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Birmingham Open Air Schools - Cropwood, Hunter's Hill, Marsh Hill and Skilts (excl. Haseley Hall and Uffculme)


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In a thread about Uffculme School, maggs wrote:

I went to Blackwell Open Air school, possibly for a couple of years. I was very young at the time and can't remember, but I hated the place and was so unhappy there. The food was dreadful, burned porridge, and milk straight from the cow, which I refused to drink. It was a beautiful place though, a big house in wonderful grounds. Owned by Cadburys. It was close to Bromgrove and the Lickey Hills. Does anyone remember this school?

Perhaps this subject deserves its own thread.

I know someone who was there for two-and-a-half years from 1950 to 1952 from the age of 11 and who has happier memories of the place (and was cured). Does anyone else have knowledge/memories of this school?

My Sister Catherine (Kate) spent some time at Cropwood in 63/64 and I believe she enjoyed her time there. I remember visiting her there one open day that they had on a Sunday and about 40 of us being stranded at the bus stop because there was no Sunday Afternoon service. It was left to me a callow 16 year old to ring the bus company and plead for a bus to be put on, which they eventually agreed to do.


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I was there at least 20 years before your sister Phil, but I am pleased to hear that she was happy enough there. Thank you for finding a photo of the place. I had a no close family at this time, and therefore there were no visitors on visitors day, which I think was alternate Saturdays. So this, added to the strict regime of the place, added to my unhappiness there. As far as I remember we had a uniform of brown gymslips in winter and flowery dresses in summer. We had indoor and outdoor shoes, which we had to change on entering the lobby of the house. On Sundays we were walked summer and winter to church in a place called Hollywood. There was a matron who bathed us once a week in round flat shallow baths, which I think were galvanised things. Our finger and toe nails were cut so short that we bled. The dentist visited every 6 months, and, thank God I never had to have any treatment, because I'm sure it would have been a pull em situation given the attitude of everything else there at that time. The older girls were given the job of overseeing the welfare of the very little one's, of which I was one. There was a row of basins in the lobby, where we washed and cleaned our teeth, using some white powder in a large tin, which we all dipped out toothbrushes in as we got to the end of the queue. Many of us suffered from chilblains and excema which was never dealt with. Well, these are some of my memories of Cropwood, and not happy one's at all. In some ways this still haunts me to this day.
I was at Cropwood Open air school in the late fifties, Miss Urqhart was the headmistress at the time, there is a very interesting book you can get from the library called 'A Breath of Fresh Air' it was written by a girl that was there, I think her name is Frances Willmott.. The book is the history of all the open air schools, I think there were six run by Birmingham Council.
Regards trebor (Rita)
Sorry that you had an unhappy time, maggs. Perhaps the wartime regime there was harsher than it seems to have been 10 or so years later. My friend was happy enough but perhaps it helped that she was older. Much of what you describe coincides with her memory, including gym slips and flowery dresses, older girls (of whom she was one) being responsible for a number of younger ones, the tooth-cleaning routine, indoor and outdoor shoes, the chilblains and eczema (although those seemed to have received decent attention by then) and so on. I am hoping to persuade her to write a detailed memoir for the purpose of this thread.

There are also a number of photographs of pupils and staff which will be posted here in due course (might take a week or two). Staff included the headmistress, Miss Boothroyd (who was confined to a wheelchair), Miss Davis (who looked after Miss B), Miss Soar, Miss Whipp and Miss Taylor. Miss Urqhart, mentioned by Rita, took over from Miss Boothroyd during 1953.

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The book Rita refers to has a great deal of information on Cropwood, staff and children and is well worth looking for, I was very lucky I paid £6.50 for a mint copy on ebay, there is a copy on sale on ebay £32 + P & P

Chris I look forward to reading the memoir your friend will hopefully wrote regarding Cropwood Open Air school. I do think what you say about being an older girl there, may have made it more bearable. I also think that if I had been able to have a family visit, it may have not been such a lonely and frightening place for me. Certainly your remarks about being a war time attitude towards the regime of the place was probable. I don't remember the war myself, but it was a time of children being seen and not heard during my time at Cropwood. I remember we had to make our own beds, and stand beside them whilst they were inspected. Hospital corners had to be perfect, and for a child as young as I was it was cruel. 6pm was bedtime summer and winter for the tinies like me. I also remember being beaten with a stick by one of the teachers, and being made to stand behind the blackboard for a whole afternoon. Generally afternoons were spent on camp beds outside under a red blanket, where we were supposed to sleep, possible for an hour or more. One thing we did all look forward to though was tuck day, which was Thursdays. We were given a tin and again queued, one of the 'big girls' then put so many sweets into our tin. I find it amazing how clearly I remember it all, especially as I was so young, but my unhappiness there was so intense, that maybe it's hard to forget.
I too was a pupil at Cropwood from 1954 to 1956. Miss Marjorie Urquhart was the head - a very fine head teacher - and Miss P.Z. Zoar taught the youngest age group. Miss Williams was deputy. It was at Cropwood where my interest in bats began.
I remember having chilblains. When any chilblains burst they were painted with gentian violet. 'A Breath of Fresh Air' has my contribution included together with a relative's contribution. Her stay at Cropwood was in the 1930s. Classroom lessons were only in the mornings, the afternoons being reserved for fresh air activities such as long country walks or playing outside. Bliss.
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I went to Marsh Hill Open Air School in Erdington. It was a day school, and so lovely. I enjoyed every minute I spent there. We were all so well looked after, I always felt lucky to have those 2 years there. We used to have breakfast on arrival (the food was great,) wash and teeth clean after meals. A rest (on a camp bed with a blanket) in the afternoon, and plenty of fresh air!
My Mom also went there for her senior school years she loved it too.
I also went to Marsh Hill open air school, as well as Cropwood, Marsh Hill was a day school, where as Cropwood was a boarding school. I was much happier at Marsh Hill, the headmistress was Ms Hazel, and there was Mrs Browning and Mr Davies and Mr Wilson to name a few. The matron was called Sister Yelland.
Trebor (Rita)
I went to Cropwood Open Air School from 1963 - 1967.

