St John's Wood Terrace - a 1960s childhood

Isabella Oulton

Adventure Playground 2012
Louise Brodie
Adventure Playground 2012
Louise Brodie
Robinsfield 2012
Louise Brodie
Barrow Hill School 2012
Louise Brodie
Barrow Hill School, Girls and Infants entrance 2012
Louise Brodie
Farmers market, Barrow Hill School 2012
Louise Brodie

I must have started going to the Adventure Playground in St John’s Wood Terrace when I was about 3 or 4, in 1966 or 7, I have a feeling that I did a couple of ‘academic’ years there before starting in the infants section at Robinsfield.

There was children’s playgroup in the mornings, I assume, because I have clear memories of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, ‘Incey Wincey Spider’ and’ I Hear Thunder’, as well as painting and drinking orange squash. None of it matched up, however, to the incredible fun and thrill of being allowed out to play in the Adventure Playground and see what the big children had built since the week or apparently the day before.

Fantastic structures, unbelievably dangerous, in retrospect I can’t imagine how it was allowed, thank Goodness it was. One that sticks most firmly in my memory is a large wooden structure, a cube of about 3 x 3 x 3 metres (even allowing for my small stature making it seem larger) filled with large off cuts of foam rubber into which one dived from a platform, and then squirmed out through a tiny hole near the bottom of one of the walls, and again, and again, and again. There were the inevitable zip wires and climbing frames and just bits of stuff, wood, nails, big beams, and rubble that we spent our time exploring. I was aware, subconsciously of the wide range of people who sent their children to the Adventure Playground, maybe there were no other playgroups at the time, I really don’t know. I was always amazed by a brother and sister who came with their own nanny in a uniform, the girl was allowed to wear trousers to be at the playground but always had a skirt over the top of them. I was hideously embarrassed once going back to their house for lunch, when the nanny suggested that I take off my trousers now that we were out of the playground, but of course I had failed to bring the necessary top skirt. We all longed to be part of the elite group of big children who went to the playground after school and built the fantastic structures.

I graduated from the Adventure Playground to Robinsfield Infants School which, conveniently for my mother, was exactly opposite our house, so she could watch me failing to integrate in the playground; actually she couldn’t do that until my seniority permitted me to move down from the upper playground to the lower one. The playgrounds were huge, you could run for miles, and when you got down to the big children’s playground there was a wonderful climbing frame which was a couple of horizontal telegraph poles on a concrete base making a perfect cowboy and Indian stage coach, and more often a gun carriage or a tank (yes, there were a lot of children from the King’s Troop in my class). The school hall was the centre of the building and I am immensely proud to really be part of the ‘Music and Movement’ generation.  My classmates and I spent lengthy periods of time being a tree and letting our branches grow or being a rabbit hopping around other trees. It still remains a point of reference with people my age.

When I moved inexorably from Robinsfield to Barrow Hill my father insisted on walking me to school on the way to catch his tube, the fact that he walked incredibly fast on very long spidery legs wasn’t a problem, even though I suffered from asthma, the really bad bit was that he was dressed in full John Steed attire,  pinstripe trousers, black jacket, bowler hat and shiny briefcase, not all right. I started by persuading him to leave me at the corner of Bridgeman Street and Allitsen Road, and finally managed to be allowed to walk to school on my own. I thought that it was because I told my parents that I met up with friends from school en route (true) but I suspect that it had more to do with my father needing to get into work earlier. Either way it meant that we could indulge in our favourite pastime of sticking lolly sticks into the parking metres along Charlbert Street to rack them up to the maximum time, always wondering why motorists hadn’t worked it out and why my mother wouldn’t do it when we parked on a meter elsewhere.

Barrow Hill was quite simply brilliant. I suppose that at that time state schools were actually funded and the facilities were astonishing. There were two full time music teachers and a full time drama teacher, a brass band, an orchestra and a school production of a musical ‘The Idea’ from which I still sometimes find myself humming songs. The G.L.C.[Greater London Council] still existed in those pre-Thatcher years and, therefore, London school children had the chance to go on regular theatre and concert trips. The school was, still is, a Victorian building, those horrible green tiles, with the classrooms opening off three central halls which were used for gym (those dreaded B.A.G.A.[British Amateur Gymnastic Awards] awards that I always failed), assembly, concerts, and, best of all, big art projects. I remember, in the fourth year, doing an enormous paper mosaic of a queen, something to do with the Byzantine period? Bizarrely, there was a swimming pool in the basement, tiny, very hot, where we went for swimming lessons which were hard work as there wasn’t really room in the pool to do more than one or two strokes.

