Sixty years strong for Stratton

The first staff and pupils pose for a picture in 1950
The first staff and pupils pose for a picture in 1950

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Stratton School in Biggleswade with celebration events being held tomorrow. Memory Lane takes a look back at the beginnings of a school which was built to be Bedfordshire’s showpiece.

The Butler Education Act of 1944 had stipulated that secondary schooling be provided for all children, catered for by grammar, technical and secondary modern schools based on ability. Stratton combined the first two as branches of one school.

A netball team from the mid 1060s

A netball team from the mid 1060s

With more building planned, the number of pupils was expected to eventually rise to 700 but in those first days, facilities were far from complete and many rooms had to be multi-purpose. There was inadequate heating, no chalk and missing knobs on many of the doors.

Initially forms were taught in their own rooms until the third term. The sports and playing field was not completed until January 1951.

The first head teacher was Mr H Blayney who told The North Beds Courier at the time that “everything had gone to plan” with the opening and he was particularly pleased to be heading up a brand new school. The school crest was inspired by the design of the Barnett Shield which was above the doorway of Stratton Manor. Approved in May 1951, the school acquired its new name - Stratton School. On the demolition of Stratton Manor in 1960, Mr Blayney asked the owner for the stone crest but it was stolen before it could be put up.

The first teachers appointed were D Coupe, J Greener, B Howe, Miss M Humphries and Miss E Parrott and the first day saw a Foundation Day Service which was to become an annual tradition on or around October 2. When a school bell ringing society was formed, Foundation Day was marked by a quarter peal of bells rung at local churches. The school’s musical reputation was laid from the start, with a choir comprising nearly a third of all pupils.

School uniform wasn’t introduced until the second year. Numbers doubled and new staff were taken on including Jimmy Nevard, Head of Science who eventually became deputy head and was affectionately known as ‘Chunky’ because of his stocky build.

Pupils were still being accommodated in temporary classrooms with shortages of basic equipment like desks. However, the curriculum continued unaffected. In January 1952, the new domestic science room – the most modern in the county – was opened and in June, the school got its own dining hall and kitchen. A house system was also introduced with four houses: Lincoln, Pembroke, Cotton and Barnett which were names of families who had owned Stratton Manor.

Building of the great hall was under way in 1953 and in December a time capsule was placed in a cavity in the centre of the end wall.

On June 6, 1956, the school was finally completed and an official opening day was held. The school had also reached full capacity with a lower and upper sixth form.

In the 1970s, the comprehensive three tier system was introduced in Bedfordshire and Stratton became an upper school, taking pupils from the age of 13. Selective intake at Stratton ended in 1973 and Mr Blayney retired so that a new head could oversee the changes. Geoffrey Suggitt took over, two of his achievements being to argue for keeping Stratton Farm when it was threatened with closure and setting up a parents’ association.

The school orchestra was formed in 1970, and in 1977 the brass group appeared on Songs of Praise at St Andrews Church. In 1979, the Weatherley Centre was opened for drama, music and sport.

Suggit retired in 1982 but his name became synonymous` with the birth of Stratton Upper School.

Since then there have been three more heads – all overseeing various changes: the late Brian Farman (who has a memorial garden on the premises); Neil Bramwell who took over in 1996; and new head Robert Watson who has just recently taken over the headship.

Information taken from the official school history written by David Bushby.