St John's School

The upper building of St John's School as it was before 1910 and as it is today

The author of this site, Alan Moore, is an ex-pupil and a past governor of St John's School. He has researched its history and in addition to writing books on the local area has written 'The School on the Common' . Twelve chapters and numerous pictures tell the story of St John's school from its conception in the early 1840s to the present day. The price is £10, with all the proceeds from sales going directly to the school. If you wish to buy a copy it is available at the office at St John's School during normal school hours. If you would like a copy posted to you please send a cheque for £10 + £2 P&P in the UK (£4 elsewhere) including your full name and address to: St John's School, Pendleton Road, Redhill, Surrey RH1 6QG.
St John's School was established in 1845 and has a considerable history. Many of its records have survived and quite a lot is known about its past. The menu on the right gives access to information about the school.

The area around St John's School and Church had very small beginnings but at one time grew so rapidly it was thought that it was the nucleus of a new town. It is now a picturesque conservation area.

Redhill is a fairly new town, being less than 160 years old. It sprang up at the time of the coming of the London to Brighton railway in the 1840s. Nearby Reigate is much older, having been planned around a castle built by Normans in the 1100s, so has been around for about 90% years.
The book   The upper building in 1990

The book 'The School on the Common'

The school in 1845 as viewed from St John's Church

The History of St John's School, Pendleton Road, Redhill,
and the production of a book about it by Alan Moore

It was the Headteacher's idea to write the history of the St. John's School. I was a governor there then and, being interested in local history, readily agreed.
..... The school is almost as old as St John's Church. The church was built in 1843 and the first ever school building followed two years later. Nothing remains of that building, it was replaced by the present upper building in 1910. The lower building was put up in 1884. It is no doubt correct to say that in its time hundreds of teachers and thousands of pupils must have been associated with the school. Equally, it is certainly correct to say that many of them would havehad very interesting stories to tell about it. Many personal triumphs and tragedies have passed into the mists of time and will never now be retold, but many live on. More than one married couple have been heads of the Boys' and Girls' departments, for example, and once there were no taps or main drainage in the school. Children used to sit in galleries for lessons - outbreaks of diseases such as diphtheria and scarlet fever would close the school for weeks on end - a teacher named Mr Pain was sacked for excessively caning children and a Mr Weeds took others for gardening. Why were people once so fearful of the authorities providing their children's education? And why did the children go to High Trees to collect horse chestnuts for the Government during World War One? These and a great many other subjects make up the whole that is the history of St John's.
..... There has always been a great interest in the school from ex-pupils and ex-staff members alike. History evenings at which oral and visual information about the School's past has been given have always been popular. The last one, at which a look around the School buildings was followed by a talk and a slide show, filled the main hall with well over a hundred people. School events commemorating historic dates in the life of St John's have been equally successful. As well as locally historical and personal interest there is the fact that St John's history is encompassed within national history. The school has endured wars and has reflected the social history of our country.

The history of St John's School began on 21st August 1840 when a decision was taken at a parish vestry meeting to claim compensation from the Brighton, London and South Coast Railway Company for the loss of grazing and other rights when it built the railway across common land in the Manor. Four years later the churchwardens were holding a meeting to decide what to do with £535.7s thus obtained. The decision was to spend one third of it on the poor rate and two thirds on building a National Schools at St John's. The Schools (Boys', Girls' and Infants') opened in 1845 and St John's, now in the form of a Community Primary school, is still going strong.

Picture at left: - St John's Church in 1857, still as originally built in 1843. Sweeping changes have since been made, including the replacement of the surrounding fence with a flint stone wall.

How to get the book
This book is available from St John's School. Twelve chapters and numerous pictures tell the story of the school from its conception in the early 1840s to the present day. The price is £10, with all the proceeds from sales going directly to the school. If you wish to buy a copy it is available at the office at St John's School during normal school hours. If you would like a copy posted to you please send a cheque for £10 + £2 P&P in the UK (£4 elsewhere) including your full name and address to: St John's School, Pendleton Road, Redhill, Surrey RH1 6QG.

The building of the original school in 1845
The history of St John's School begins one hundred and fifty-five years ago when the only church was St Mary's at Reigate and the town of Redhill was not yet in existence. At this time there was no local council and local affairs were conducted at regular organised meetings run by the church. On 21st Aug 1840 one such meeting was held to consider a proposal that £411 of parish funds be put towards the building of a new church to serve the growing population. This new church, built in 1843, was soon consecrated as St John the Evangelist.
The London to Brighton railway had recently been built across part of the nearby common where people let their animals out to graze. Because the railway stopped many of them doing this a decision was taken at that same 1840 meeting that the Railway Company should be made to pay compensation. Four years later, in October 1844, £535 was received. Local people decided to spend one third of it on the poor and two thirds on a new school. In 1845 that school it was built opposite the church and became known as St John's School.

