The Clean Air Act

For years the London air had been becoming more and more polluted by soot and fumes because factories and homes burnt coal. Only the new factories on the Great West Road and a few other places in London had modern machinery powered by electricity. There were a few electric fires, but electricity was expensive compared with coal. At that time a whole house heated by electricity drew headlines in local papers. The pollution became worse and worse and each winter there were periods of dense smog. This was a thick, choking, yellow fog which killed many people who had with asthma or other chest infections. In Victorian times these smogs were called London Pea-soupers, because the air was so thick you had to eat it, not breathe it. At last the position became so bad that, in 1956, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act forbidding the burning of coal in London . Only smokeless fuel was allowed.

In the nineteen fifties London was still one of the great manufacturing areas of the country. You have only to look at the variety of local cast-iron coal-cellar covers to realise how many local foundries there used to be in the neighbourhood. Each factory had its own furnace and they all burnt coal. The smoke from industry and the old fashioned coal burning trains produced dense yellow smogs. Many people died each winter. Men who had had Tuberculosis before the War, had been cured by serving in the 8th Army in the dry North African Desert, but developed it afresh when they returned to polluted London. Eventually, in 1956, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act, forbidding the burning of fossil fuels in London . Diesel trains were introduced and slowly London buildings could be cleaned of their age-old soot.

At that time every London Station had notices advertising new factories in the New Towns. Government grants enabled firms to re-locate in Stevenage , Harlow and other towns. New houses with bathrooms were available for the workers and a mass migration took place. They exchanged queuing up in London for a bath on Friday nights at the local slipper baths, for house with a bathroom, a separate downstairs toilet and a garden. Families with young children were delighted with the prospect and moved in droves. The older workers were less sure. Those nearing retirement hesitated at the prospect of starting again and then retiring within a few years in unfamiliar places, away from friends and neighbours.

Thus, when large firms like Gilbey's left Camden Town , Nagretti & Zambra left Islington, and hundreds of other firms moved away, the young married families with children moved with them. Older people tended to take their redundancy pay and find other work within their own familiar streets.

Immediately the movement of industry affected our Stoke Newington pupils by destroying their prospects of apprenticeships. Many of the local firms which had given apprenticeships for years, ceased to trade, or moved away. A number of my boys who had started apprenticeships a few years earlier, found themselves out of work because their firms had closed down. Some moved to other firms to complete their training, while others had to find completely different work.

The effect on the local school population was catastrophic. One cannot run a comprehensive school below a certain size. The curriculum must offer a wide variety of subjects and teach them at different levels. Schools simply cannot afford to pay teachers to teach tiny classes and comprehensive schools must offer a wide choice of subjects if they are to serve the needs of all their pupils. Classes below a certain number are impossible. Latin, for example, had been a problem for several years, but when half the children moved out of the district things became desperate in all subjects.

The only solution was to amalgamate pairs of local schools. This meant that the Woodberry Down Comprehensive School, in Woodberry Grove, and Clissold Comprehensive School buildings were assessed and, while Woodberry Down was a good building, with some very interesting features, the site was landlocked. It had the Reservoir on one side and new flats on the other, so that it could not expand. As there were no playing fields, all pupils had to go to Debden by coach once a week to play games.

On the other hand, Clissold School site had room to expand, was opposite the Swimming Bath and facing Clissold Park . It was game, set and match, Clissold site was chosen.

Expanding the Clissold Road site.

It was decided to create Stoke Newington School on the Clissold School site. For centuries Church Path had run from Newington Green to St. Mary's Church, taking the faithful to church. The school was now to spread over the northern end of Church Path and the adjoining Nursery land. A playing field with astro-turf and some housing have now been built on the site. In 2008 it is being expanded again.

All teachers had to apply for their own jobs in competition with the teachers from the other school. This was a very distressing and traumatic experience for everyone, and was being repeated all over London at the time. Fortunately for me I could retire, but it was not an enjoyable experience for anyone.







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