Plashet is a popular girls’ secondary school, which draws students from across the London Borough of Newham and from neighbouring boroughs. The school is housed in two buildings on opposite sides of Plashet Grove, linked by the award-winning Plashet Unity Bridge. East Ham Tube Station and High Street North are within five minutes’ walk of the school.
Plashet has a long history dating back to 1932 when the East Ham Grammar School for Girls first opened on the South site. In the 1950s, the North site was built and Plashet County Secondary Modern School for Girls was opened. These two schools were amalgamated into Plashet School in 1972 and the two sites were physically linked by the Unity Bridge in November 2000. This has provided a safer and quicker way to cross the very busy street separating the buildings.
PROF. JOHN F. GRIFFITHS
(An article from the Plashet School Newsletter of summer 2003)
Since 1932 the school has been designated for the exclusive use of girls being named, until 1972, the East Ham Grammar School and later the Plashet School. Therefore it will come as a surprise to many that for a short period a small number of boys were educated here – and I was one of them! When revisiting the school this year I met the Headmistress, Mrs B Nasir, CBE, who kindly suggested that I prepare this article concerning the unusual circumstances.
In the summer of 1939 most pupils of the Grammar schools were evacuated from London, the girls to Kidlington, the boys to Swindon. The few who remained were offered no alternative teaching. I took a job as an errand boy, being paid 12/6d – or 62.5p – per week.
On the night of 7th September 1940 the first bombs fell on East Ham. These hit in Milton Avenue, immediately behind my home in Heigham Road about 200m from the school, causing a number of fatalities.
In early 1941 it was arranged that on Tuesday mornings some retired teaching staff would be available to set homework tasks and give guidance. I estimate 20-30 pupils – girls and boys – took advantage of this arrangement. It continued for about 8-10 weeks at which point a bomb demolished part of the library and brought the experiment to an end. However, in a few months a decision was made to open the school for regular classes for both girls and boys so as to prepare the older students for the matriculation examination (for 16 year olds) in the summer of 1942. During this period we were taught by Mistresses and a few older or physically unfit Masters. Some of the names I recall were Miss Bishop (Mathematics), Miss Steed (French), Miss Wright (English) and miss Houghton? (Geography?). A special feature of the school during these times was a barrage balloon tethered near the tennis courts to discourage dive bombing by German aircraft.
I believe that about a hundred boys would have attended at this Girls’ School – we will now be fewer in number and all in our late seventies – but I am sure that we all treasure the memory of this interlude in our educational experience.
East Ham Grammar School for Girls
We were all terrified of Miss Iles. She seemed elderly to me and had that dreadful scar across her forehead which it was said she came by as a result of being caught in the library during an air raid. I wonder what her age actually was?
I too have kept and use the needle case which was our first project. She was rigid and unreasonable but, I have to say, I remember her fondly. I think she disliked the first years but became a little more reasonable as we got older. By the end of my term at school I actually recall discussing a new boyfriend with her! On one occasion I was brave enough to insist on a design I wanted to do on an embroidery. She was furious and called me “lousy, lazy and cussed”. But I got my own way and not only did she like it but displayed it on the following open evening. That was the first time I saw the ‘twinkle’ in those steel grey/blue eyes. She was a real character. Maxine Bonner (nee Steinberg) EHGS 1957-63
I remember learning to play the violin and being Joseph as I had long hair which formed a beard! It was the year that the school performed Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Ceremony of Carols’ and there was a candlelight procession. I came back from evacuation in 1943 and attended on Sept. 21st. We had a day off when a doodlebug landed on the club house in the park and brought most of the ceiling down. I lived in Milton Avenue so was constantly late for school. The library clock was our bedroom clock. Christine Watkinson (nee Turville) EHGS 194347
Looking through old photos I am always amazed by the ones of the 6th form pantomime that we did. It really was an occasion to let our hair down and do daft things and dress up in some very way-out costumes. We had enjoyed previous 6th formers’ offerings and went ‘to town’ with ours. It was reasonably well received (as far as I can remember!)