Mr J.Jinks, Headmaster St John's Boys 1876-1919

These views, the first from the common, the second from St John's Church, show what the School looked like when it was first built. The school building seen here is where today's upper building is. Who the builder was is not known. In the picture on the left St John's Church is on the left of the picture and in the centre is the Royal Earlswood Asylum. Just visible between the school and the Asylum is a tall funnelled train on the railway line that provided some of the money to build the school. In the picture on the right the horsedrawn wagon is on what is today Pendleton Road. None of this building remains today.
The building of the lower part of the School    
Because the Church had been involved with the meetings and the money to build the School the Church also ran the School. Because the population continued to grow the school had to be made bigger from time to time and the Church had to find the money for this. Sometimes it could not afford to improve the school or even to make necessary repairs. The Government said that if the School was not looked after properly it would take the School away from the Church and run it itself. People were concerned that their children would not get the religious instruction they wanted. Lots of meetings were held and eventually £1500 was raised by door to door collections in Reigate. With this money the lower building we see today was built and opened in October 1884. The architect - the man who designed the new building - was Mr Haughton. He had recently built a new school at East Grinstead but where he lived is unknown. Once again, the builder is also unknown.
Up to now the boys and girls had all been in the one building. Now the new, lower building became the Boy's School and the infants and girls stayed in the old building.
  This wonderful view taken from St John's Church shows how St John's had grown from the small isolated building above into a large group of buildings. In the foreground are cottages in Pendleton Road. At the top centre of picture, just left of the pointed clocktower, is the original building. On the top left of picture is the lower building that was put up in 1884 and still stands today. Behind the original building, and to the right of the clocktower, are the buildings put up in and around 1861 to enlarge the school. All this cluster of buildings was demolished and replaced by the upper building we have today
On the left is the entrance to the old school building under the clock tower, but exactly where was it in relation to the school as we know it today. In the wonderful old picture on the right it can be seen that it was on the south side of the school close to the part of the common that is the car park today. The house was built for the occupation of the master of the school. Note the orderly line of girls entering the playground.
Some of the boys on Empire Day 1911   The Girls on Empire Day 1911. There are about 400 girls here. In those days the school was much fuller than today when the number on roll for the whole school is around 200
The re-building of the upper part of the School
.... In 1902 the Government passed a law taking schools away from the Church and putting local councils in charge. At St John's the lower building - the Boys' School - remained with the Church but the rest of the school was taken over by Reigate Council. The building had greatly changed from the picture we see above, with the clock tower and other buildings shown on the left having been added. They were old, lit only by gas, poorly heated and overcrowded. .In 1909 it was decided to replace them. In 1910 the old buildings were demolished and the building we have today was built and opened in the October. The architects were the Redhill firm of Mssrs T.R. and V. Hooper. The builder was Crosby and Co. from Farhham. The clock from the old tower seen above was put into the new tower we have today by A. Cooling of Redhill.
....,,In the infants' part of the new school there were four classrooms (there are only three today). The girls' school had a hall and six classrooms (today only three are in use for boys and girls). One classroom was for 60 children, one for 40 and four for 50, so it can be seen that there were 300 children being taught where 90 are taught today. As there were also about 200 infants the playground was either very crowded at times, or separate playtimes were enjoyed - think of the noise outside when others were having lessons - or children were allowed out onto the common.
The Surrey Mirror newspaper headline for the report of the opening of the school in 1910 read: 'Palatial New Buildings Opened at Redhill'. Compared to the old they probably were palatial, having gas and electricity, more light and better heating. It is interesting to note that these new buildings are now more than 91 years old - in 1910, when the old buildings were demolished some were 65 years old and some were less than 50 years old.
.Although now showing its age in many ways the 'new' building has served the school well.

The clock tower being built in 1910

Slates were used for a number of years in the 19th century but had ceased to be used when I went there in 1943. They were set into wooden frames and came in two sizes. The pencil was attached by a string and hard enough to write on the slate but not so hard as to mark it too much. Things were very strict in the old days and children had to be very precise in their writing. As you can probably imagine, slates were not very practical as they could break if dropped, would eventually become very marked, and were heavy. Also they were the equivalent of only one page so had limited space and were no good for writing something down you wanted to keep.

St John's boys in 1889. The man is headmaster Mr Jinks. Notice that the information about the picture is displayed in front of the boy' cricket bats on a slate

Classrooms must have changed enormously over the years. In 1910 the school was rebuilt and today's classrooms are much the same now as they were then but before that date there was a different building on the site. As far as I know there are no pictures of the classrooms in that building must they were lit only by gas lamps that did not give enough light to read by when it got dark on winter afternoons. In cloakrooms there were no lights at all so the children had to collect their coats before in got too dark to find them. A picture of the old building is at the bottom of the home page on this site.

Assemblies were very much like today with the children being brought together regularly, but whether they were always every day is not known. The school we have today was originally built with no dividing screens in the hall, these were added later because sometimes three classes were being taught in them all at once, not a good idea because of the noise of one class disturbing another. In the present school building the screen between the stage and the TV room is sometimes moved back but the one blocking the year 6 classroom from the hall is always closed so perhaps many children have never realised that it was once a movable screen at all. In the lower building they have since been removed.

A class of children at St John's in 1901. The name of the teacher is not known

Air raid shelters were used a great deal by St John's children, especially in 1940-41 when the bombing was at its height. They were damp and ill-lit and not good places to be in for a long time. The children went into them when the sirens sounded the alert (an up and down sound of the sirens) and they lost a lot of their lesson time. Sometimes they had to remain in them after going home time if the all clear (a steady siren note) had not sounded by then. There is more about WW2 below.

Pupils who became well-known
Many years ago a special day called Empire Day was celebrated annually. Many of the local schools assembled on the common by Mill Street and were addressed by the Mayor of the Borough of Reigate. Charlie Pearce was a pupil at St John's and would have gone to the Empire celebrations on the common and with all the other children listened to the Mayor. What he could not have dreamed of then (or perhaps he did) was becoming Mayor of Reigate himself one day, something he achieved when he became the 50th Mayor in 1971-72.

In this picture of the St John's football team Charlie Pearce is second
from left in the front row

Charlie Pearce was not the only pupil of St John's to become Mayor of Reigate, however, nor was he the first to do so. A Mr Bagaley was Mayor 1904 - 1906. As a boy he had also gone to St John's from and was there from about 1864 to 1868.
.. ...Another ex-pupil who received fame was Arthur Knight. He won the VC for bravery in WW1 but was killed before he received it. As a boy he had lived at Meadvale.
. ...

Fleur Adcock OBE, a prominent poet of our time, had been a pupil at St John's during WW2. She had fond memories of her old school and wanted to make a return visit. She had returned in the 1970s when school was closed, had peered through the railings and, following this visit, had written and published a poem about the School. Fleur Adcock came again to St John's (this time as an invited guest when it was open) on November 16th, 2000. She was able to look around the school, talk to parents and staff and take a special assembly. It was a very memorable day for all concerned.
Fleur Adcock admiring year 6 children's work with class teacher Mrs Tompkin during a visit to the school

School Dinners
Up to 2004, as far as I know, no school dinners were cooked cooked at St John's, they've always been brought in from central kitchens. At one time they came from kitchens at Colesmead, Redhill, but there were other kitchens at Reigate. More recently they came from St Matthew's School in Redhill where dinners for both schools were prepared.
....Up to 1941 children had always gone home for dinner, Because of this the day was considered in two parts and the registers marked twice, once first thing in the morning and again when children returned in the afternoon. In 1941 the School was run by Reigate Borough Council, not Surrey County Council as it is now, and a group of people from the Borough Education Committee, as well as some Borough Councillors, school managers and the Borough Surveyor came to consider plans to start a canteen for which 330 children had already been nominated to receive school dinners. This is the first mention in records of dinners at St John's but it is not known exactly when dinners were begun.
....The next mention of dinners is in 1944 when the school records tell us that in June there were some very long air raid alerts that lasted most of the night and into the morning, so few children attended school, and on June 19th the nine infants present out of 197 had their dinners served in the air raid shelters.
...It looks at this point as though it was just the infants who were having dinners, for meals for the older girls and boys began on September 18th of 1944, food coming from Reigate at first and not from the central kitchen at Colesmead where, presumably, the infant's meals came from. The other big difference was that they did not have their meals at school as you do now but went to St John's Hall for them. This was the hall at the top of the Brighton Road where Pendleton Road meets it.

