My first day at school

Going to Little Furze in 1953

By John Swain

Meeting the Head and my new teacher

How well I remember my first day at Little Furze, March 1st 1953, aged 9, having just moved into Hayling Road from Stevenage, when Dad was posted to the new police station on South Oxhey Estate.  I was escorted along to the west end of the building by the formidable head, Mr. Len Curling (6’2″ and about 17 stone): “Come along John Swain!  Keep up!”  I met the form teacher of B1, Leo Magin, who was also very strict in his horn-rimmed glasses, and well over 6ft in height. 

Transfering to secondary school

Although I spent little more than four terms at the school, it proved to be a sound grounding for the transer to Watford Boys Grammar School in September 1954.  27 out of 54 in Ron Gore’s class (A1) passed the 11+ in 1954 and progressed to Bushey GS, Watford Tech, and the newly opened Grammar School at Rickmansworth, as well as to the Watford GS.

Arguably, Little Furze was the leading primary school on the estate in the mid fifties, but it was inevitable that Len Curling was to lose his outstanding male colleagues soon after the school opened in 1952, to run their own schools.  I returned to the school in September 1965 and Curling was the only teacher left that had taught me, but he was able to recognise me straight away: “Ah, Swain, isn’t it?”

Destroyed by fire

How sad to think that this fine school is no longer in existence, and that several of the original buildings have been demolished after a serious fire.

Did you go to Little Furze, why not tell us you your memories?

This page was added on 27/09/2010.

Add your comment about this page

Your email address will not be published.

  • I have commented elsewhere on my recent observations of Little Furze, having not lived in S Oxhey until the mid 1980s. Some details I only know from reading this site, others I’ve learned from people I’ve met.
    One that intrigues me concerns a brown cow mentioned by two ex-pupils. My own enquiries have not come up with any more but if there is sufficient interest the developers would consider replacing the brown cow as a link with the past.
    Another that interests me concerns what happened when there was heavy rain. This might flow down to the pedestrian entrance steps, or simply flow through the hedge and down the drains. Whichever was the case the developers will have to improve the situation.
    Of even greater interest to me is the fire mentioned by John Swain above. This had only been mentioned to me previously by the gentleman who keeps an eye on Oxhey Chapel next to All Saints Church. (I regret to say I can’t remember his name but he is a mine of local information. ) Quite apart from conspiracy theories that always appear when an empty building catches fire, was this one reason why the school closed? As far as I can tell the school closed before the fire occurred.
    However where the empty building was concerned the county council claimed that they needed to provide security for the site to prevent trespassers entering the site and possibly coming to harm. I’m not sure if the admin/editors will allow this next comment but as the boundary fence was non-existent at the side of the site by the steps and as the fence was flattened by a fallen tree behind the school it’s hardly surprising that young people could frequently be seen running across the roof of the building. Therefore none of the estimated £800,000 (according to the Watford Observer and others) spent by the County Council on the occasional dog patrol achieved anything at all.
    As for the County Council wanting the work done as soon as possible (again according to the Watford Observer) 13 years is not very impressive. The rest of us have to work harder to receive anything like that kind of money to pay our council tax and others.
    I’m pleased to say that as far as I can tell the contractors now are much better organised and progress can easily be seen when passing. Also sites such as this are always available for anyone who wishes to add their own observations.

    By Bob Maddox (09/06/2023)
  • My granddad  Mr Battaglia and dad Harry boy  help build Little Furze school, my dad remembers falling off the scaffolding into a pit and hitting his head on the concrete .

    By Gina Battaglia (16/02/2015)
  • Hi there, In reply to Barbara Pretty, now Webb, I was one of the Battaglia’s from Brampton Road known as Buck. I was a Little Furze and Clarendon School pupil back in the ‘fifties and early sixties. Do hope you and your family are all well, I knew your brother particularly well. I have some photo’s of Little Furze school that I am hoping to upload at some point, when I find out how to do it!

    By Bob Battaglia (25/12/2013)
  • I am so glad Danny Caton remembers the brown calf in the entrance, it seemed massive to me I have told many people over the years about it, they usually lifted their eyebrows and said, oh yes, so thank you Danny, glad to know I haven’t lost my marbles, happy days, think they have knocked down little Furze recently?