In last year’s mag. there were memories of school plays and drama festivals. I always thought, like the panto, that they were a great opportunity for anyone to be involved in some way. We’re not all actors but there was scenery to make and paint, costumes to produce, programmes to design, and props, lighting, stage hands etc. had to be organised. A lot of people had the chance to join in something outside routine school work and try their hand at something new or different. Could we be told what drama takes place in the current Plashet School? Do they still have school plays? It would be interesting to know what present day students do in this way. Also what they do musically, as we also used to have an annual music festival. Deidre Morris (nee Rowney) EHGS 1956-63
The School Council, introduced by Miss Mitchell – it must surely have been one of the first fully operative school councils; certainly, we had observers from the London Institute of Education on several occasions. Miss Mitchell (ex Head) had strong Labour movement sympathies and believed passionately in democratic government. The system certainly proved a good training ground for public speaking and was excellent in many ways. It didn’t make life any easier for form teachers. I well remember a 5th form in my charge giving me a hard time supporting my Head’s views when they rebelled against the system. They reckoned rules, and the keeping of them, were the responsibility of the Head and the staff and that they should be left to get on with their academic work! Mrs Jean Huddlestone (EHGS Staff 1946-50) from a letter to POSA
After I attended Plashet I went to Walthamstow School of Art 1959-63, and Royal Academy Schools 1963-66. I’ve now retired after 36 years lecturing and teaching Art & Design. The Art teacher at Plashet was Audrey Melville, she was such an inspiration to me and without her support I doubt if I would have gone to Art College! Rosemary Elliott (nee Rogers) Plashet County Secondary School 1956-59
I was a pupil, and Head Girl at what was then Plashet County Secondary School. When I arrived in 1958 I remember the impressive tall building with its facade of Portland Stone (sadly now gone) and the different colour co-ordinated floors and classrooms. The design for this modern building was on show at the 1951 Royal Academy exhibition, a particular point of interest was the use of a one-acre bombsite in Plashet Grove.
Buildings, however, are all very well but they are only part of the story. You need people to create the ethos and spirit of a school and Miss Carter, the first Head, and her staff, did just that. Miss Carter was a formidable woman who expected the best from you, and you felt honour bound to deliver. On a personal level she could also be very kind and I remember she lent me several of her own books when I was about to go to drama school.
Plashet School had a truly comprehensive character with its 6th Form and also a special needs class. The importance of the Arts was demonstrated in music lessons and the choir with Miss Potter. Then there were dance classes including Miss Brogan’s Scottish dancing group. Art was presided over by Miss Melville and then there was my own particular interest – Drama and Speech lessons with Mrs Ward.
This early experience contributed to my belief in the importance of the arts and drama, in particular as a humanising force, working as a team and respecting the thoughts, feelings and ideas of others.
I would like to acknowledge the continued good work that Mrs Nasir and her staff are achieving and their belief in the importance of education for young women. So congratulations on this 50th anniversary and here’s to the future of Plashet. Excerpts from a speech made by Sue McGoun at the 2004 Reunion to mark the 50th anniversary of Plashet County Secondary School
Plashet County Secondary School was officially opened on Saturday May 8th 1954, although staff and students had been using the building from April. Here are some excerpts from an article printed in the Stratford Express of May 14th 1954:
8-storey ‘school with a view’ is opened
“Towering above the surrounding houses and shops in the neighbourhood of Plashet Park and High St. North is East Ham’s latest school – the answer to a challenge which confronted Mr. George Whitby MBE three years ago.
The Education committee wanted a school for 600 girls but the only land available was a bombed site less than an acre in extent. Mr Whitby, boldly tackling the task, produced a design, which was shown at the 1951 Royal Academy exhibition, and now has risen on the little patch the 8 storey Plashet County Secondary School.
Unique in design and construction, this experimental school, which has aroused the interest of other authorities with land shortage problems, was officially opened by the Mayor Alderman L.A.V. Bennett JP, on Saturday. The cost is expected to be something under £250,000.
The girls of Monega School, with their Headmistress, Miss D.E. Carter, and staff have been transferred to the new school, and temporary accommodation has been provided also for the overflow of pupils from the Grammar School on the opposite side of Plashet Grove.
The striking stone-faced cruciform tower containing 24 classrooms rises from a heavy rectangular base in which are the cloakrooms and changing rooms, while the gymnasium and assembly hall form buttresses on either flank. Classrooms are in the arms of the tower and have deep windows on each side. In the centre are placed the staircases and an electric lift. Three additional classrooms are provided in the 22ft. deep basement.
Although only one acre was available for the school, the Education committee plans to make use eventually of some 12 acres, and to erect a similar school for boys. At present the remainder of the land is occupied by houses. For their outdoor recreation, the girls will make use of the adjoining Plashet Park.
One of the advantages of the lofty building is that the pupils get an unobstructed view for miles around, and this should prove of use in geographical and other lessons.
There was a large gathering for the opening ceremony and the Mayor, accompanied by the Mayoress and other visitors, was given a silver gilt key with which he set in motion the lift. They visited each floor, which they found had its own distinctive colour scheme, the classrooms being decorated to match. Provision has been made for a garden on the roof.
Alderman W.E.Hurford, Chairman of the Education Committee, who presided, said it was the policy of the committee in their Development Plan to organise secondary education in four catchment areas and to associate two modern schools in each area with a grammar school or technical school on a communal site.
The Mayor said that the Education Committee had reason to feel proud of their achievement, for that was the third secondary school that had come to fruition in East Ham, the other two being at Langdon Crescent. He was glad to see present Alderman Thomas Lethaby, for the building of the school was another of his dreams come true.
The school having been declared open, a prayer of dedication was offered by the Rev. Sir James Bart of East Ham Parish Church. Selections were rendered by the school choir.”
We would like to thank the Stratford Express for very kindly allowing us to use excerpts from their original article.