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

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
Yes I was at Cropwood for 1 year aged about 8 I think, so that would have been round 1960 Miss Urquart was the Head Mistress and Miss Addis was a nurse there I think, I am not clear of her role. I slept in Extension, I hated it at first and ran away on the same day as another girl called Ann did the same, we both got returned to the school and made to stand up in Assembly while the Head told everyone what we did. I have lots more to tell if anyone is interested
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
Rita, I remember Miss Urquart, if you'de like to talk more let me know via this thread. I think it was 1960 when I was there, I don't recall too many of the girls, but I do remember the lobby with the rows of sinks where we washed, don't know if Exension was there when you were, I slept over there.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Welcome to the Forum, Lorraine, and yes, please - there will be people interested in hearing further about your experiences at Cropwood.

Chris
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
OK Chris, I hope to talk to others that shared this experience with me, its so long ago now, I will start it like a book and just tell my story if it gets too long I suppose it can be deleted.

I was born in 1952, all though my early school years I suffered from Bronchitis, so lost a lot of time from school sick, but I didn't like school anyway, I would fight all the way to school with my mum and do anything to avoid it. Evantually mom and I got hauled up in front of a board and they asked me if I would like to go to Open Air School, (I said yes) I had been told it was that, or be locked up in some way for not going to school. I don't know the details but I ended up being packed off to Cropwood, I think it was around 1960 I think I had my eighth birthday there, but it could easily be a year either way I don't remember. So Arriving at Cropwood I don't remember, but being there I do.

I was there when Miss Uquart a very strong Scottish woman was Head Mistress, there were two other staff(I think they were nurses) not sure, but one of them was called Miss Addis, she was slim,blonde and wore her hair up in a pleat, along with the lady that sat high up in the attic and polished our shoes, lace ups brown, and the Cook and her helpers. Lots of other staff, but I don't really remember them. So I arrive and I am shown to my bed in what they called Extension (which is what it was, the main house if I recall was high and built of grey stone, in wonderful gardens, that at the time I did not appreciate at all. In Extension there were 4 bi-fold doors that were always open at night, it was a long dormitory and my bed was the first on the left after you walked in, before that were four beds inset in a square, with Miss Addis's room before that, then a corridor down to the bathrooms, when I was there, the baths were white and we got about 3 inches of water to wash in, it was usually damn cold. We had a bath every morning, made our bed almost army like, and then went over to the main building for breakfast, for some reason I do not remember where we ate. I do remember assembly, in a large room I think it had a bay window as I used to sit there look out of the window and sometimes read. Other times that same room was used for PT, we had to do a funny exercise, where you lie on your tummy grasp your ankles and rock back and forth (I think it was called a Fisherman's Basket) (again not sure) If I recall it had a polished wooden floor.

I was so homesick, one Sunday I think it was, I ran away, started to walk down that gravel drive and kept going, turned left out of the gates past the entrace to Hunters Hill the boys school, and kept going I knew roughly the direction I was going in, at the top of that lane, I saw a farmer, and asked if me could give me 2 and 6 (half a crown at that time) as I wanted to visit my aunt, He said I think you are from that School down there, and I said no I wasn't he gave me half a crown, and I went on to the terminus and got on a bus headed for Birmingham, I don't recall the details, but I got on another bus in the city centre and got back to Small Heath where I lived, my mom was sitting by the fire and I walked in she did not seem all that suprised. Then dad came home, and the police came and mom and dad had to take me back to that dreadful place. I don't think they had a choice, all I remember is standing in that lobby with my poor dad looking mistyfied and mom, and Miss Urquart, who was not at all amused, they told mom and dad to go, and I don't remember much, just going to bed back there, the following morning in Assembly I was told to stand up along with Poor Ann, she had short reddish hair and she had run off the very same day, and she was back to, some words were said, like we were bad girls and how all the others better think before they tried the same. I remember we both stood there looking down, until the ordeal was over.Shortly after that there was a day trip to a (Manor House, Hall, anyway a big place) it was a Brownies and I think Girl Guides meeting. I remember the coach with all the girls aboard turning round in the carpark/courtyard of Cropwood, and I was left standing there, as a punishment for running away, then the coach stopped and Miss Urquart (I think) said come on get in, which I did, then I remember during the day they were showing off a new Brownie outfit, and I was chosen to model it, I couldn't believe it me the runaway. There were many times we ate outside I remember I hated the taste of the butter?spread, on our bread and for some reason inside it was ok, but outside, YUK! No idea why. We had lessons, and I don't remember them at all, except that I was never made to feel stupid like I was at school back at home. I absolutely LOVED that icy cold freezing and I kid you not swimming pool, it was at the bottom of a lot of steps, and I think it had wooden changing rooms on one side, but I might be wrong, it was Kidney shaped and I remember the polystyrene floats we were given to hold onto and kick our way across the shall end, it never got warm, surrounded by trees and we just had to get in. Although it was shudderingly cold, I loved it. I was allowed to be a Brownie, but never got any badges, or anything.