Reminiscences of Alan Moore - Pupil 1943 - 1950
Early Days
Unfortunately my own memories of St John's are less sharp than I would have wished but I clearly remember my first day and mother leaving me at the gates in a state of total distress - mine not hers - and spending some time sat outside the front door of the school with five or six like-minded other first-day children howling my eyes out. The sun was shining and we made a little wailing row (read that last word either way) on a long, low bench. That's where the memory ends. I must have eventually been enticed into the building but what happened inside I don't know.
.....Eventually we were let out - to play I afterwards found out - but I went home. Mum brought me back and it was explained that I was supposed to stay in the playground and return to lessons until dinnertime. After dinner there was more play and more lessons. I was appalled. This meant I had to stay at that place ALL DAY! And I wanted my tricycle.
.....Anyway, I understood the procedure. The next day I went back to school. I didn't cry this time but went into lessons. We were let out to morning play and I went home. After that I had a chaperone, a girl who held my hand all playtime so I didn't do a runner. I've no idea who she was but she probably hated the arrangement as much as I did. How long were joined at the hands during playtimes I don't remember, but I must have eventually conformed to the system and gained my freedom - at playtimes at least.
.....Not that going home at the right time was always a good experience. The Walker twins were giving me a bit of a going over just outside the gates one day when I caught sight of my father arriving to collect me. I reckoned that when he got hold of those two my troubles were over. Boy, was I wrong! It turned out that his idea of a good object lesson was for me to get out of trouble on my own. It worked well. I got beaten up but found out that relying on others was not always a good idea, something that's come in handy from time to time.
....One thing I view with mixed feelings was joining a gang in my first month in the infants. I don't think I knew what a gang was when I was asked," Do you want to join my gang?" I answered in the affirmative and I was in - as easy as that. The good thing about it was that after school we - that's me and the rest of the gang - ran all over the place, finding new places and new things to get up to. Sometimes it got dark before I went home, and that was in the summer. The bad thing was that it was divisive, I mixed with a certain clique and not with the others. Mind you, getting beaten up by the Walker twins turned out well. They weren't in my gang - they were in anyone's gang, they were a gang on their own - but they seemed to take to me and were quite benevolent. When I lost all my cigarette cards they'd get me more. (Cigarette cards came in sets and boys played a win or lose game with them - I mostly lost) They gave me a whole set of sailing ship cards once. Probably they took them off other kids.

Getting to School
.I lived in Upper Bridge Road, Redhill and so had a walk over the top common to school and back each day. We were were not very often met so we walked either alone or with other boys or girls. A friend, a girl, lived in Ridgeway Road so I often used to walk to with her. Sometimes my Dad would take me to school on the crossbar of his bike. He was a fireman at Redhill fire station and work 24hr shifts so could only do this every other day. After school I ran all over the common and local area with other boys and often didn't get home until gone 6pm. Things were much freer and easier in those days.
.......My teachers in the infants' School were all ladies. Miss Pickup, Miss Agate and others. The Headmistress of the Infants' was Miss Faulkner. I think I was in awe of them and probably obeyed them a great deal more than I did my own mother..I knew my place at school. The big people told the little people what to do and they did it. But there were differences in instruction that meant something. "Open your books at page......; " "Copy this down"; "Stop talking at the back"; these were orders. "Alan, get the reading books out and put one on every desk"; "Alan, see if you can open that window a little more for me"; these were almost requests for assistance. And, "Alan, we've collected a whole sackful of silver bottle tops now; on your way home on your bicycle drop them in at the East Surrey Hospital" was an order that filled me with pride that it was I who was chosen for such an important task. Of course, I knew I was the one who lived the nearest to the hospital, and when I got there the fact that I was greeted with. "More bottle tops? Doesn't the school know we don't want them any more?" took the shine off it a little (Although silver foil and bottle tops were collected in later years towards guide dogs for the blind) but it couldn't spoil all the pleasure of being of such sterling service to such an important person as a Teacher.

School Plays
I was in a play once. My entrance was marked by my tripping on the top step up to the stage in the school hall and sprawling full length and flat on my face in front of everyone, and there seemed to be millions of people in the audience. My performance was similarly marked by referring to the object that sat stage centre for the whole play, and was supposed to be magic stone, as a stove. The script I'd learnt was hand written and the N looked like a V.

The Boys' School in the Lower Building
After the Infants' I went to the Boys' School, which was in the lower building. This had its own Headmaster, Mr Bennett, who had a secretary called Miss Willet. They shared an office just inside the front door of the lower building, an area now part of the nursery.

