Saturday, 30 October 2010
"You could see out beautfully, so that you were part of the outdoor environment - though it was poorly insulated." (Janet Wilson, former teacher, Larkfields Infants)
Having discoverd that my first school was a 1971/2 CLASP build, (complete with steel frame, timber panels and hung tiles), I decided to pay a visit and venture inside - curbing the CRB madness by using relatives and former neighbours to gain access after school hours.
I was more than aware that that my poor aesthetic heart would be broken by the UPVC and security fencing, so I thought it best to interview my former teacher Janet Wilson for some level headed realities about what it was like to work here. This I hoped, would stop me straying into too much post-war modernist nostalgia and waxing on about Eames, Lyons, the Bauhaus and all the rest of it. Interestingly the conversation revealed more than I had bargend for.
Like me, Janet comes from a local family with a history of Methodism and mining, complete with laissez-faire horror stories passed down to us about times before welfare and compulsary education. To my surprise, the nearby Nuthall Methodist Church built in 1966 had some similar modernist aesthetics and principles to CLASP: it was built on rafts to withstand mining subsidence, it didn't worry about tradition or facing east, but instead focused on what was practical. Coincidentally many of my teachers here were also Methodist, yet this was by no means a religious school.
Both the church and this school were built during the post-war suburban expansion of council houses and private housing into old Nuthall, which had hitherto been an aristocratic parish with very few residents. Thanks to the draconian laws of settlement in the nineteenth century, most of the labouring poor had been squashed up and fighting for survival in either pit village or town slum. Through the centre of Nuthall D. H. Lawrence’s tram car in Tickets Please plunged and jerked on its way from hilly soot stained Eastwood ‘till at last the city looms beyond, the fat gasworks, the narrow factories draw near’.
Today this upper working/lower middle class suburb stunts the growth of the city boundary and is known by the press as marginal voting country or the ‘home of motorway man’: Nottingham for your industrial estate address and the shire for your home.
Both RIBA & the Pevsner guides lament the loss of the unique Temple, which could easily have been a National Trust property if it were not under Junction 26 of the M1. However, the aristocratic decline in the area did allow Basford District Council to become the principle landowner and this allowed Larkfields to became generously endowed with a vast playing field: complete with both running track and football field in an Eric Lyons inspired piece of landscaping. It was so large that all the feeder schools for Kimberley Comprehensive would come here and compete in a district sports day.
The open plan building of Larkfields Infants was centred on play, reflecting the education ethos of the time and making it a malleable place in which to work. However as time progressed the tiles fell, the roof leaked and the fire hazard in the ceiling cavity fanned the flames of concern.
I enjoyed this brief study of my old school but I have to admit that it's taken me nearly a year to pluck up the courage - due simply to the hysteria associated with adults wondering school property. What is also troubling is that the local authority architects of these schools had originally designed these education centres to be accessible to local people of all ages. It is as though schools have now become enclosed spaces: caving into demagogic television and tabloid hysteria. As a former newspaper lad on Coronation Road I know that some of those tardily delivered and rain sodden newspapers are partly to blame.
N. B. This piece of work was commissioned by YH485 Press.
Posted by Chris Matthews at 10:06