School days and sporting fun from the early 1950s

It has been more than 70 years since Three Bridges First School opened its doors to its first cluster of tiny children.

Three Bridges First School in the summer of 1953. Picture: Stan Prior
Three Bridges First School in the summer of 1953. Picture: Stan Prior

Stan Prior attended the Gales Place School in the 1950s and, in 2009, he sent in these pictures of himself and his old classmates.

Stan said: “My memories of Three Bridges are not so good, mainly because I was only there for less than three terms. We moved to Three Bridges from Croydon in late November 1952, and because of the lack of infrastructure (the new school in Gales Drive was not yet built) in the summer of 1953 many of us were transferred to Worth, where we stayed for three years before secondary school.

“I do remember having to take tests on entrance and in a classroom near to the entrance to establish my level of reading and arithmetic and so on. I also remember that I was ahead of my age group.

“Looking back not surprising really, this was a co-ed school. In Croydon I had the stricter regime of a boys only education – though I’ve a feeling that I soon relaxed!

“I remember Mrs Evans was the headmistress, and Mr Saunders was my teacher and consensus that I’ve got says he was a very nice man.

“I remember us all playing five stones on the grass by the edge of the playground. Five stones, like marbles, was seasonal. Who or why the seasons came about or was decided I have no idea. A lot of people had skipping ropes, and for those who didn’t there seemed to be two choices – double-up face-to-face with someone who had, or get in on the long single-ended rope that was tied to the wall somehow.

“Here maybe half a dozen, perhaps more, would skip at once. There could even have been a game or chanting to go in and out of the rope as I recall. Then, though more for the girls, there was two-ball, a bit like juggling with two balls against a wall. I think even this might have had chants as well.

“Sports day was held on the school field. I remember the running races, the two-legged race and bobbing for apples.

“My way to school – I lived in Monksfield – was past the new shopping parade, through a little gap, and it was little then, between the fish and chip shop at the end and the big house – was it called Gales? – stinging nettles and, of course, dock leaves almost filling the gap, then along the path outside the school property beside the playing field.

“The hedging there was full of dog roses. The photo was not in the school grounds. We believe it was taken in the recreation ground in Three Bridges Road. Someone thinks they recognise the old buildings in the background.”

Some of Stan’s old schoolmates included: Keith White, Valma Martin (nee Wise), Jean Gorringe, Ron Humphrey, David Nesbitt, Robin Cheal, Janet Parker, Phillip Wendholt, Mike Guest (some of these may be from Worth school only and not Three Bridges).

Away from school, Stan remembered Mario’s and the Siesta coffee bars of the 1960s. He said: “Mario’s was in Queensway. One Sunday afternoon it was filled end to end with motorcycles, a gesture to the police at the time.”

Another former pupil, Kaye Turner (nee Filbey), said: “Sue Smithson (nee Fagg) and I pooled our memories and came up with the following: the headteachers we remember were Mrs Inkster and Mrs Evans, the form teachers were Mrs Barkworth, Miss Peskett, Miss Patterson and Mrs White. Mr Saunders taught maths and PE.”

Of their old schoolmates they recalled Enid Taylor, who was good at athletics, Brenda Newbitt, Rita Dunning, who was good at art, Rosemary Horne, Margaret Smith, Barry Cheesemuir, Susan Cheesemuir, Gloria Jones, Bobby Hazelwood, Pat Passmore, Michael Guest, Keith White, Judith Laverick, Peter Simmonds, June Edwards, Hazel Edwards, Ann Briggs, Ann Tapping, Diane Berry, Hugh Gilson, Ronnie Humphreys, Richard Hounsome, Rita Miles, Eileen Finch, Valerie Finch, David Ellis, Stan Prior, Eddie Miller, Penny Miller and Valma Wise.

Kaye continued: “In the playground there would be skipping, marbles, conkers, handstands, jacks and fivestones. We had hot school dinners – and we were made to finish them! It put Sue off semolina and me off bread and butter pudding for life.

“We were allowed to have time out of lessons to practice games before sports day – that’s why I really liked Mr Saunders.”

While the children of the 50s were at school, the new town adults were working - and playing.

In the summer of 1950, the USA subjected England to a humiliating 1-0 defeat in the World Cup, Nat King Cole ruled the charts with Mona Lisa and Ken Robinson introduced himself to the people of Crawley by charging up and down the town’s cricket and football pitches. Mr Robinson was 82 and living in Northgate in 2009 when he sent these pictures to the Crawley Observer. He had fond memories of his days with Youngmans, both as a cricketer and a footballer. The picture of the cricketers was taken outside the pavilion in the Memorial Gardens during a friendly match between Youngmans and Crawley.

Mr Robinson named: Ernie Langham, Tom Downie, Jack Vernon, Ted Fletcher, Ken Robinson, Les Spencer, Les Nichols, Bob Neaves, Fred Kennard, John Wells, Nobby Stewart, Ken Cheeseman, Les Hall and Mr Packham.

The Youngmans umpire, on the right, was Ted Fletcher’s father-inlaw, though Mr Robinson couldn’t remember his name. He said: “It was an all-day match and Youngmans won by an innings. We had a really good team – second to none. Ifield thought they were the best but we played them and thrashed them.

“I always thought Three Bridges were out of our league. They are still the best team in Crawley.”

Mr Robinson was 24 when the picture was taken. He played cricket for 20 years. The football picture was taken at Town Meadow and again featured a match between Youngmans and Crawley – although this time Mr Robinson’s team were resoundly beaten 10-0.

He named: Vic Robinson, Joey Aimer, George Wood, Tom Powney, Fred Kennard – who went on to play for Crawley Town – Brian Kersop – who was picked to play for Sussex – George Courtney, Harry Farmer, Ken Robinson, Les Spencer, Nobby Stewart, Phil Bastable, Mr Farley, Mr Cole, Les Hall, Don Horne, Doug Bastable, Mr Rhodes and George Parker. He said: “We gave them a good run for 15 minutes and we hit the post three times. They knew the ground better than us and it was on a slope. They made us play downhill in the first half and in the second half we had to run uphill. Then they put 10 past us. There was a big crowd. It was a game to introduce ourselves to Crawley.”

Mr Robinson was an engineer for Youngmans before the section was closed in 1968. He went on to work for his brothers.