Stevenage New Town at 75: first Barclay pupils reflect
- Credit: Courtesy of Richard Wallace
When the first pupils of the brand new Barclay Secondary Modern School in Stevenage turned up for lessons in 1949, the school wasn't even finished.
Barclay was the first purpose-built secondary school created in the UK after the Second World War, after Stevenage was designated a new town in 1946 to help alleviate congested urban areas - especially in London - and provide homes for people displaced due to the war.
The intended population of Stevenage New Town was initially 60,000. The existing old town only had about 6,400 residents at the time, so this significant swell in population meant the need for a new secondary school.
Barclay - now Barclay Academy - opened on Stevenage's Walkern Road in 1949, while the new town was under construction.
Pam Sayers (née Toll), now 87, was one of Barclay's first pupils. She said: "The school was nowhere near full at that time and it wasn't completely finished. We couldn't use the school hall for our first assembly.
"I don't think I learned much in the time I was at Barclay because I was a prefect and a games captain and would get called out of class to show VIPs around because it was such a new school.
"It was really something special to have that big school built. The likes of us in Stevenage had never seen anything like it."
- 1 Ambulance called to crash between motorcycle and van in Stevenage
- 2 Historic family jewellers scoops up industry awards
- 3 I went to Stevenage Charter Fair for the first time, and here's what I thought
- 4 GP surgery blamed for young cancer victim's late diagnosis
- 5 Stevenage has 'no money left' for new special needs children, says county council
- 6 Sacrifices made as Stevenage defiantly answer their critics at Harrogate Town
- 7 Remembering one of Hertfordshire's best-known estate agents
- 8 Bridgerton: First look at Kate Sharma in season two of Netflix drama
- 9 14 of the best places for a curry in Hertfordshire according to readers
- 10 Free music festival to get Stevenage Old Town rocking
The Henry Moore Family Group large-scale bronze sculpture - currently in Barclay's foyer and insured for £20 million - was situated outside when Pam was a pupil. She explained: "We didn't appreciate the value of it at the time."
Pam left school aged 15, so only attended Barclay for the final few months of her education. She said: "I enjoyed school so much that, on the last day of term, we sat on the school hall floor and cried. I didn't want to go home because my mother would have said 'what on earth are you making such a fuss about?'
"We certainly didn't have the pressure on us that children do these days. I never sat a school exam. I never had homework. I think the stress on schoolchildren these days is colossal."
Christine Thomas moved from Mansfield to Stevenage with her family on her 10th birthday in 1957, starting at Barclay in 1958, as construction of Stevenage town centre and five new neighbourhoods - Bedwell, Chells, Pin Green, Shephall and Broadwater - continued.
Christine said: "We moved because my dad didn't want my brother down the mines. He wanted a better life for us all. We lived in Bedwell. I remember peeking out of the removal van and thinking I was never going to find my way around this place. It was so different to Mansfield. Everything was new and clean.
"I had a lovely time at Barclay and made lifelong friends there. Mrs Carr was the headteacher then and we all had respect for her. Mrs Asher was a very strict maths teacher. She threw a chalkboard rubber at me once. Can you imagine a teacher doing that now?"
In the 1960s, an ambitious project of building a swimming pool in the school's grounds was undertaken. Christine said: "I was there when the swimming pool was being built. They asked us all to give a regular donation, which we did. It was great - such an unusual thing for a school to have. They were ahead of their time with that.
"I look back at my school days with fond memories. The son of jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine was a Barclay pupil and used to chase me around the playground, trying to get a kiss!"
Andrew Robson was born in 1950 and lived in Stevenage until 1963, attending Barclay from 1961-63. He explained: "I didn’t pass the 11+, so I was assigned to Barclay Secondary Modern.
"One of our class teachers was Mr Allcock, and for a time our classroom was in the school library.
"I seem to recall that the school had excellent technical facilities, with a decent physics lab, a vegetable garden, and we were involved in lessons such as metal casting with sand moulds, and also pottery.
"During my last year at the school in 1963, it embarked on the project of building a swimming pool and the pupils were involved in that.
"Other than Mr Allcock, among the teachers I can recall from Barclay are Mr Coutts - French, Mr Sambrook - maths, and Mr Alexander - history. The rest have faded with the passage of time."