoyed many exciting rides in gaudy, old-fashioned double-decker buses - bone-rattlers with solid tyres - named Nelson, Reliance, Pro Bono Publico, Rainbow, Black and White.

Each was owned by a driver and conductor - usually ex-servicemen from World War 1 - who had teamed up, and received a permit to operate a public bus. They were called "pirates," as they chose their own routes, didn't run to a timetable, and set their own prices. They undercut the more prosaic LGOC (London General Omnibus Company) red busses, which ran to a timetable.

Photo Tim Gregson

We kids were greatly excited when the "pirate" drivers raced one another to be first to pick up passengers waiting at the next stop. Sometimes three or four vehicles, spurred on by our joyous shouts, would hurtle down the road in a perilous free-for-all.

Only last week, I read a note that June D. Troy, of St John's Wood, had written to, the magazine for London's disabled travellers: "I too remember the General Bus Company, and also what we children used to call pirate buses... We loved them. The driver had a seat that went the whole width of the bus, and he would let us children ride up front with him."

Ah, those were the days!



Story first posted April 2004
Copyright 2004 Eric Shackle

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