The Cane
When I was at school the cane was given only for misbehaviour in school time or very close to school time. Years ago boys were caned if they were seen smoking on a Saturday or Sunday. This was when boys and girls stayed at St John's until they were fourteen. Corporal punishment was administered almost always, in my recollection, only by the Headteacher. Mr Bennett had a cane on the wall in his office; my memory is crystal clear on that, as is the memory of many other boys on that subject. I've been in his office a few times when it wasn't on the wall but in his hand. Once that point in an interview with the Head had been reached the smaller of the people present knew it was going to be used and it was going to hurt - a lot. Regardless of the offence, the only worthwhile strategy employ was that of saving face during the administration of the punishment. This was achieved by firmly holding out each hand in turn for the requisite number of strokes, usually three, while fixing the Head firmly and unblinkingly in the eye and showing no emotion. This was actually quite difficult because his eye was on your outstretched hand. Miss Willett's desk was in Mr Bennett's office; she was his secretary; sometimes you could fix her in the eye instead of him. I used to think it unnerved her slightly but no doubt was kidding myself.
.....When all six strokes had been administered the Head would dismiss the subject of his corrective efforts. I don't know what other boys did but I would walk steadily to the door, open it, step outside, close the door firmly, carefully check that no-one else was around and then, thrusting throbbing fingers under opposite armpits, hop about muttering expletives until either someone came along and interrupted me or the pain subsided sufficiently for normal progress to be made back to class. There, entrance would be made and seat taken as though the trip to the head 's office had been simply to receive congratulations on how well my studies were progressing.
.....Not all children could accept such punishment, some being reduced to pre-cane tears in anticipation of the pain to come. Corporal punishment, as we all know, is now not carried out in schools. I've been asked several times if it did me any harm. The answer is no. Did it do me any good? I certainly didn't go home and tell my parents about it because more displeasure - all directed at me - would have been incurred, and therein lies the difference between then and now.
.....Mind you, getting the cane was sometimes a matter of chance, a phenomenon of school life whereby there were those who got the cane and were not particularly surprised to do so (and who incurred repeat doses) and those who did not and would have been most outraged if they did. There was no gulf between these two groups, merely a matter of pure chance, luck or fate that somehow guided one set of feet on a path of righteousness, and the other set on the one to the Head's office door.
.....I certainly remember having the cane. I think we had one stroke on each hand for one offence. I was certainly adjudged guilty of more than one offence because I had to make the trip to Mr Bennett's office a number of times. This doesn't mean that I was a bad boy, just ordinary, really. And my offences were not terrible ones, they were talking in class when I shouldn't have done, and things like that.
......Sometimes I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. One day I was walking home up Pendleton Road with another boy and three other boys were misbehaving behind us but we were not with them. Miss Willett, the Headmaster's secretary, also on her way home, saw them and reported all our names to the Headmaster the next day. All of us got the cane, me and my friend included, although we had had nothing to do with the incident.
......I can't say that it was a good idea to cane children. For many years it was thought necessary to do so for the sake of maintaining discipline and upholding authority, but these objectives are achieved today at St John's without caning. It didn't do me any harm, however.
......I do know that the cane hurt a lot but it was bearable and the pain went away. Some boys hated getting the cane so much they couldn't hold their hands out and the Head used to have to force them to do so. One used to break down into floods of tears at the thought of getting it, but he still did things he shouldn't have and got caned. It seems, therefore, that the cane was not the deterrent it was intended to be but more a firm indication that you had not obeyed the rules. If I told my father I'd had the cane he'd first want to know what for and then probably give me another good hiding for being badly behaved at school. Which is why I never told him.

Mr Mole
Many memories do stand out quite clearly. One of these concerned Mr Mole, a teacher at St John's Boys department who I had never liked and who had died. My recollection is of the whole boys' school crocodiling down the slope, across the road and up the long stairway to St John's Church where a memorial service for him was being held, only for me to be pulled out of the throng at the front entrance.
...."You can't go in, Moore."
...."Why not, Sir?"
...."You can't go into church without a jacket. Go back to school."
.....The teacher went into the church (I don't remember which teacher it was) and I was left standing outside. The sound of the organ playing came through the open door but this faded as the door was closed and I was left standing outside shirtsleeves and sunshine, birdsong replacing the organ music. I returned to school and sat in the classroom on my own. I had a lot to think about. Those thoughts and the final conclusions I reached have influenced me for the rest of my life.
.....Few contemporaries I have spoken to on odd occasions remembered the death of Mr Mole but the Boys School logs confirmed his death at that time. A similar situation occurred with Mr Weeds. I've told several people we were taken for gardening by Mr Weeds and met such disbelief that I was beginning to have doubts myself, but I have since confirmed that I was right about that too.

What else do I remember?
The beams in the lower building hall (now the gym) all were exposed then and when the teacher was out of the room pens could be thrown up to stick in them. The beams had hundreds of pens in them. The handle fell out of some leaving just the nibs there. It was a caning offence and the imaginative part was explaining to the teacher on his return why you had nothing to write with now yet you had before he went out - quite a challenge. I suppose someone got them all down eventually, otherwise they're still on the other side of the false ceiling.
.. ..If I've made myself sound like a holy terror then I've misled the reader, for I was just another boy. I liked a lot of the lessons and tried to do my best most of the time. I hadn't liked Mr Mole much but liked all other the teachers. The authority of the Boys and Infants Headteachers, Mr Bennett and Miss Faulkner, kept them slightly above and beyond getting to know them well enough to make a decision on like or dislike.

The Common
In winter boys tobogganed down the hill from the Top Common to the school. I did that, only instead of a toboggan I had a plank of wood. It worked well. It went fast enough to be exhilarating; was controllable to the point of being death defying (which means there was no control whatsoever), and made you want to lug it all the way back to the top to do it again. The down side was that the square-cut leading edge sprayed up so much snow in your face you couldn't see a thing, but that apart it was great fun.
.....Then they put the steps in at the point where the slope met Kings Avenue and ruined everything. Up to that time you and the plank hit the road, shot over to the other side, hurtled down the air raid shelter bank and came to a graceful halt up against the laundry wall. Afterwards you hit the steps, smashed into the road surface and you and the plank went in different directions with no grace at all. If ever there was an unnecessary improvement it was those steps. Progress ain't all it's cracked up to be.
.....Old pictures of the common show it quite bare of vegetation. When I was at St John's there was much more growth, such as the gorse, the seeds pods of which cracked open like gunfire on very hot summer days. I lived in Upper Bridge Road and as I got older I walked back and forth over the common to school, taking this path and that and getting to know it like the back of my hand. That was when Mr Gould was the common keeper and looked after it inbetween chasing kids like me off it. Nowadays the Common Conservators are no more and it is reverting to the wild. I was up there ten years ago and got lost looking for that spring-fed pond where we used to go tadpoling, and into which someone threw my toy gun - come to think of it, it could have been one of the Walker twins. It had a great willow tree at its southern end and was surrounded only by grass and bracken. Now it's in a wood, has a forbidding wooden fence around it and is about as attractive as a dirty puddle. The history of Redhill Common appears on a separate pag on this website.

