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

hi my mother Margaret Hutton went to crop wood as she was not well during the late 1930 early 1940 unfortunately she did not like it very much and ran away twice there was a book written about the school . We did visit the school in the nineties but it was no longer a school I will see if we still have some photos
I do they used to tell us stories around bedtime and they shared a place in Redditch Beck was the pretty light haired one, Staines was the dark haired naughty one, she got into trouble at HH and got fired i think.
When was you there and which dorm?
Hello Richard.Miss beck was the one I certainly remember most. Always came into the showers when I was in there after playing football on the top field. I wonder what miss Stainses did that was naughty. I was there from 1965 to the summer of 1969. I left there the day after my birthday. Miss Buckley finalkly retired the same day. She was such a wonderful headmistress. I was in Clent dorm. I loved that sledge called the Red Devil. It appeared to be the fastest. Have not been back since I left, though have often thought about it. To think, I hated going there at first, but miss it now, as lkike yourself, it tought me to be independant.
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 is an extention of Cropwood House and it was also later joined on to the main building with another building. They called that part of the building DRAKE When I worked there in the late 80's this was turned into class rooms and upstairs cooking room. The regimentation I read aboutt I agree was nothing short of child cruelty. Glad to say was nothing like that when I was there
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!!
Reading your story I can understand how awful it was . There were stories I was told when I worked there by old staff how
I was at Hunters Hill Open air school from 1943-45. Cropwood Girls open air school was opposite the gates of Hunters Hill school. We would use the emenities of the open air swimming pool at Cropwood once a week. I was at Hunters Hill on VE day. We had no Union Jack to fly, but Cropwood were flying one, so a friend and I went over there and took it down to flt at Hunter Hill. Our Head Mistress, Miss Buckley said we could fly it for an hour, and then we had to take it back. I returne home to Birmingham just before VJ Day, and then went to Uffculme(sorry if spelt incorrectly) open air school in Kings Heath. The large mansion that some one had mentioned was actually the family home of the Chamberlain family. I quite enjoyed mydays at both Hunters Hill and Uffculme. It must have done me good, I am now 81 and still going strong.
the chamberline family lived next door to uffculme.. I worked at uffculme clinic and open air school as it was known in the 70's and often took a walk past the garden to visit the Chamberlain home next door to talk to the chef. Happy days but not that I realised until looking back
Just to add a bit, before none of us are left that experienced ‘Open Air Schools’(!)…I was born 20th August 1953 at Dudley Road (now City Hospital) Birmingham, grew up in Westbourne Road Handsworth and went to Rookery Road Primary School. As a child I suffered asthma - could only run a short distance before I was ‘wheezing’, which was very frustrating for someone who liked sport. Despite ’sun-ray’ treatment at the Birmingham Chest Clinic (Great Charles St) after a year or so at school it was decided a stint at Marsh Hill Open Air School may help. And so as a 6/7 year old I caught the number 11 bus on what seemed a journey to the other end of the world. Photos attached of the tokens I received to pay the fare.

The school was located down a track off Marsh Hill and so seemed, in a way, isolated and in the country. It was a nice single storey timber chalet style building in a ‘U’ shape. I have no recollection of the teachers but recall some friends names, including Royston Birch, Lawrence, Tommy, Linda Bayliss & Susan.

The food was good and it was the first time I experienced being provided with a portion of raw crunchy vegetable after our ‘dinner’ to assist in cleaning our teeth, and the first time I had raw swede.

There were regular medical check-ups, lessons of ‘country dancing’ and ‘boxing’, lessons sat around a large radio listening to the BBC schools programmes and story time - seem to recall it was there that I was introduced to Enid Blyton’s ‘Faraway Tree’. After lunch we were required to rest and would go to the gymnasium, get our allocated red blanket out of the storage rack and lie down on a camp bed. 30 minutes or 1 hour? I’m not sure. There was a sports pitch and spacious grounds, including a garden section where I proudly produced my first vegetable crop…a bunch of radishes!

In the winter period we were required to wear a thick woollen top in colour grey. Smelt of Brillo-pads and I detested it.

I think I was only there one or two years - say 1959-1961. Within a year or so I grew out of my asthma and have led a good active and sport filled life, but now as a 70 year old think the asthma may be coming back to get me!


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Reading your story I can understand how awful it was . There were stories I was told when I worked there by old staff how
That could have been me, I hated being at Cropwood, I was there middle fifties, I had long blonde hair that Miss Urquart said I had to have cut, I can remember crying and saying I would plait it, but no it had to be cut, a barber came in once a month and we all got a basin cut, there are things that went on that certainly wouldn’t be allowed now. After I left I went to a day Open air school called Marsh Hill, I loved it there and didn't want to leave.
Reading your story I can understand how awful it was . There were stories I was told when I worked there by old staff how