Mike Johnson: The Last Year of Marsh Road Junior School

Well, I Knew this Wouldn’t be a Long Appointment!

My first year of teaching was the last year of the school to which I had been appointed—Marsh Road School in the Cannon Street area of Middlesbrough.
When I arrived at Marsh Road Junior School in September 1969 to start my probationary year its future was already decided. At the end of the academic year it would be razed to the ground and the whole area replaced by the ‘Cannon Park’ industrial estate.

My first vision of the school was of a single storey brick building surrounded by a large schoolyard with a high brick wall around its perimeter. The whole thing was stuck in the middle of a huge wasteland from Newport Road on one side to the railway on the other. Rosebay willow-herb was growing in the cracks of the foundations of the demolished houses and travellers’ caravans were dotted here and there.

This was the Catchment Area??

Plenty of Space Now.

“Where did the pupils come from?” I thought. The answer was mostly from the few remaining streets between the Newport Bridge and the Gas Holders. Of course, those streets also were marked for demolition. We didn’t benefit much from the travelling families. They were mostly Roman Catholics and their children went to St. Patrick’s up by the Gas Holders.

We had just enough bodies to form two Junior classes – a combined Y3/4 and a combined Y5/6. Staff consisted of myself and one other class teacher, the Head Teacher, the Caretaker and a school nurse -based at the school, but shared with several other neighbouring schools.
Stepping inside the building I was struck by the layout of classrooms surrounding a large central hall and the feeling of spaciousness. The latter was due to the small number of pupils The head teacher informed me.
“A few years ago we were packed to the gunnels and we had to use the boiler room as a staffroom!”

New Flooring being Installed

There was a polished wooden block flooring typical of schools which, despite the limited life of the place, was being repaired.
This was because during the previous term thieves had stripped the lead from the roof resulting in a flood when the first decent rainfall arrived. Police investigations revealed that the thieves had merely rolled up the lead for later collection. The police staked out the place from the Lionweld Factory across the railway. Sure enough during the summer break the thieves had returned to collect their booty and were nabbed.

Bad Relations with the Neighbours
At one point there was an ongoing feud between the caretaker and one of the travelling families. Each night the travellers threw copious amounts of junk over the wall just to annoy him.

No Hiding Place
It was at Marsh Road that I had my first encounter with that perennial problem for any school, irrespective of its social status, the head louse. Despite having the school nurse or ‘Nitty Nora’ on hand it was the parental technique for dealing with them that intrigued me.
Parents employed a ‘no hiding place’ policy’ once informed their child had a problem i.e. the child, male or female, was given a complete skinhead haircut!
As if this wasn’t bad enough, if the child had been scratching bitten areas causing an impetigo infection to develop, the cure was to paint the wounds with gentian violet.
This resulted in bald children with purple blotches on their heads – looking for all the world like something from an episode of Star Trek!

Call for Help
The head teacher of the school had a second job in that he did work on behalf of the British Council helping foreign students visiting this country. Being a head teacher, even in those pre ‘let’s have a meeting for everything’ days, he did spent some time out of school at such things. This meant the rest of the staff had to field phone calls from students newly arrived on our shores. I once got a call
“Hello. I’ve just arrived in Manchester. What do I do? I only have three rupees”

A Sad Finale
However ,I not only survived my first year in teaching at Marsh Road I thoroughly enjoyed it. The kids were just great. I certainly learned a lot and I hope the kids did too. There’s always a tinge of sadness when you leave a school or your class leave to go to secondary but leaving Marsh Rd felt particularly sad even though I’d only been there one school year.
It was knowing, as I drove away that last time, that it was to be demolished in a matter of weeks.

[ Marsh Road school was officially opened 12th March 1906 by Sir Hugh Bell. It was closed on the 17th of July 1970]

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  1. This brought back happy memories for me ,one of my teachers was called mr Roy Pickering at this school. There was only twenty pupils in this school when I went there .
    I lived on Wilson street at the vane arm’s pub .

  2. Brought back memories. I think the Head master was a Mr Tyreman, also remember a teacher called Mr Halliman. Used to have film shows on a friday night in the hall. used to get the old corporation bus once a week to go to Whinney Banks playing field for sports.
    School pals:- Vaughn Taylor,Gerald Cave, Elizabeth Mars,Linda Waddington,Jean Garbutt Jimmy Fitzgerald.

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