School Dinners
I was in the infants from about 1943 to 1946 and remember having dinners in the Girls Hall, which is the big hall where assemblies are held. The dividing wall between the hall and year 6 classroom is actually a sliding screen. I don't think it's been moved for years but used to be drawn back because the hot plates were inside it and were revealed when the screen was folded back. This is verified by an entry in the school logs where the heating failed in winter and children took turns to go into that classroom and get warm by the hotplates, which were turned on specially. The tables for dinner were set up in the hall and the meals served from the hot plates, the dinner ladies standing behind them facing into the hall. I used to enjoy schools dinners. I was particularly fond of school custard, which tased different from home custard.
...When I was in the Boys' School (the 'Big Boys' we used to call it) we used to have dinners at St John's parochial hall. I remember walking in columns down to the hall. Crossing the main road was a lot easier then because there was not so much traffic, which the teachers could easily stop. After dinner we walked back the same way. What I cannot remember is what happened if it poured with rain. I suppose we either got wet or went without dinner. As far as I'm aware we did not have to pay for school dinners. I'm told they cost 1s 9d per week in old money; that's about 9p a week in today's money. I had dinners all the time I was at St John's, both when I was in the infants and in the Boys' School. I don't remember ever having packed lunches
So far I've not mentioned the war. On October 8th a bomb fell in the front garden of Apsley, a house in Upper Bridge Road, when I was aged almost two and asleep in a house next door-but-one. I was covered in plaster but otherwise unaffected and three years later became one of St John's Infants . Apsley House had to be demolished.
.....In those days there were very few non-white people about and I saw my first coloured person at the top of Mill Street. I was crossing the road on my way to school and his head was sticking out of the turret of a tank at the head of a column of tanks going towards Reigate. I have always supposed he was an American serviceman. He smiled at me and I probably just stared at him as children do. He and his column went to Reigate and I went to St John's, and that was that.
.......I also remember hearing gunfire from the sky and seeing vapour trails when dogfights (air battles) were going on.
.....I remember laying in bed and hearing bombers go over at night. There were so many that the roar of their engines used to go in and out of synchronisation and produce that rhythmic beat that you hear in old war films about the thousand bomber raids. I also remember that we got an Anderson shelter and I had to sleep in the basement
.....I remember the doodlebug (flying bomb). I was walking towards St John's School and had just reached the peak of the Top Common before you go down to the school when it came over. It was directly overhead when the engine cut out. I had heard that when this happened the doodlebug went into a spiralling dive and exploded directly below where its fuel had run out. Obviously this was the end of me. I thought of running but it occurred to me that where a spiral ended was rather hard to predict, so I was still rooted to the spot when I realised that it wasn't spiralling at all but going into a gentle but perfectly straight dive. It exploded a couple of miles away somewhere near Merstham (it wasn't the one that damaged Merstham School). I watched it all the way - still rooted to the spot.
....Lots of St John's children were evacuated to Wales during WW2, some of the teachers going with them. I don't remember anything about that, and I certainly wasn't involved.
......We did had lessons in the air raid shelters during air raid alerts. We had reading, and although the light wasn't very good down there we used to take books and sometimes did some writing, although I can't remember whether we were doing english or arithmetic. Sometimes on fine days in the summer when there were no air raid alerts the whole class would take chairs into the playground and have lessons out there in the sunshine.
......The older boys did art in their air raid shelter. In 1941, just before my time there, they decorated the walls with colourful paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Robinson Crusoe, Regin the Dwarf, Robin Hood and many other story-book characters. Two other walls were reserved for Treasure Island and Pilgrims Progress. The news of the paintings spread and they were filmed in July 1941 by Pathe News (a news programme like today's television news except that that was shown between films at the cinema in those days)..There's much more about these on St John's School's own website ..

Do you know, I can't remember ever having any.

Did I stay at St John's?
Boys and girls used to stay at St John's until they were 14 but by my time this had been changed and they went on to a Secondary school. I went to Cromwell Road from 1950-52 then to the Junior Technical School in Redhill 1952-55.

How does the School compare to today's School?
The main differences that spring immediately to mind are that - The Infants', Boys' and Girls Schools were separate, each with its own Head. - All the children's toilets were outside - Punishment included the cane (Ouch!) - We were allowed outside the gates at lunchtimes. - We sat in rows of desks that all faced the same way - There were no carpets on the floors - Blackboards on easels were used by the teachers - Free milk was issued to the children to drink every day.

What was the local area like?
On the south side of the School, where the houses are now, was a laundry. This was in operation every day with doors open to let the heat out and children would peer in at lunchtimes and talk to the ladies who worked there. On the other side of Fountain Road there were some shops where children could go to buy sweets. I used to get four Oxos for a penny (1d in those pre-decimalisation days) and eat them. There are now houses where the shops were.

Why have I remained so interested in St John's? When I retired my sister-in-law had two children at St John's and was involved with helping there from time to time. She knew people were needed to listen to children read and asked if I would like to do this. I said 'yes' and from there sprang my association with the school. I was later asked if I would like to be a governor and said yes again. Because local history is a great interest of mine I have become involved in researching the School's own history and in this web page. One thing has led to another. The fact that I also went to the school makes it all the more interesting

...I wish I remembered more. The fact that I don't is a shame, not least because when you're older remembrance of schooldays is a nostalgia in which indulgence is a pleasurable pursuit. AJM October 2001
If you are an ex-pupil and would like to add your reminiscences here please
.....St John's School in World War 2
Since St John's School was built in 1845 there have unfortunately been a number of wars. The two wars that affected St John's the most were World War One (WW1) from 1914 to 1918, and World War Two (WW2) from 1939 to 1945. During WW1 there were very few direct attacks on this country, whereas during WW2 there were many bombing raids made by German aircraft in its early years and attacks by flying bombs in its later years. One thing that both wars had in common was the fear of invasion. During WW2 many of the signposts in Britain were taken down so that if an enemy did land then they would not find it easy to know where roads went. On the top of Redhill Common there's a monument with a plaque on it with arrows pointing to various places. Even this plaque was removed so it would be of no help to an enemy. You can see that people thought that the Germans might even reach Redhill Common on their way towards London. Of course, they never did.
......St John's School had its own air raid shelters; one for the infants, one for the girls and one for the boys. The entrances are still there although tightly sealed now. There's a great deal more to be told about the war and how St John's was affected, for example schools from London were evacuated and all their children came to St John's making it very crowded. Food and clothes were rationed because they were in short supply. There were no street lights at night. In the winter school sometimes closed early because it could not have the lights on in the dark (St John's has no curtains to stop the lights being seen by enemy aircraft). Below there is a section called St John's in WW2 and in it is much more information....