    By barbara birch (02/06/2013)
  • I too attended Little Furze, as I read about the teachers sadly I can only remember a few, Mr Curling (and very apt descriptions), Miss Minns, Mrs Dukes, seem to remember also a Mr Nelson Phys ED or am I confusing Clarendon with Little Furze…? I remember the Battaglia’s from Brampton Road, we also lived there. Memory is fading but think I started there 1950/51 till moving on to Clarendon Secondary Modern. We left to live in Bedfordshire after I left school and then emigrated to Australia…..can anyone tell me what happened to Clarendon Secondary Modern? when we returned for a visit a few years back we couldn’t find it. Although I fear I was a thorn in most teachers sides I do have fond memories of my Primary years at school.

    By Barbara (Pretty) Webb (06/05/2013)
  • I started at Little Furze in about 1954, Miss Chamberleins class, I remember doing a jigsaw opposite David Grove. Other teachers in infants were Mrs Dukes, Mrs O’Sullivan, Mrs Morris and Mrs Pritchard. In the juniors Mr Eddington, Mr Stone, Miss Wills and Mrs Brown who sadly died after I think falling down the stairs on the lower playground. Miss Michaels and Miss Baines from Wales were very popular.

    By Ray Martin (30/04/2013)
  • I have just revisited this site and will be pleased to fill some of the gaps: Ron Gore went from Little Furze to a school in Hampshire where he was deputy head. Then to Rochester in Kent as a Head. Finally to Gosport as Head. He retired in the 1980’s and died in the late 1990’s. My recall is that he was a great believer in encouraging children to achieve a good basic education in Maths and English. He worked hard to enable children to have the best outcomes even though their home lives may have been difficult. One thing I remember was his fight to continue to allow the children to have free school milk during the time when Mrs Thatcher was education minister. Leon Magin lived in Chichester with his wife for many years I can’t tell you any more about his teaching career. Miss Minns was also a family friend. Does anyone remember a male teacher whose name began with Q? My godfather was a teacher nicknamed Quizz, but I’ve no idea who he was.

    By Sue Guymer (08/07/2012)
  • Mrs Williams the Infants Headmistress. I can remember her painting the mural behind the stage, Swans and Willow trees in the infants hall. Can anyone else recall the brown painted calf in the entrance hall of the infants and that distinctive smell of polish on the parquet floor.

    By danny Caton (01/07/2012)
  • Re Colin Peck’s memory. Mrs/Miss Davis was one of my junior form teachers. White haired and drove a light blue Ford Anglia. Think she lived in Hillcroft Crescent, Oxhey Hall.

    By Danny Caton (01/07/2012)
  • I have just seen the display at the Library about Our Oxhey. A year ago Janet Hudnott wrote that she remembered her teacher at Little Furze, Mrs Blakeley. Alice (Peggy) Blakeley was my mother. She moved from Raglan Gardens to Watford Heath in 1983, having retired in 1980 after a long career as teacher and Headteacher (Little Furze, Woodhall Infants, then Gills Hill Infants, Radlett). She died in 2006. She collaborated with Ron Curling on a series of anthologies containing extracts from poems and prose – for junior schools (Echoes of Experience published by Longmans in the mid 60’s). She was also the author of many books for young children published by A & C Black. Peter Swain wrote in January that he remembered Miss Minns. Pat Minns, who lived in Poole, remained good friends and corresponded with my mum up to her death.

    By Madeleine Lake (09/03/2012)
  • Great memories, I seem to recall a Miss Davis? on the staff at Little Furze in the early fifties, I think she was possibly Canadian-always added the comment´sheer laziness´ when marking my work regarding my terrible hand writing-it never really improved. Thank god for typewriters and keyboards. I once broke a recorder during one of Miss Browns lessons as an excuse to avoid trying to play it.

