School Christmas traditions in the 1950s

Wartime Christmas
From the private collection of Mr.M Spratt
Christmas 1956
Hetford Infants School collection
Nativity Play 1954
Hetford Infants School collection

Christmas at Hertford Infants’ school (then County First School) by the 1950’s had its own longstanding traditions and treats. On a Sunday afternoon in early December a large Christmas tree would be decorated, ready for the children’s parties. Rehearsals for a Carol Service at St.Matthias would begin with the older children practising their spoken scripture and solos. The whole school and parents attended and in 1953, with a school of over 370 pupils St. Matthias was “so packed that the children had to sit on hassocks and adults stood in the doorway.”

Fancy dress and Christmas Parties
The class Christmas parties were held in the evenings and the children were allowed to wear fancy dress – a great treat! A parent remembers the excitement of making her children’s costumes – a clown suit made of old bedspreads, a brown paper ‘parcel’ outfit complete with stamps and string, a “Walkie talkie” doll, a Red Indian with full headdress of feathers. For days beforehand parents brought the party food into school, including jellies and blancmanges, cakes and biscuits, as excitement mounted.

Sleigh Bells in the playground
At each party the children would sit in the hall with the lights out, to listen out for sleigh bells getting nearer, then a light would be seen bobbing along the veranda outside and suddenly there was Father Christmas in the doorway. He was greeted by such excitement and screams of delight, to distribute a named present to every child (provided, wrapped and labelled by their parents). After the parties, before the end of term came Christmas dinner in the school canteen, with fancy hats for each child and special table decorations. Despite the cold in the canteen building and the need for sacking to make the concrete floor bearable “much jollification was had by all!”

A poignant story
The 1954 Christmas parties had a special significance for highlighting one teacher’s commitment to the school. The Argus carried the poignant story of Miss Gladys Bradby, a dedicated Assistant Teacher for 23 years, who had planned a party for December 21st as a gift to the children to mark her retirement, with entertainment by a ventriloquist and sugar sticks to take home. Sadly Miss Bradby died on 12th December but it was reported that her last words were “The Christmas party must go on,” which indeed it did.

Christmas on several sites
Later in the 1950’s, when the school numbers became overflowing, Christmas included a Nativity play for the Reception classes, by this time based in St. Richard’s church hall, and performances in the annexe of the Davey Drive (later St. Joseph’s) school, to which the upper school had been relocated. These arrangements stood for several years, and the Heads spent much of their time travelling between the various parts of the school!

Ice Sliding
After Christmas, the winter weather made the open air veranda at the main school hard work. The cisterns to the toilets regularly froze and needed constant flushing throughout the day with buckets of hot water by the Caretaker, to keep them working. However cold and ice also brought the popular Hertford tradition of sliding in the playground – for which perilous activity classes were officially given extra time before school started.  Miss Young, Headmistress, reported on 19th Jan 1954 that “as playground conditions were favourable for sliding, extra time was given to those children wishing to do so before school began – Class 7 continued sliding until 9.20am.”  Enthusiasm for sliding was not restricted only to the children, teacher Mr. Hickman, (later Head teacher!) would be outside in his long dark overcoat and scarf, and tow lines of screaming children along the ice slide. Children even came in early on those days!

Comments about this page

  • Those were the days. I well remember the excitement building up to Christmas, good times and simple pleasures. I left in 1950 and Miss Young was headmistress then and I recall Mr Hickman and Miss Bradby. I enjoyed my time at Hertford Road School and remember many other teachers.

    By Lynda (18/12/2008)
  • “At each party the children would sit in the hall with the lights out, to listen out for sleigh bells getting nearer..” - I recall that as we grew older we were able to recognise the sound of these ‘sleigh bells’ to be, in fact, a stack of metal crates containing the empty third-of-a-pint milk bottles we used to drink at mid-morning break, being pulled along and rattled by Mr Bartlett, the caretaker, as he slowly approached along the verandah until he arrived outside the hall. At one Christmas party, in the mid 1950s, I remember being severely reprimanded by Miss Young for being a loud and silly show-off in voicing this discovery and thereby risking spoiling the fun for the younger children. She was right, of course.

    By Robert Niblett (14/02/2010)
  • Hi everyone, just found this site by accident and I remember nearly all of you. I’ve got a copy of the class photo and the football team and they’re very precious. I too enjoyed Hertford Road enormously and yes Lynda I too really loved Christmas. Miss Young was an angel and I think we all loved her dearly. Miss Tugwell was a sweetie too. Love to you all Paul xx

    By Paul Winch (25/02/2010)
  • Hi Paul, good to hear from you. I remember you well. I have been married for 44 years, am a dad and grandad. Now retired. Hope you are well.

    By Derek Ost (09/03/2010)
  • Nostalgia rules! I can recall the Christmas parties as if they took place last year. And of course the names bring back such memories. My elder brothers Roger and Barry both passed through H. R. too.

    By David McCabe (10/10/2011)
  • How apt. I am in the process of sorting my collection of family photos and rearranging them in some sort of order in albums. Those Christmas parties I had forgotten, but the photos and text brought them flooding back; thanks. By the way, how can I get a copy of that Christmas 1956 photo? I think I see myself!

    By Michael Whitcomb (03/04/2012)
  • So lovely to remember those Christmas parties. I used to be one of those screaming with delight at the bells and lights outside the veranda. I also used to enjoy a second bottle of milk, given the chance!! I once got tripped down the steps leading to the playground and my poor Mum had to carry me all the way home to Mountfields where I lived! I can’t remember many names but there was a boy who’s father owned the greengrocery in “the dip”, and Vincent Sutton who later went to live in America. There were also twins/brothers who lived in the Crestway. One was called Allen and am not too sure if the other one was Peter?

    By Sharan (Hook) (19/05/2012)
  • Michael, if you contact the school and leave your email address I’ll send you a copy of the photo!

    By Tracey Bowers (29/10/2012)
  • In the Christmas 1956 photo – I am kneeling next to Mary. Christmas at Hertford Road School was very magical. Sitting on the floor in the hall waiting to hear the bells that would announce that Father Christmas had arrived. Christmas parties in the classroom. I am sure I have this photo somewhere!

    By Rita Ashdown Barren (13/11/2012)
  • Hi Derek, sorry but I have not been on this site since my original comment, so it was lovely to see your reply. Those days were very special to me as I am sure they were to all of us. So many happy memories! Shouting out “Sim-Sala-Bim” I think it was that we had to shout to entice Santa to come and give us presents. Hobbies exhibitions and Harvest festivals and I was madly in love with (at one time or another) Christine Marchant, Jennifer James, Pauline Elliot and Pauline White. We were all such good friends and many of you held a special place in my life. I live in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia at the moment with my dear wife Jessica. I have 5 children, 13 grand children and 3 great grand children. I think we were so lucky to have such wonderful and caring teachers. Miss Tugwell, Mr Hickman and especially Miss Young. I spent most of my working life as a firefighter and was eventually promoted to Superintendent. Best job in the world! Many thanks for your comment and maybe when I visit or come back to stay, we could meet up and share a wine or beer. Take care, Paul

    By Paul Winch (16/10/2015)
  • I lived at 17 The Crestway until 1958/9   One side of me were twins Margaret and Elizabeth ?  The other side was Susan and her brother David Sargent next to them was Peter and Alan (not twins Peter was older than Alan – their dad Charlie looked after me and my brother while  their mum Elsie and my mum Marjorie worked). We all went to Hertford Road School.  Very good memories and especially for Miss Young who took the time to teach me how to read.

    By Jeanne Clarke-Walker (nee CORNWELL) (15/05/2016)

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