My second year teacher was Mr Lloyd who I fear worried the parents as he was amazingly hairy, not that surprising as it was the early 70’s. His classroom was packed to the gills with animals, reptiles and fish of all sorts. We weren’t in the classroom much; possibly because of the smell, but spent what seemed to be all our time down by the canal in Regent’s Park pond dipping, (I don’t remember anyone falling in) or collecting flowers and branches and insects to take back to add to the collection in the classroom. The mice, Romeo and Juliet, had 14 babies on Valentine’s day. We found time to do projects on the Aztecs and the Incas, a trip to the, then, Museum of Ethnography, Cats, a trip to see the mummies at the British Museum and learn that butterflies smell with their feet as Mr Lloyd stamped around the classroom being said butterfly landing on things he did, and didn’t, like.

My third year teacher was Mrs Brownjohn, whose husband I believe was the poet Alan Brownjohn, whether or not this was the case, we always did the best assemblies with fantastic scripts and song lyrics that she brought in, she also got us all reading and writing poetry as if it were the most normal means of expression imaginable.

My fourth year teacher was Frank Flynn, less hairy, but just as brilliant, as Mr Lloyd, with the added advantage of wearing purple flares. He took us to France where we stayed with pen pals. We had been studying French, I seem to remember, with a French woman, I don’t know if she was a volunteer or paid, but the book was about Madame Souris et Nestor le facteur, and we learnt a song about a blackbird losing its feathers. Friends of my age, here in France where I now live, deny all knowledge of either the book or the song, so they must have been part of progressive 60’s British education systems.

My primary school education was quite simply excellent and I know that Barrow Hill has maintained that reputation and is one of the reasons that people choose to live in St John’s Wood to this day.

This page was added on 05/03/2012.

Comments about this page

  • I also went to Barrow Hill 1963/66. I remember Mrs Saddler and Mr Grey. I also used the Adventure Playground when Chris and John ran it. Great days. My brother still lives there. Used to hang out with Debbie Simmons, I am sure a few of you would know us. I was Christine Donovan then and lived in Park Mansions on Allitsen Road. Anyone who knows me please feel free to contact me

    By Christine Donovan (24/02/2018)
  • So many great memories Robinsfield and then Barrowhill. Loved the playgrounds at Robinsfield… the wood struts that made up a tepee type structure, the horizontal long logs in the bottom and the two great climbing trees in the top…. Mrs Fisher head teacher and Miss Binstead…. or was she Barrowhill?

    Barrowhill had a music room and there was a story of a key and the school built over a cemetery… some scary stuff!! But great fun, brilliant teachers, school meals were mostly ok and our daily half pint bottle milk… “Watch out there’s a Humphrey about”
    Miss Johnson, Mr Lloyd, Miss Kinzen and Miss Barker and Mr John Nettles and Monsieur Barber…. aaahhhhhhh memory lane…..

    By Tania Pramschufer (11/01/2018)
  • I lived in Cocrane Street, having moved from 88 The Terrace in the mid 50’s.  I remember doing a lot of work on the Adventure Playground when it first opened. I remember Terry Large & his brother Michael, Teddy Hawes, John Routledge, Ray Rumble, Alan Cliff, Steve Kean, Johnny Barker, Michael Mooney, Joan ” LULU ” Tregear, Diane Evans,  Dave Barrow, Ann Phillips, Robin Tunbridge, Michael Halsall, David Green and Pauline Impey.  Sorry if I spelt anybodys name wrong. GREAT DAYS! Victor Poulton

    By victor poulton (29/12/2016)
  • Hello Terry Farmer, I’m sure you remember me from the Wood back in the 50’s/60’s, how are you, I still get down the Wood now and again,but it is nothing like the Wood we knew back then.The only real pub left is the Ordnance. I joined this group a good while ago but then got involved with Facebook, I see a few names that I remember so will try to get in touch.

    By Chris Martin (18/12/2015)
  • The Polish lady was Miss Krummell and the teacher who used to play cricket was Mr Maddison, a Yorkshireman. You and I were in the same class Dave.

    By Terry Farmer (11/03/2015)
  • I went to Barrow Hill between 1956-1963 , lovely memories. Mr Porter, I think, used to run the school football team , Mr Nash who always used to pull your sideburns if you played up, a Polish woman who used to teach italics , and a teacher who, when in the cricket season , set up a wicket and if you bowled him out he would give you sixpence and if you caught him he would give you thrupence. If anyone remembers me I would love to get in touch .