    By Colin Peck (23/02/2012)
  • Many fond memories stirred here. Of Little Furze I remember Miss Minns, Mrs Thompson, Mr Corteel, Mrs Brown (oh, those recorder lessons), Mr Cliff (with his white patch and ‘tache) and Mr Curling. Pat Tavener and I won a school handwriting competition in our early years; country dancing in the hall; listening to Prestor John read by Mr Corteel on Friday afternoons; sports days on the field; Mr Curling crunching chalk on the blackboard as he wrote; huge fights between Jim Speller and Bill Brown on the lower playground. Happy days indeed.

    By Peter Swain (04/01/2012)
  • I must thank Michael Simpson for telling me about this site. I am impressed that the writers remember so many names. I must say that I was glad to leave south oxhey, but now with age I have fond memories of school days there. I was glad to be reminded of the names I had forgotten. Three names that I have never forgotten because they greatly influenced my life and not yet mentioned in the other comments are Mr Stewart, marvelous headmaster of Clarendon. Richard Hannabus was a really great art teacher and made sure I went to art school, which I never regretted. As a result I met some very interesting people who have remained friends to this day. The third is Peter Brooks, who was convinced that I was good at French. At the time I believed him, but when I found myself living in Paris some years later, I couldn’t say or understand a word. Not his fault.I am now fluent.

    The most marvelous thing that has happened to me since South Oxhey has been a reunion, when we were 18, made between Peter Swain, Ken and Sheila Laver Bill Brindle, Tony O’Callaghan and Michael Simpson. We were all at Little Furze and Clarendon together and since the age of 18 have met once a year. This year everyone came to France for a special anniversary, 50 years since we went to St Malo and Paris with Peter Brooks. Pat Tavener

    By PatTavener (11/12/2011)
  • I see Darren Jackson has made a comment 06/11/2010. I am trying to find out about Tina & Alf Jackson, Tina was my god mother.

    By Gina Battaglia (10/12/2011)
  • I started at Little Furze Infants School in 1951, aged 5, together with my twin brother Colin. I was in Mrs. Williams class and Colin was in Mrs.Delaney’s (?) class. The headmistress was also named Williams ( Miss?). We had previously spent a term or two at another school as Little Furze was not quite ready. My recollection is that the other school was St.Meryl’s in Carpenders Park. Colin and I found ourselves back together in the same class in the first year of Junior School at Little Furze and I think our form teacher would have been Mrs.Routley (nee Derbyshire). Our next form teacher was Mrs.Thompson and it was about this time that Peter Swain joined our class and we were to sit together for many years. I can’t remember any other form teachers until the final year when we were taken by Mr. Courteel. Apart from the redoubtable Headmaster Mr.Curling, I remember the Music teacher Mrs.Brown who tried to teach me the violin. As with so many things in my life I got so far and no further. I vaguely remember Mr. Cliff and another teacher that comes to mind was Mr.Cole. After passing the Eleven Plus I had high hopes of going to Watford Grammar School but failed to get through the interview so ended up going to Clarendon which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

    By Brian Hicks (15/04/2011)
  • I attended Little Furze approximately between 1956 -1962. In my last year of the infants before progressing to the juniors, my form teacher was Mrs. Pritchard. Her daughter Ann was also in the class class. Mrs Forsyth was the lolly pop lady at Hayling road junction Embleton Road. Danny Caton

    By Daniel Caton (18/03/2011)
  • Frank, I was friends with your sister Linda (wasn’t there another sister too – Pauline)? I thought the family had emigrated to Australia? I remember Peter Swain too, he went out with a girl called Linda Barnes who was in my class at Clarendon. My first teacher was named Miss Taylor and the Mrs Blakely. There was a Mrs Bott in primary school too. Mr Curling was always very caring and a very good head master.

    By Janet Hudnott (04/02/2011)
  • No Frank. That was my brother, Peter Swain OBE, who fell and broke his neck in the gym at Borough Road College, Isleworth, in mid-October 1965. On October 30th this year, he celebrated his 65th birthday! Despite being almost totally paralysed since the accident, he has been able to lead a varied and fulfilling life. I have referred him to this website and to the forthcoming volume on the Social History of the Estate, edited by David Reidy, which is due out in 2011.

