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Lenham Primary School:
the old and the new

By Liz Porter and Amy Myers

Lenham’s education system can be traced back to the 16th century, through the graffiti on the walls of the upper storey of the Corner House in Lenham Square. The current primary school, however, has its origins in the National School, now demolished and on the site of what is now Old School Close.

Called Lenham School (as is Swadelands School today), it is remembered fondly by many current residents of Lenham. It was opened in 1851, as one of the National Schools for Promoting Religious Education, and was built on land donated by the owner of Chilston Park, James Stoddart Douglas and Edward Leigh Pemberton of Torry Hill.

When his soon-to be-second wife, Norah, arrived as a teacher about 1930, there was no canteen for the children, something that Mr Groom rectified. Norah Groom, in a 1990 interview, remembered how she had heated milk in an old billy can to give hot milk to the children with their sandwiches. Nor was there any running water which caused problems with washing-up. The first cook at the new canteen which catered for about 100 children had been the nanny at Chilston Park. There was a complicated method of payment for the new school meals, with a sliding scale depending on how many children came from the same family; it began with 3d a week for five meals for the first child of the family and was adjusted if any child in the family had been absent. The school had still had open fires and oil lamps until electricity had come to the village in the late 1920s.

William Underdown with the boys at Lenham School in 1908​

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They moved to a different classroom each year and sat in rows of desks facing a blackboard. The desks were bigger than we were, one pupil said. It was a big room with a huge black stove in the centre with a guard round it, where wet coats were probably dried. The teacher was Miss Chesson. At the start and finish of each day the children had to stand by their desks. Miss Chesson would say ‘Good morning, children’ and the children would say ‘Good morning, Miss Chesson’. Some would say ‘Miss Chestnut’ and got truly told off. Any child who misbehaved was sent to the headmaster. If any boy was very naughty he would get the slipper. The girls did not.

Circa 1953. On the left: Des Gee with Andrew Barr in front of him.
Extreme right heading away: Barry Ifield and standing upright nearest to him

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