Vigo School

After the departure of the Army from the pre-Officer Training Camp, ‘squatters’ started to move into the old military accommodation. These were people who, for the most part, had lost everything they had in the Blitz and naturally they needed schooling for their children. Initially, some children went to existing schools, Culverstone school admitted four children and some ten-year-olds were sent to Dover Road School in Northfleet, but by 1947 the numbers became unmanageable and a new school was being planned.

Paul Baylis, who has written extensively on wartime Vigo writes, “The school roll for Culverstone makes interesting reading and gives an insight into the problems some families had. Probably due to wartime upheaval some children had little schooling prior to coming to Vigo. One entry states that some children were absent because of a lack of shoes. This was also confirmed from another contact where he stated that his father had to cut the toes off his shoes to allow for growth. Cases of impetigo were also reported.”
Things at Culverstone School did improve and the entry for June 1949 states “Last of camp children transferred to Vigo Village School”. By November of that year, a canteen had opened and the children would no longer need to bring sandwiches and a baby clinic was opened.

The original location of Vigo School in Hamilton Stables
Image courtesy of Paul Baylis

Meopham Vigo Temporary County Primary School was opened in September 1948. It was housed in buildings at the rear of Hamilton Lodge that had originally been intended as stables but were never used as such. Its unofficial name was the Stables school. The premises were taken by the Kent Education Committee on a 14-year lease, with an option to terminate after 10 years, and they adapted the main buildings for school purposes. The facilities provided were a hall, three classrooms, an art and craft room, a staff room and a kitchen. The school also had a pleasant stretch of lawn in front and a large playing field within easy reach”.
The acting headteacher was Miss K.M. Kerr, followed by Miss Dorothy Randall from Culverstone. The opening of the school was not without incident, the first entry of 9th September 1948, reads “Schools opened, two teachers and forty-three children. No timetable could be followed because there was no equipment of any kind. Nature rambles and walks take the place of rhythm and games lessons”. It was difficult to attract and retain an adequate teaching staff and caretakers were even more difficult. Mr Ford, an assistant master, having to fulfil the office in addition to his own on more than one occasion. Heavy snowstorms and some apathy caused children to absent themselves.”

Peter Liscoe, whose mother was a Dinner Lady, attended the school and remembers that the headteacher Miss Randall used to bring her dog into the school each day. It was a Cairn terrier called Boffles and was notorious for continually licking the children’s legs, Miss Randall was also memorable for ‘smoking like a chimney’. The teachers were Mr Ford and Miss Williams and the head cook was Mrs Lundy.

A Vigo school class in the 1950s with headmistress Dorothy Randall and her dog ‘Boffles’
Image courtesy of Paul Baylis

Dorothy Randall became the headmistress in 1950. She reported that the accommodation was good but that playground space was lacking. On the ringing of the bell to mark the end of playtime a frantic search had to be mounted for children who had disappeared into the woods. Four classrooms had been converted but the rest of the stables lay derelict. Murals were painted on walls to brighten the surroundings. The fear of rats and mice in the attic storerooms was very real. Many of the pupils came from broken homes and the picking up of children from school by the correct parent was a problem she had to face. A Parent-Teacher Association was formed and jumble sales were held, raising on average £25 a time and effectively re-distributing much-needed clothing. Christmas Carol Services were also held. It was reported that, of the childrens’ home areas, ‘C’ camp appeared to have been the best kept as ‘gardens were well attended and Police visits were rare’.

Nurse Oliver in 1955
Image courtesy of The Chatham, Rochester, & Gillingham News (via Darryl Oliver)

The medical needs of the school were met by Doctor Jenman who had a surgery at 126 Harley Street, Vigo and was assisted by the local nurse, Evelyn May Oliver, who would have been very well known to the children and their parents. She had lived in Fairseat since 1926 and operated as a district nurse and midwife. Darryl Oliver, her son recalls “She went through the war years and peddled her way around the district delivering babies as a midwife, and of course, she dealt with other medical problems as well. On the Harvel road, there was a large army camp, and as the war came to an end the soldiers were shipped back to where they came from. Refugees and homeless people were moved in as there was no housing available at that time. So quite a little city sprang up full of families and children. There were lots more children born and Nan had her hands full. She delivered over 1100 babies during her working life and all this was while riding her pushbike to reach them. She would come home with lumps out of her legs where ferocious dogs had bitten her and she was called out at all hours of the day and night.’
A full article on Nurse Oliver’s remarkable life is included under People>Biographies on this website.