We used to go out of the gates and turn right, then over a stile, and run down Hunters Hill, there were little rhill type things that filled with water and I used to skip over them. Other times we were taken down thru the grounds at the back of Cropwood to a lane, where we wollected wild flowers and pressed into a book, I liked that, we would walk to a place we called Clover it was on the left of the lane and was a group of trees on a hill, below some kond of earth moving was taking place, and there were mounds of clay like stuff that filled with water. My favorite time was play time, at the back of Cropwood turn right and right again, there was an almighty tree, so big that we could play inside amongst the roots, I loved it there, I also loved the Gorse bushes that spread down the hill at the back. Lilac and Yellow, there was a classroom that I never went to that was down a hill to the right of extension, past a big tree, I forget now what type it was, but to a little girl it was big. I have to say now that I was a monster to one little girl bullying her and making her cry, I didn't realise until her little face broke I think her name was Francis, if she ever reads this I have your face in my memory and will never forgive myself, and hope you went on to a happy life.

Then there was Rosemary a cottage like place where the older girls went to stay, and the beloved Tuck shop, if I recall it was something on the side of the road, and this lady had all the goodies, we were allowed to buy sweets there. Time passed Christmas being a nice time our parents were allowed to come and Cook made pudding with money in it, I think it was either a threepenny bit of sixpence at that time, not sure. Me in trouble again for telling my mum that cook's pudding was better than hers, I never did live that one down, still haven't and never will, out of the mouth of babes!!

I remember one girl in particular, she was dark skinned very tall and her name was Naomi, always quiet. Then the day Miss Urquart was standing at the top of the basins in the lobby, the toilets were long the bottom and the toilet roll was outside, so you took a piece and then went to the toilet, in trouble again, a loud voice, states, just what do you think you are doing, how much paper do you think you need for that little bottom, I could have died, you know I still take more toilet paper than I need and at 63, I can!!!

What else can I share about Cropwood, I think I have laid myself bare to all that read this, I hope you understand. 8 years later when I was 16 I went back for an appointment with Miss Urquart, I couldn't and still can;t get Cropwood out of my head, I hoped to get a job there, by that time, I had grown my hair and was very proud of it, she explained at the interview, that she was retiring as they were going to send a different type of girl to Cropwood and she did not want o deal with that sort of girl, I think she was referring to other than sick (illness) girls, when I was there, it was mostly about the Coughers as they were referred to they had to cough and spit into metal mugs with lids, then empty them and I presume wash them out, I did not have to do that. For that interview I left my now long hair loose, so she could see it, she just said, well if you did work here, you would not wear your hair like that, I was mortified, my mum said to her, she only left it down to show you, so yes in a way Miss Urquart could hurt you so easily. I have not been back, I think I may visit Blackwell if I were in the UK but I am now in Australia, but the memories never leave me, like the parcels from home, a Beano, sweets, a bit of cash to spend oh how I looked forward to that. I don't honestly know if that year did me good, or scarred me for life, happy to hear from anyone that shares these type of memories. I think thats all, but I could remember something else by tomorrow, so I shall post it next. I never appreciated that others were going thru what I went thru for good or bad, but I wish you ALL well xx Oh to sit in that tree hollow again!!
 