Boys' and Girls' Schools
Things were different at St John's in the 1930s and 40s because the upper building housed the infants and the girls while the lower building, where the gym now is, was the boys' school.

Outbreak of War
The outbreak of war delayed the return of children to school after the summer holidays in 1939 because the air raid shelters were not ready. The staff returned however, and were kept busy assisting in the billeting of children evacuated from London and visiting St John's pupils at their homes to set and mark work.

Other Schools Sharing
When on September 18th school did resume, lessons were given to one fifth of the infants and girls in the upper building each day, either in the morning or the afternoon. This was because a London school, a school from Croydon and two other schools were also using the building. The effect of this overcrowding was to reduce classes to 45 minutes instruction in any one session.
....And this was just the upper building. The Boys' School in the lower building was in a similar situation. It had reopened after the summer break on October 30th with a school from Sydenham sharing its facilities. Only half of each day was spent fully by the boys in their own building. The other half was spent at the Parochial Hall, the Meadvale Hall, the school garden, in the playground or on the common for games.These conditions prevailed until Spring of 1940 when two of the schools moved elsewhere, but still St John's Girls' had only three classrooms instead of five and partial use of the hall. ..

To make more room for the children in the upper building part of the basement was made into an extra classroom. The lower square widows seen in the picture were put in for extra light.

Air raids
At Whitsun, 1940, children returned to school after only one week off. The School was closed on June 26th 1940 for an excursion to the coast, which seems surprising in view of the war in progress and restrictions on large gatherings. That it was in progress was in no doubt because on the day before, through the previous night and early hours of the morning of the 25th, there had been air raid alerts. Because children's sleep might have been disturbed, either by noise or by going to air raid shelters at home, they were allowed a half-hour rest before commencing work.
.....On July 16th the children were in the school air raid shelters because heavy firing had been heard, and on August 15th were there again due to an air raid alert. There were two more air raid alerts the following day and thereafter the children spent considerable time in the shelters. After night raids the school would sometimes remain closed the following morning. Attempts to continue lessons in the shelters were difficult but due to some days when more time was spent in the shelters than out of them, teachers and children alike must have got used to the situation to some extent.

Bombs on Redhill and Reigate
Most of these air raids were on London but the first bombs, 125 of them, fell on the Borough on the evening of August 15th 1940. Apart from three cyclists being knocked off their machines no one was hurt. Three days later 5 people were killed and six injured by a bomb dropped at Shaws Corner. Other bombs were dropped at various times during the ensuing month with windows being smashed at Frenches Road School but no one hurt there. People were injured in Reigate and at Hardwick Road Meadvale, not far from St John's. Another bomb, on the common and not too far from the school, completely severed the main Redhill outfall sewer.

Rules for school opening times
.On August 29th a Borough Education Committee ruling stated that if air raid alerts finished before midnight the school was to open at 10am but in the all clear was not given until after midnight then the school stayed closed in the morning. Immediately after this almost two complete pages of school logs are filled with notes of school closed or, when open, with nothing but air raid alerts and the children going into the shelters. On September 14th 1940 the ruling was amended so schools opened at 9am in the case of pre-midnight all clears, and at 10am when all clears did not sound until after midnight.

The siren used to sound the beginning and end of the alerts was situated on the top of the Co-op in Redhill. It was perfectly audible on the town side of the common and presumably also on the other side. There was also a siren on top of the fire tower at the Town Hall in Reigate and, it is believed, at Prince Albert Square at Salfords.

More air raids
.A log entry in the School diary of the 4th of October 1940 records, "Raid warnings from 12.5 to 5.40. Children in shelters - about 50 children had to remain without lunch. Head Mistress bought loaves, jam & margarine, but was only able to allow one thick slice per child." The next day the children were in the shelters from 9.50 to 11.15, from 1.30 to 2.30 and 3.50 to 5.10. Clearly there could be problems in getting children home, and another getting them to school in the first place, as once they set out there was no shelter to run to in the case of a raid until they got to school. Buses were proposed for those from Salfords and South Park but whether they were laid on is unknown.

Another problem was with the shelters themselves, school logs noting, 'Shelters are in an exceedingly wet condition - walls are streaming and water dropping from roof continuously. Several children and staff are suffering from sore throats and colds in consequence'. The ground was wet too; if any children had enjoyed good times at first perhaps they later found them to be no longer what they were.

Bomb in Upper Bridge Road
On October 8th a bomb fell in the front garden of Apsley, a house in Upper Bridge Road. The writer of this history was aged almost two and asleep in a house next door-but-one. He was covered in plaster but otherwise unaffected and three years later became one of St John's Infants. Apsely House had to be demolished. On the 27th of the same month six people were killed and five injured in Emlyn Road, Redhill. \

More air raids.
On October 28th 1940 the London School, Dalmain Road Infants, was officially merged with St John's and the 1st Assistant teacher, Miss Howes, became a member of the staff. That same day there were two air raid alerts, the next day there were three. It is said that air raid practice was carried out each day but often the shelters were used in earnest, presumably obviating the need for a practice.

The blackout
On November 20th 1940 the shortening of the afternoon for the children to leave early at 3.30pm began as it had each year since it was started in 1914 to reflect the presence darkened streets. The reason now was similat - so the children could get home before the blackout began. As from November 25th the children started leaving even earlier at 2.45. Unfortunately the school itself had no means of blackout so presumably the staff also left before lights were needed. This also meant no Christmas party for the infants this year. ...

Everyone affected
Everyone was affected by the war, many having relatives directly involved. Boys' School Headmaster Mr Bennett's son was on military service in Ireland, Mr Bennett taking leave of absence on April 25th 1940 to see him off. Teacher Mr Mole was absent in October due to the death of his son, although the circumstances are not revealed in the logs. His son had been captain of the Boys' School. Bombs continued to fall. Evacuation to the Borough was not safe enough for two 16 year-olds evacuated from St Dunstans to Hethersett at Reigate; they were killed on November 5th. An eleven-year-old boy, also from St Dunstans, was killed whilst out walking in February 1941. Ten people were killed and over a dozen injured by a parachute mine at South Merstham in April of 1941. Boys' School teacher Miss Worcester's house was damaged in the blast.

