School on the hill

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Scoffing the teacher's pudding at lunchtime was a caning offence Ernest Albert Hart remembers only too clearly. He painfully recalls the punishment he received after being overcome by the temptation as a young and hungry boy to eat Mr Cole's prunes and custard. He committed the offence while carrying the teacher's lunch from the school kitchen to the master's room.

In 1913, the young Mr Hart was one of nearly 1,000 pupils at Princess Road infant and junior school, a three-storey Victorian edifice in the heart of Primrose Hill, Camden, north London. Another teacher, Miss Evans, sent him to the shop every morning for her penny bar of chocolate and halfpenny bun, which she would consume in the afternoon watched by envious pupils as she patrolled the class, cup of tea in hand. He also recalls his sister coming home and "telling mother Miss King had told the girls where babies came from. Other girls had told their parents and this resulted in the mothers marching to the school and complaining about Miss King." But he remembers being educated well, too: pupils were taught singing to a high standard and once performed The Merchant of Venice.

These days, Primrose Hill primary school, as it is now called, occupies the same building but caters for a multi-ethnic population of nearly 500 pupils, drawn largely from beyond the mainly wel-heeled present-day inhabitants of the hill itself. But school staff and governors want pupils to benefit from contact with local elderly people who were former pupils or who have grown old in Primrose Hill.

Mr Hart's memories are recorded in Primrose Hill Remembered, a handsome paperback published by the Friends of Chalk Farm Library (pound;8.99), and funded by an Age Concern millennium award of more than pound;8,000. The book comes with an appeal for elderly Primrose Hill residents to help out in school reading with children, or working in the library or garden. Part of the Age Concern award has been earmarked for the school to employ a co-ordinator.

Jean Rossiter, a school governor who compiled the memoirs for the book and has lived in Primrose Hill for 40 years, says that having older people in school "just to be with" pupils is important: many children have little limited contact with their own grandparents. The book will also be used as a starting point for citizenship and history projects. "The children love having these grandmotherly or grandfatherly figures around," says Mrs Rossiter. "They love having someone who will give up their time for them, a special person with lots of memories and experience."

Primrose Hill Remembered is available from Kevin Bucknall. Tel: 020 7722 7085 or email

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