Miss urqhuart was head mistress. I remember the dorms, the potties, the grounds and the Licky hills. Going to church some Sundays and remedials. I remember other things as well. Brown tunics and blazers, pale yellow shirts and green stockings. Can't remember what colour the tie was.

My name was Susan Mary Jones.
my sister and I were at cropwood from 1963 to about 1966/7 it was a horrible place very regemented, harsh for young children. I have lots of memories from cropwood. we also went to skilts another open-air-school from 1960/63.
Hi gee-em,

I think it was called an open-air-school because a lot of the activities were taken outside, the schools were usually in the countryside i.e plenty of fields and trees and fresh air and in some cases children were expected to sleep on camp beds outside for their afternoon naps depending on age. for inner city kids you would think it would be heaven but it was the regimented cruel way in which they were run . children went there for all sorts of reasons mostly medical some because of family problems. my sister and I were sent there because we lived in slum housing and were always ill because of the conditions we had various reasons to be there. we hated it and tried to run away but I can tell you it was only tried once!. I cant tell you if its the same place as the Blackwell court it may be as it seems to mentioned in previous threads. did you have any connection with it yourself?.
Thanks for your reply littleemily. I had never heard of this type of school before. I know there was a sanitorium for recouperation in Blackwell and wondered if they were connected. My connection is to Blackwell Court. I was quite involved with the Scouting organisation there for about 10 years and am very interested in the history of the house and grounds. I have stayed in the house, camped in the grounds and spent many happy hours there in the beautiful grounds.
Its such a shame that what could have been a lovely experience was ruined for some of you.
Here is a picture of Cropwood, Blackwell early 1900's. My son who worked at Blackwell Court adventure centre a few years ago said it is the Manor House at Blackwell court*

*Please note since this post it has been confirmed that Blackwell Court was NOT Cropwood Open Air School


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omg! this is a blast from the past we slept in bedrooms with double glass doors leading to the verandah in the middle of the picture we all had to sleep facing the same way and if you turned over in the night the person on nightwatch would come and wake you up to turn back, the windows were open all year round regardless of weather the only time they were closed and locked was when the police insisted because there had been some escapees from a prison somewhere nearby!.
That sounds horrible littleemily. I can't imagine why they would have wanted to treat children like that - especially children who were not well. It is so sad that you were not allowed to be happy and enjoy your time there.

Here is another old picture (c 1925) that says it is Cropwood - I know there are a few building up there - do you recognise this one?


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the balcony looks similar but the building looks very different from the one above which is more like the one I stayed in.it was a beaautiful building and lovely surroundings but evil within. young children having to get up at 5.30 to clean their shoes strip their beds, blankets folded at the bottom all square. all before breakfas.t we were given cod liver oil tablets and if you didn't swallow them punishment, one girl was so frightened she wet herself so had to stand at the front during breakfast with her knickers on her head. at night we had to queue to have our underwear inspected it was so degrading and even though we were so young it didn't seem right. there was definatly no mothering at this school.
That sounds horrible littleemily. I can't imagine why they would have wanted to treat children like that - especially children who were not well. It is so sad that you were not allowed to be happy and enjoy your time there.

Here is another old picture (c 1925) that says it is Cropwood - I know there are a few building up there - do you recognise this one?

That doesn't look like Blackwell court
It sounds horrific! Such a contrast to today - many children stay there on adventure holidays - all running around taking part in the activities and camping in the grounds. What a shame it wasn't even a little bit like that when you stayed there. I will ask my son about the building on the second photo.
They have lots of events that are not to do with Scouting, it's also an activity centre. If you give them a ring I'm sure you could visit the site. It's not gated or restricted access, you could walk around the grounds but may need permission to go in the house
I am very confused now as it seems that the picture at the bottom 1925 is cropwood and the top one Blackwell court is not Cropwood as apparantly cropwood is now hunters Hill technology college they are not so far apart on the map and they are both in blackwell maybe thats where the confusion lays.
Hi All,

My uncle and aunt, Fred and Gertrude Farr, were caretakers at Blackwell Open Air school but they did not stay long as they could not get on with the headmistress

Old Boy
On this thread someone mentions that Hunters Hill was for the site for boys and Cropwood for girls. (I am not sure if it has always been called Hunters Hill)


There is also a colour postcard of Blackwell court.

If you look on Google maps Hunters hill seems to have no chimneys.
My son is not sure if he remembers the building on the second picture I posted on post #21 but he said there were a few buildings on the site and it could have been the other side of the manor house where he didn't have reason to go. On the picture you can see the side of a house so that is a possibility. Again on Google maps if you look at Blackwell court it does seem to have a long building behind and slightly to the side of it.

Blackwell court does seem to be one of those houses that looks different from each side.

The next time I drive past it I will pop in and see if they will let me compare the pictures.