    By David Hussey (06/03/2015)
  • I lived in Abbey Gardens and attended Robinsfield from 1964/67and then Barrow Hill until 1970.  I remember my teachers were Mrs Konzon, Mr Grew ( Mrs Grew taught at school too), and Mrs Sadler was deputy head and my teacher in the final year .  Mr Porter was the headmaster but retired and in came Mr Parker.  I remember my time there with much fondness .

    By Patricia Morgan (01/02/2015)
  • My first teaching post was at Barrow Hill in 1970. I worked with John Lloyd who was an inspirational teacher. He taught me more about education than I ever learnt at college. We worked as a team doing projects on the Incas and the Aztecs as well as scientific experiments. I do remember the prolific mice! One year we incubated chicks’ eggs.I recall little fluffy chicks running wildly around the hall.

    Mr Parker was the head with Mrs Sadler his deputy-it was a great time to teach. I left in 1975 to have my first child.

    (John Levey was in one of my classes -he shone in a play we did about the Black Death.)

    By Jenny Ciampa (Johnson) (28/09/2014)
  • I lived in the terrace from 1948 till the late 60s. I was one of the first children to use the Adventure Playground. I went to Barrow Hill school then on to Fleet road in Hampstead. I was friends with a John Brown whose dad had a shop opposite the Star pub, so many happy memories of the wood and a real playground.

    By terry large (25/09/2014)
  • I attended Barrow Hill from 1951to 1956, the Headmaster was Mr Porter. I remember Miss Johnson and 2 Hungarian boys who arrived in our class. At the time I had no idea where Hungary was or what a revolution was. I remember the outside toilets and the cane and boys having their ears twisted by an unpleasant small male teacher. I remember play times and a few friends first names, but I think I must have been a slow starter academically as I don’t remember any lessons.

    By Rosemary Lee (28/06/2014)
  • What a fascinating account! As new Headteacher at Barrow Hill Junior School I would be very interested to hear more from former pupils as part of a heritage project I am setting up. I have just posted onto this site some photographs of the school and information about the log books I have which date back to 1875. If you do have some memories or additional photographs please do contact me: David Tomlinson Headteacher Barrow Hill Junior School

    By David Tomlinson (08/11/2013)
  • I went to Barrow Hill between 1968 -1972 and Mr Lloyd was a great teacher and he was Welsh,  Angela. Happy days.

    By Andrea (Coomber) Hegarty (16/05/2013)
  • Townsend Estate. That was my adventure playgound, although I never lived there. I remember the Estate being built. I was very young and was adopted by a group of the builders who took their breaks in a ‘canvas hut’. Each day I shared a piping hot cupper and their sandwiches. One day I was informed it was my turn to supply a bag of tea and sugar. With the good grace of Dad I obliged next day with the suppies and some biscuits to boot. I was allowed to wander the whole building site. Not a hard hat in sight. Wonder what our H & S zealots would say today. Later the Adventure Playground also housed a youth club. It was always heaving with teenagers. Halcyon days. Despite my help the Estate was finished and has withstood the test of time. Wonderful memories.

    By John Brown (09/02/2013)
  • I remember when the Adventure Playground first opened on completion of Townsend Estate, in the late 50’s, for many years it was run by a woman called Chris Winkley and her husband John who played the banjo.

    By Terry Farmer (21/11/2012)
  • After leaving Robinsfield I attended Barrow Hill up until 1974, I can remember Mrs Sadler the headmistress, and a certain teacher John Nettles that left in a hurry to pursue his love of acting & turned up on the Liver Birds  as the boyfriend, later to become Bergerac.

    By John Levey (24/09/2012)
  • I was at Barrow Hill school from 1935 until 1940 when we were bombed out, The Headmaster was a Mr Powell and his sister also taught there, or perhaps it was his wife? I also went to the Open Air School in Regents Park does anyone have any images or remember it ? I wonder if anyone can tell me about St Mary’s school at the back of Abbey Road – it was the first school I went to – does it still exist ?

    By Nita Dunn (08/07/2012)
  • I was one of the older children who built camps at the adventure playground. I was also in charge of the animal house if you remember the rabbits there.I really enjoyed reading your memories

    By Doris Sheridan (12/05/2012)
  • I was fascinated by your memories of Barrow Hill School. I attended from 1968-1972, and Mr. Lloyd was my teacher in the third year. (He was Welsh, wasn’t he?)

    By Angela McClain (27/04/2012)

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