Latchmere Road School
Latchmere and Latchmerians have a real sense of history, of past and place, of community, of shared experiences, childhood and of belonging to something special. A sense underpinned by the schools link to many different generations within the same family. Latchmere Road School opened in 1936 and in that time it has served the parents, grandparents and great grandparents of many of the children who are here today. This sense of continuity runs like thread through the school creating a sense of identity that spans 80 years, a sense reinforced by the strong links we still have with many of our past pupils. We not only count old Latchmerians amongst our parent body but among our staff, governors and the volunteers who support the school.
Perhaps our most prominent link with our past is the Latchmerians 39-45 Club which is made of ex-pupils who attended Latchmere Road School during the Second World War. The group have very active links with school, maintaining a garden, fund raising and coming into school to give talks. The group also has a very full social calendar that unites old childhood friends.
Latchmere Road Schools History 1936 to 1952
At the beginning of the last century, the land to the north of Kingston that we now think of as the Tudor Estate and Latchmere was part of the Earl of Dysart lands. The land was made up of open fields and orchards bordered by the Richmond Road to the west and Richmond Park to the north and east. During the first thirty years of the last century, Kingston spread northwards with the development of the Richmond Park Estate (now known as the Tudor Estate) and housing along the Richmond Road. As more families moved into the area, the need for a school to serve the community grew. During the early years of the 1930’s the idea of building a school in the north of the borough was discussed and put off several times until in 1935 it was finally decided to go ahead with building a new school. Work started later in the year and in August 1936, Latchmere Road School opened its doors to pupils for the first time, in the shape of the building that we came to think of as Latchmere Junior School. The school was built to hold four hundred pupils. On the first day of school 443 pupils turned up to start in the new school!
The school held its official opening in the October 1936, with the Mayor of Kingston cutting the ribbon. One year later, the numbers in the school had grown so much that the school had to be extended in 1937 and so the section of the building that we came to think of as Latchmere Infant school was born. Latchmere Road School became known as The Latchmere Road Schools by 1938.
The following year saw Britain, Europe and the World torn apart by Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the announcement of war. War was declared on Sunday 3rd September 3rd 1939 and the new school year was due to start the next day. The school, now only three years old, was closed for fear of gas attacks and bombing! Many of the school’s pupils were evacuated out of London and those that remained where taught in small classes in their own homes by the female teachers from the school, with fire, gas drills and the blackout forming part of the new fabric of their school lives. The three men who had started teaching at the new school were conscripted to serve in the Army and amazingly they all returned!
The first year of the war was known as ‘the phony’ war. After the initial worries of gas attacks and air raids, it seemed as though everyone’s fears has been unfounded; many of the pupils who had been evacuated drifted home and the school once again opened.
Then in the Summer of 1940 Hitler turned his attention to UK and the Battle of Britain began. Launching raids on the South Coast and Kent in an effort to destroy the RAF, Hitler began the Blitz. When his efforts to destroy the airforce seemed to fail, Hitler turned his wrath on the civilian population. In the cities of London, Coventry and Liverpool the nightmare began with air raids. Lying on the flight path to central London, Kingston, with its war factories and estates, was a target. The Hawker Hurricane Factory, the Leyland Tank factory, the barracks of the East Surrey Regiment (now the Keep) and dozens of small engineering factories made the area around Kingston, important to the allies war effort and a prime target for the Luftwaffe.
During the Blitz, Latchmere Road School kept its doors open and lessons carried on; even the eleven plus! Although the bombing raids took place mostly at night, the school opened its doors at ten in the morning and ran until noon, when everyone went home for lunch. School started again at two and the day was over at four, stopping only if the air raid sirens sounded. Sometimes lessons carried on in the shelters!
In the Autumn of 1940, as suddenly as they had begun, the raids were over, the Battle of Britain was finished and the country had just survived. Hitler turned his attention east to Russia. Bombing raids continued but only spasmodically. Amazingly all the pupils survived despite the school being a target twice.
During the middle years of the war, life at Latchmere Road Schools carried on as normally as possible, although the children counted collecting shrapnel and bomb fragments as a hobby and there was no sport played in the school as Latchmere Recreation Ground and Dinton Field were dug up to grow food.
In 1944, a new horror arrived as Hitler launched his Doodlebugs – V1 flying bombs aimed at London. This caused a second evacuation of London’s children and the pupils of Latchmere. One Doodlebug landed 40 yards in front of the school in Latchmere Recreation Ground resulting in extensive damage to the front of the school and causing it to be closed for sometime. While the school was being repaired, teachers took their classes to spare rooms in other local schools to be taught. Lessons carried on in St Paul’s, St John’s and Tiffin Girls’ School.
On January 22nd 1945, Miss Aldridge one of the school’s teachers, was slightly injured in her home when the only V2 Rocket to fall on Kingston landed on the crossroads of Kings Road and Park Road, causing huge amounts of damage and some fatalities. A plaque can still be seen on the site where the bomb fell even today!
On 8th May 1945, Victory in Europe was declared and the war was over. The school celebrated with a three-day holiday! All the pupils and all the teachers had survived! Latchmere, Kingston and the country began to rebuild and repair the damage caused by the blitz but after such troubled times it would be years before life returned to normal.
A year after the war ended in the summer of 1946, Kingston celebrated the first anniversary Victory in Europe with a parade in Kingston with Scouts, Guides and the Red Cross all taking part. Kingston Borough held a special sports day at the Kingstonian Football Club’s ground. Two of the marshals on the day were the Headteachers of the Latchmere Infant and Junior Schools, Miss Standbridge and Mr Pearson.
In 1948, the Olympics came to London and Richmond Park Camp was used as one of the Athletes’ Villages. Many of the local youngsters volunteered to help and of course, although everyone was interested in the sport, it was the thought of a decent meal that real excited everyone. Although the had war ended, rationing continued for another few years and in fact bread, which had not been rationed during the war, was added to the list of scarce foods. Families still had to carry their ration books and ‘mend and make do’ until 1952.
This account was kindly contributed by Owen Walter
Latchmerian (1937 to 1944)
Chairman of the Latchmerians 39-45 Club