Painted Walls
The boys had not wasted time spent in the shelters. They had decorated the walls with colourful paintings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood and many other story-book characters. The area painted was 300 feet long with an average depth of four feet - 1,200 square feet in all, an indication of the size of the shelters. Two walls remained unpainted, being reserved for Treasure Island and Pilgrims Progress. The news of the paintings spread and they were filmed by Pathe News and photographed by Fox Photos in the July.

School Dinners Begin

This was the year (1941) when permission was given for all the unused reading books to go for salvage for the war effort, and also when the Borough Education Committee decided to start a canteen school dinners, for which 330 children had already been nominated. Up to now children had all gone home to dinner but with so many men away many mothers were going to work and were not at home so much. Even male teachers were called up for military service - Mr Jones of the Boys' School was called up on January 5th 1942.

Savings, New teachers and Sickness in 1942
People were encouraged to save because the Government could use the money to build ships tanks and aeroplanes. St John's infants brought £13.4.6d to school for Warship Week, the older girls having deposited £223.2.0 in National Savings. Miss Jones (no relation to Mr Jones of the Boy's School) took a day off as it was the last day of her son's embarkation leave (embarkation leave was time off for servicemen before they went abroad). Dr Patterson came to examine children because scarlet fever was about, and seven ARP men (ARP stood for Air Raid precautions) came to examine the children's gas masks. Miss Islip left the Infants' School and was presented with a handbag; Miss Woolley started as a teacher in the Infants' School on May 4th to take her place. In the Boys' School there was so much sickness amongst the teaching staff that it was April 13th before all were present at once. Teachers were very tired as many had to do fire guard as well as teaching (Fire gaurd was watching at night for fires started by enemy bombs). Fortunately there were fewer raids in 1942. No bombs fell on the Borough that year and there were only 20 alerts. Everything was normal, or as close as it could get to that balmy condition in the middle of a war.

Boy's School Teachers of the 1940s
From L-R back row are Mr Ross, Mr Weeds, Mr Booth, Mr Nicholas and Mr Jones.
From L-R seated are Miss Worcester, Mr Bennett (Headmaster), and Miss Willett, Boy's School secretary.
The picture was taken in the corner of what was then the Boy's School playground, now the back playground. The building visible on the far left is the laundry, which stood where houses now ar

Teachers and Railings
In May 1942 Mr Barnett left after thirty-five years at the Boys' School, and Mr Allen left to be a head at an Oxfordshire School. It seems that a great deal of experience was being lost to St John's at this time, but this is no doubt the case for all schools from time to time. The gaps left were filled by Mr Ross and Mr Weeds, neither of them novices.
....It was in February of 1943 when the iron railings where removed from local front gardens to meet national needs, and the Ring and other parts of the common were ploughed as a part of the Dig For Victory campaign. The school sports were held on the lawns on Redhill Common until 1947, when the Ring was restored for recreation purposes. Sporadic air raids continued the older girls raised £500 in National Savings for Wings for Victory week....On December 3rd there was no coke in the basement, the boiler was out and the school was cold. Permission to close the school was refused by the authorities but it was allowed to finish early at 3.45pm. What had happened to early closing due to the blackout this year is a bit of a mystery.

Into a fifth year of war
A service was held in Church in April 1944 for an old pupil killed in action, and the children were back in church for Empire Day in May. In June there were some very long air raid alerts that lasted most of the night and into the morning, so few children attended school, which was possibly just as well as Civil Defence personnel had taken it over. On June 19th the nine infants present out of 197 had their dinners served in the air raid shelters. Presumably these were dinners provided by the Borough Education Committee \endash i.e. school dinners \endash and is the first mention in the logs of the dinner service having begun. Dinners for the Girls' School began on September 18th of 1944, food coming from Reigate at first and not from the central kitchen at Colesmead. \par }\pard \fi567\nowidctlpar\tx567\adjustright {\fs22 Multiple alerts and the Infants' School being unavailable for use was only compensated for by the weather being so good that lessons could be held outdoors. Even when the school was vacated by the Civil Defence people three alerts a day were not uncommon and children sometimes spent almost all day in the shelters.

Some childre n were evacuated from St John's during the summer of 1944 due to the flying bombs, or Doodlebugs as
they were nicknamed, droning overhead on their way to London. Some fell short, one killing eleven people and injuring many more at Earlswood on June 17th, another killing three workmen at a Merstham depot and blowing in the windows of Merstham School. Some children there were cut by flying glass but fortunately a blown-in window frame fell between the rows of children. Yet another damaged Mr Ross' house at Coulsdon severely enough that he had to move out for a while.
...The Boys' School was used as a registration centre for the evacuees and children assembled there at 8.30am on July 18th. Some of the St John's evacuees went in groups, some individually, eith er to the West Country or Wales, with evacuation periods varying from 2 weeks to 6 months. The groups went during the summer holidays and had teachers with them. For spending two weeks away with children during holiday time teachers were rewarded with one week's holiday in term time. Infants' teacher, Miss Pickup, plus Boys' School staff members Mr Bennett, Miss Worcester, Mrs Nicholas and Mr Weeds were involved. Miss Worcester and Mrs Nicholas spent two weeks each in South Wales and Mr Weeds went to Bridgend. Mr Bennett spent a month at Cheltenham. Those children evacuated individually and without teachers spent the longest time away.
...In the Boys' School logbook is the following entry: - 'September 18th - School feeding began. Meals served at St John's Hall.' So began the school dinners for the Boys' School.