Trebor

master brummie
Lorraine, I too was at Cropwood, I hated my time there, when I arrived I had platinum hair right down my back but they had a barber that used to come once a month and he gave me a pudding basin cut, it was awful. Do remember making a den in the woods behind the school, also if you had a parcel from home with sweets in you had to hand them over because some children didn't get any, after we had had our afternoon nap the teacher would have laid the sweets out on a table and we were allowed to choose something before we went on our walk. Also on a Saturday night we would watch a film, I think we had to pay sixpence for that. We all went to church on a Sunday morning, some to the Catholic church and some to the Church of England. There is a book I have mentioned before but if you are in Australia I don't suppose your local library will have it, but you can get it off Amazon, it is called 'A Breath Of Fresh Air' it is all about the open air scholls that belonged to Birmingham Council, I think there were six of them, it's really interesting. Regards Rita
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
Lorraine, I too was at Cropwood, I hated my time there, when I arrived I had platinum hair right down my back but they had a barber that used to come once a month and he gave me a pudding basin cut, it was awful. Do remember making a den in the woods behind the school, also if you had a parcel from home with sweets in you had to hand them over because some children didn't get any, after we had had our afternoon nap the teacher would have laid the sweets out on a table and we were allowed to choose something before we went on our walk. Also on a Saturday night we would watch a film, I think we had to pay sixpence for that. We all went to church on a Sunday morning, some to the Catholic church and some to the Church of England. There is a book I have mentioned before but if you are in Australia I don't suppose your local library will have it, but you can get it off Amazon, it is called 'A Breath Of Fresh Air' it is all about the open air scholls that belonged to Birmingham Council, I think there were six of them, it's really interesting. Regards Rita


Hi Rita,
Yes I vaguely remember a den and the big tree I mentioned, and the church on Sunday, I went to the CofE one, it was all very serious. I can imagine how you felt when they cut your hair off. Do you remember the swimming pool? I am going to get the book you mentioned it is on Amazon, I was looking yesterday to see if I can download it to my Kobo anywhere. Yes I remember having to hand over anything we got sent, and the tuck shop, do you remember Clover and the old rickety gate from the back grounds to the lane. Whereabout are you now, I have been out here 14 years, should have done it much sooner, some of my family are still in B,ham, near the Yew Tree. I hope we get some more replies it is interesting, I didn't like it at Cropwood, but after leaving, and growing up a bit, I missed the countryside. Hope life has been good to you, happy to chat anytime, kind regards Lorraine
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
I forgot, I can't remember where we ate, totally blank, but when I went back at 16yrs old, they had built a large cafeteria type dining room, that linked the main house to extension, so you did not have to wlk across outside>
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
Hi I was at Cropwood around 1960, I written a thread about it, yes Hunters hill was opposite Cropwood, I ran away too, so totally understand how those boys felt, I shed tears too, do you remember what year you were there? Lorraine
 

maggs

master brummie
I went to Cropwood Open Air school too, and it was the unhappiest time of my life. The memories of it haunt me to this day. I can remember burned porridge, milk straight from the cow which I couldn't tolerate. We had round tin baths on the floor and a matron who cut out toe and finger nails until they bled. The dinners were awful, nearly always cabbage with stalks. The potatoes and vegetables I remember being prepared in an outside yard, and often potatoes dropped into an open drain, picked up and used. There was an outdoor swimming pool, which was filthy. The grounds were beautiful though. We used to have indoor and outdoor shoes, and summer and winter uniforms. Winter was a brown scratchy gymslip. We had to change shoes in the lobby on entering the house. Toothpaste was in a large tin and everyone just queued up and dipped their brush into the powder. Tuck day was Thursday, when a handful of sweets were dropped into the container you held, again queuing up for them. I was six years old, and had to do hoeing in the garden. Bed time was 6pm summer and winter for us little one's. To say I hated it is an understatement.
 