Children in front of the Vigo Stables school building in 1950
Image courtesy of Paul Baylis

An Inspector’s report stated that in 1950 the maximum capacity of the school was 168 pupils. At its peak, it had 161 pupils but that had fallen to 61 in line with the re-housing of local families. The 61 pupils were mainly from permanent village inhabitants in Hodsoll Street and Fairseat. 25 were conveyed by special transport and six recent arrivals came from a nearby transient caravan site.
Many of the children were illiterate when they arrived, as their parents had been very much “on the move” before finally settling into the former camp. In spite of this, the quality of education must have been good because several later transferred to Grammar Schools in the area.
Lessons had by then approached the present-day form, and the schools were more or less as they are today. One thing which altered was the scholarship entrance. Instead of selected pupils taking an examination at the Grammar School all children sat the 11 Plus exam in a local school, Vigo, Meopham and Culverstone taking turns to hold it; the other pupils having a day’s holiday.
Iain Richardson had been at the school since it first opened and described the building as “a forbidding white fortress with a green pantile roof, with large timber doors and a quadrangle in the middle. There was a corridor on the outer edge giving access to the classrooms.”

Iain also remembers that the shop in the village supplied punnets to kids to collect wild strawberries and blackberries for sale which were exchanged for tokens to spend in the shop. Tokens were also given for any ‘ordnance’ found and the shop had crates of war surplus gear such as flying helmets and goggles. Live bullets were also found in the woods by the children and were, for a time, swapped at school. Eventually, a teacher found out, chastised the boys concerned and stopped the practice.

In the early 1950s, Rural School Sports Days were inaugurated and by 1954 Elizabeth Cook began her teaching career at the School. She describes it as being “on the west side of Hamilton Lodge and like Hamilton Lodge it had a green roof. There was a big walled yard with a tree in the middle. There was a back gate and beyond that, woods and paths led onto downlands which are now Trosley Country Park. The School had a playing field to the north of Harvel Road. There were three classes with children from Vigo and Highview, but also from Fairseat, Hodsoll Street, Pettings and Harvel. The teaching head was Miss D Randall (who had been at and later returned to, Culverstone School). She taught the upper juniors (years 5 and 6), Mr J R Strachan had the middle class and I took the infants. There were four classrooms, so the spare one was used as an art room. There was a good-sized hall and kitchen. The cook was Mrs Lundy and the school dinners were excellent. The caretaker was Mr Flischer and he was helped by Mr Liscoe of Fairseat. The chairman of governors was Mr Fortesque of South House, Culverstone.”
By 1955, most of the shops in the old camp had gone and the remaining residents of Vigo were being re-housed. Miss Randall returned to teach at Culverstone in March 1959 leaving Mr D. S. Caister in charge. With the building of the new school at Culverstone, the remaining children were transferred there, and the temporary school at Vigo closed on July 28th 1959. Mr Caister was later to become deputy head at Meopham, serving in that capacity from 1965 to 1966.

Headteacher Roger Barber at the school fair in May 2013 about to be covered in baked beans by Sarah Ousley
Image courtesy of Kentonline

The school had served the community well for just over 10 years. There had been 43 children of five to six years old at the beginning in 1948, rising to 161 in 1951 and falling to 61 at the closing of the school in 1959.
Some 10 years later, the plans for the new Vigo Village included a school at its current location in Erskine Road about half a mile away from the ‘Hamilton Stables’ school. In 1969 Erskine Hall (the former Army lecture and concert hall) was demolished to make way for a playing field for the new school. Since the war, it had been used as a store by the Ministry of Transport and then by a theatre company.
The new school building was opened to pupils in April 1972, although because of problems with a leaky roof, it was not fully taken over by the school managers until June 1976. The initial roll was 90 pupils and the headteacher was Mrs P. Wellard. The number of pupils had risen to over 300 by 1986.
In January 1972 before the school opened the Headmaster-Delegate, Mr Howell gave a talk to all prospective parents about his vision for the new school and a copy of the notes of the meeting are available through the link at the bottom of this page. There are interesting references to the fact that the provision of playing fields had been delayed and it was a top priority to build a swimming pool for use by pupils and the community.
Mr Roger Barber became headteacher on 1st September 2006 and, as of the date of this article, is still the headteacher.
In November 2019 the school was one form of entry so there were 7 classes aged from 4 (reception) to 11 years. No class was larger than thirty in number and there were 187 pupils on the register. Ofsted rated the school as good.

Author: Dick Hogbin
Editor: Tony Piper
Contributors: Paul Baylis
Acknowledgements:, S.R Beaumont – Vigo archive, Fairseat archive,, Darryl Oliver, Peter Liscoe, Iain Richardson, Elizabeth Cook.
Last Updated: 30 August 2021