Pictures from the School's past  
A football team of the 1930s. Stan Sharp is the only boy identified and is on the left of the front row. Mr Tarr is back left, Mr Bennett is back right. A group of children on the common by the school c1920 with Carters Cottages in the background. The girl second from the right in the back row is Alice Atkins.
This image of the St John's 1922 football team also appears further up the page but here all the boys can be named; from l-r they are:
Back Row: Ernest Young, Frank Risbridger, Arthur Moore, Fred Elsey, Charles Hutton, Albert Wickens.
Front Row: Sydney Loader, Charles Pearce, John Fenn, Joe Pickard, Lewes Miles, Harold Hewitt.
Charles Pearce was Mayor of Reigate 1972-73. Charles Hutton worked at the Redhill Baths. Harold Hewitt became the Redhill Common Keeper. Arthur Moore worked on the TV Times for a number of years. Joe Pickard worked at the Redhill Gas Works.
Mr Tarr and Mr Bennett again appear with a team, this time the one that won the 1932 Elementary Schools Swimming Championship shield . On the back of the photo the boys' names are written thus: K.Jordan L.Dalton
V. Foot M.Stapleton J. Goldsmith. Presumably the top two names are of the boys at the front and the lower three are of the boys at the back. If anyone can confirm any names please
Presumably a girls' dance class, probably from the early 1930s A class in the girls' school, date unknown. The classroom is now the staff room.
Another picture of the staff to compare with the one earlier on this page.The staff members from l-r are:
Back Row: Mrs Nicholas, Mr Mole, Mr Weeds, Mr Ross, Mr Jones, Miss Willett.
Front Row: Mrs Bonner, Mr Bennett, Miss Worcester.
A boys' class of c1927. The boy 4th from the right in the middle row is Sydney Moore from Meadvale, no others known
A class at a Dover school c1922. Connections with St John's and Redhill are that the teacher is a young Mr Weeds and the boy sixth from the left in the back row was to become the chief projectionist at the Odeon cinema (see information on the Odeon on the Station Road East page on this website (Photo Mick Betts))
In the background is the old upper building, which was demolished in 1909/10 so this picture of the school drawn up for empire Day is probably between 190% and 1909. In the left foreground is headmaster Mr Jinks Empire Day 1917. In the foreground is one soldier and three young men in civilian clothes. All are possible wounded servicemen as young men who had not volunteered were not readily accepted in society at this time.
Nothing is known about the St John's Institute but here is its 1909-10 football team (see also picture right)
(Photo courtesy Roy Styles)
St John's was the winner of the Surrey Mirror Shield at the end of the 1910-11 season. School teams taking part were St John's, St Matthew's, Cromwell Road, Hooley and Frenches. Note that the reverend gentleman in the background is the same as in the picture left.
The year is unknown but when the St John's Boys' swimming team won the Borough Elementary Schools' Arthletic Championship Shield it was the seventh time in eleven years that it had done so. Headmaster Mr Jinks with a large class of boys and a sports theme. Picture probably from the early 190%s.
Empire Day 1912 Girls at the maypole
Winners of the 1911 Swimming Shield  
Email from Glyn,
I can also remember my first day at school. I can recall being taken up the steep path into the playground and then left crying my eyes out. Up till then I had enjoyed my freedom of long days playing in the garden in the hot summers we seem to have had then. On my first day I was led upstairs into room over looking the playground and I seem to remember being enthralled at the lovely bright colours of a counting frame obviously a strategy to help take ones mind on how to escape and go home with mum. If I recall the main hall was divided into classrooms which for assembles the folding dividers were pushed back to make a large hall. The desks had lids so you could put your exercise books in and had inkwells which we actually used, this was just before the start of biro's. Wet days we had playtimes in our class rooms and as an avid reader of anything and everything there was a large selection of comics and books for such days. In the summer we were allowed on the grass slope (sometimes banned if someone strayed out of bounds) and there we would race our Dinky and Corgi cars down the sandy tracks. Playing marbles was the big thing, but until I got the hang of swapsies I must have given away some really good ones for rubbish. Then straight after the summer holidays it was 'conker time' and on the way home from school there was a huge Chestnut Tree which we would lob sticks into to knock the conkers down, rush home find a skewer and thread them on string for the next day.

 The teachers in those days were very strict and the worse punishment was the cane, well I was no different than most and probably deservedly got my fair share of it. I believe we were given choice, hands or bottom (both hurt!) We were given free milk at playtime, something I hated but we were made to drink it. Sometimes as a monitor we had to do the washing up for the teachers, cups & saucers from their tea breaks which was good as you missed part of the lessons.  I recall how we had to stand up in front of the class and recite our times tables (which went up to 12 as it was pounds, shillings and pence in those days. We had a garden pond in the school grounds and I loved our nature studies looking for frogs and newts. The  sloping concrete air raid shelter on the outside of the playground served as a refuge, castle or fort and had great times trying to keep others from getting up there, also a large prickly tree we used to climb and sit in the branches during lunch times right outside the canteen area.

I have a black and white photo of a Maypole dance (shown right) but although my friends were in it, I wasn't. We had all different fancy dress clothes on. There was a laundry opposite and one of my schoolmate’s mums worked there so we used to go over and chat with her. The dinners were held in the basement at the side of the building, and I think they used that hall when we had our first inoculations, funny how you remember the painful things.

When we had swimming lessons we all had to troop down to Redhill Baths which was opposite Redhill Park. I slipped and nearly drowned on one of these lessons so it put me off learning to swim until my early twenties. Games and cricket were held on Redhill common on the Lawns which was kept very well maintained by the Common Keeper; we had all our Annual Sports days over there. Not far from Mill Street another very steep hill on the other side of the road. In the winter we sledged down there and believe me it was fast and scary (I like others who could not afford a real sledge had a metal tray, worked the same but you couldn't steer) It was a lovely walk to and from school as I only lived on The Cutting, Brighton Road so I went past St. Johns Church and through the alleyway and I was home. Good days, bad days I can recall but on the whole the best school I ever went to.

I do remember one event over everything else and a teacher who I really liked (Mr. Loft ?)  died and they played Greensleeves in his memory at assembly shortly afterwards ... that tune has always choked me up when I hear that played but he was a lovely teacher and it must have upset me being so young.

That's my basic memories I'm sure I could recall lots more but those days are now a long way off..

Although you were twelve years after me it is astonishing how similar our St John's experiences were. Thank you for sending them in. And I agree, it was a long time ago, and getting longer. AJM

Since the book on St John's History was begun in 2001 there have been a number of significant events, none more so than the opening of the boys' WW2 air raid shelter in 2003 and the discovery of the 1940 murals on its walls. In December 2007 St John's School created its own website where information about the murals and much more can be found. To view visit

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