Trebor

master brummie
The routine was always the same, we knew what every meal was going to be, on Tuesdays was cooks day off so we had cold thinly sliced meat, beetroot and potatoes, I can remember going blackberry picking and the cook making blackberry and apple pie. Also bonfire night we had toffee apples. I still hated my time there, some of the teachers were quite sadistic, they wouldn't be allowed nowadays to get away withings that they did then. Do you remember after breakfast queuing up for a large spoonful of cod liver oil yuk.
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
Oh I am so sorry to hear how awful it was for you, do you remember what year you were there, I think I was there in 1960, and we had proper claw feet baths then, but only allowed to put in enough water to cover our legs half way and it was always cold, no heating, but the water was tepid. I remember the kidney shaped pool was it the same one for you, down a lot of steps surrounded by trees, I hope life has been good to you and you are happy now, it is strange that that damn place still puls us all together. Kind regards Lorraine
 

littleemily

proper brummie kid
I have a newspaper cutting from the 60's about skilts being a social experiment! So were like rats in a lab thanks so much BCC you wrecked my childhood
 

Lorraine Bennett

proper brummie kid
I am sorry that you had such a wretched time, were you at Skilts or Cropwood, I was at Cropwood around 1960/61 hated it at first, but then grew to actually like it, I got the book A Breath of Fresh Air, very interesting read, it seems that everyone had different views and memories of their time at these schools. I hope you are enjoying a full and happy life now.xx
 

littleemily

proper brummie kid
I am sorry that you had such a wretched time, were you at Skilts or Cropwood, I was at Cropwood around 1960/61 hated it at first, but then grew to actually like it, I got the book A Breath of Fresh Air, very interesting read, it seems that everyone had different views and memories of their time at these schools. I hope you are enjoying a full and happy life now.xx
I was at skilts and cropwood I had my 5 th birthday on the day I arrived at skilts then was moved to cropwood with my sister when I was 8. There were some good times but there was also abuse. It's a joke they take you away from home and you are worse of in care
 

Sandra marsden

New Member
I was at cropwood open air school from 1970. 1978. Head teacher was miss Clarke. A lovely lady. I enjoyed my time there and didn't wanth to go home at weekends
I will write some more later
 

Trebor

master brummie
The headmistress was Miss Urquhart, I think she thought more of her dogs that she always had with her. When I arrived I had platinum hair down my back, she made me have it cut in a pudding basin style, I Remember begging and pleading that I would look after it and plait it, but it fell on deaf ears. There were eighty girls there when I was there, I was in the outside dormitories. I can remember my aunt making me a birthday cake for my 10th birthday, it was square with a crinoline lady on top and the body and arms were made of China. It was big enough for all the girls to have a slice. When parcels arrived from home we had to hand in the sweets and every day after our nap the sweets would be laid out on a table in your classroom for you to choose one item, that way girls who hadn't had anything sent to them wouldn't go without, then we would go on a long walk.
 

Sandra marsden

New Member
This was before my time. I was there between 1969/1978. Miss Clarke was the head mistress. Very niceasy lady. When we got there on a Monday morning when had to strip and shower
See the nit nurse. It was followed by lessons then onto lunch. Lessons where throughout the afternoon until late 4pm. We had free time until 6pm where we had to change out of uniform. In the evenings we had outside games if it was summer for a few hours. Bedtime was 7.30pm. And we had to go straight to sleep now talking. I started of in the downstairs dorms. Beds in a row I remember how cold it was. When it was time to get up the sidetails doors where opened and it was cold especially when it was winter.
We had an outside swimming pool which wasn't heated. Very often we went down there to swim even if it was frozen we still had to get in. Galas where horrible as they picked on me to do it but I couldn't swim but ito was a bugger cos I couldn't and very often felt I was drowning. No help. Still here to tell the tail. I loved the bikes racing around the house to freedom was brilliant. I didn't mix well as I was always picked on. So I grab a bike and hide somewhere so no one cud find me. On the whole I loved staying away during the week especially as thingsoon were bad at home. I felt safe at cropwood.
.
 

norfolk brummie

gone but not forgotten
On VE day 1945, I was nearly 12 years old, and at Hunters Hill Boys School, opposite Cropwood Girls School. We had no flag to celebrate the occasion, so friend and I sneaked over to Cropwood, and stole their Union Jack which was flying. Took it back to Hunters Hill, and put it up on one of the posts in the school. Cropwood demanded their flag back, and we got the cane.

Really enjoyed VE Day!................seriously, I had a great day, full of fun, and the cane was worth it.

Eddie
 
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