    By John Swain (30/11/2010)
  • I lived at 36 Brampton Road. I remember the music classes and playing at Watford Town Hall in 1955 Then moving on to Clarendon walking and riding to and from school. John did you have trouble on the trampoline?

    By frank matthews (26/11/2010)
  • I was thrilled to read Sue Guymer’s comment on the Little Furze page and I, for one, would love to know what happened to her father after he left the school, presumably in the 1950s. He coached the successful soccer team to a Watford & District Championship in 1953/54, of which I was only a fringe player, but then he expected very high standards from all squad members! Yes, he was a dedicated and able teacher, but he certainly didn’t suffer fools gladly! Over 55 years later, I still consider that I was extremely fortunate to have been taught by men of the calibre of Ron Gore and Leo Magin. O tempora! O mores!

    By John Swain (17/11/2010)
  • I am Ron Gore’s daughter. I was so moved to read about my father at Little Furze. Mr Magin was a family friend for many years too. It is so good to know that Dad’s pupils appreciated his hard work and commitment. Our home on Hayling Island was called ‘Little Furze’ as he had so many happy memories of that school.

    By Sue Guymer (14/11/2010)
  • I went to Little Furze School from 1978 to 1984 and the headmaster was a Mr Sylvani who I believe taught at Oxhey Wood School before, we had a superb teacher called Mrs Dolder and the other teachers were Mr Macmillan (who fired the starting pistol at the school race days held on the field by St Josephs), Mr Coopay and Mrs Godivara who played the guitar, the school dinner lady was a Mrs Ross and the playground supervisor was a Mrs Olivent, and the school secretary was a Mrs Pearce who used to live in Dunfries Close. We used to live at no 323 Hayling Road just after your mum moved out John and our neighbours were Mr and Mrs Clarke, Mr and Mrs Hawkins, and Mr and Mrs Jackson. Little Furze was a fine school and I have many happy memories.

    By darren jackson (06/11/2010)
  • John Swain has me bang to rights, I did live at 323 Hayling Road and I certainly do remember John and the police houses at the end of the road. I particularly remember a large Alsatian that used to bark at us as we went through a gap in the fence next to the police houses to get onto the golf-course. I have been racking my brain trying to come up with the names of any other teachers at Little Furze and seem to remember that the Head of the Infants School was a Mrs Williams. One person I certainly do remember was a “Dinner Lady” called Mrs Dunning.

    By John Bryan (04/11/2010)
  • Fancy John Bryan living in Hayling Road (number 323), where his dad, Thomas E., is listed as the occupier in Kelly’s Directory, although he is surely too young to have remembered the Swain family in the Police House at the west end (No.314). I can recall the excellent John Cliff at Little Furze School, before his move into the council house at No.290, where he was joined by his family (wife and two sons, Barry and John Jnr) from Newport (Monmouthshire), in late 1955. We all missed them when they eventually moved to their own property in North Watford about four years later. John was one of several outstanding male teachers who started Little Furze School in September 1952, having served their probationary period at Watford Central in those difficult post-war years. Ron Gore and Leo Magin soon left their teaching posts on the estate to become Heads of school elsewhere. I believe John Cliff was of very few estate teachers who chose to live in South Oxhey, many others commuted in from north London, Watford, Bushey and even Hemel Hempstead!

    By John Swain (28/10/2010)
  • I started at Little Furze Infants School in 1955. I remember that my first teacher was Miss Sugarman, and I seem to recollect that it was her first teaching post. I still remember Mr Curling as a rather imposing and quite frightening character. The only other teacher I remember was Mr Cliff, who had a white patch in his hair, and lived across the road from us. I left Little Furze in 1961 to go to Watford Tech. In retrospect I think the school must have given us a good grounding to our eduction as I seem to remember that many of my class passed the 11+.

    By John Bryan (24/10/2010)
  • Ron Gore’s class A1 in 1953/54 was only 45 in number, not the 54 as published. Mr Curling was always popping in to see how the pupils in his top class were getting on. He also shared his love of classical music with the whole school. Every Tuesday morning, it was Dvorak’s New World Symphony as we assembled in the large hall. Happy days, to be sure!

    By John Swain (11/10/2010)