'Blue School' memories as Ironbridge's Victorian gem goes on the market

Former pupils of a Shropshire ‘time warp’ school have been taking a trip down memory lane.

Memories of 1966. Former pupils Wayne Owen and Jean Wright at a blackboard they hadn't seen for well over 50 years. Picture: Dave Bagnall.
Memories of 1966. Former pupils Wayne Owen and Jean Wright at a blackboard they hadn't seen for well over 50 years. Picture: Dave Bagnall.

Ironbridge CofE School - known locally as the Blue School - is up for sale after being boarded up many decades ago.

Wayne Owen and Jean Wright took the opportunity to take a look inside the classrooms where they once sat as children.

Wayne said: “It was exactly the same as we left it. It had not been structurally altered. The blackboards were still there and the old cream enamelled fires were still there. It’s the first time in over 50 years that I have been back.”

The Grade Two listed is built of blue brick, one of only a few such buildings in Ironbridge. It is now on the market for offers above £500,000.

The Blue School is in parts a time capsule and, while its former glory is distinctly faded, it remains a place to bring memories alive for former pupils.

The Victorian school has gone on the market, billed as a beautiful Grade Two listed building offering huge potential and with many character features.

Back to school... Sisters Carol Hayward and Rose Wincott were former pupils. Picture: Dave Bagnall.

And as it awaits whatever the future may bring, Ironbridge-based photographer Dave Bagnall took the opportunity, in liaison with owner Lucy Grafton, to take some former pupils back for their first peek inside since the 1960s, and to photograph them in their old educational haunt.

The school's closure was brought on by a serious problem with subsidence which affected the playground. Although memories differ on exactly when, we shall fall back on a Shropshire Star story of December 8, 1970, which said the Blue School was “now closed” and boarded up, and which quoted the head as saying it "finished in the summer." So summer 1970, then.

One of those taking a nostalgic close look was Wayne Owen, who attended between Easter 1960 and the summer of 1966.

He said: "It was very sad to go back and see how it is now. The outside was bad and quite dilapidated.

"When we got inside the thing that struck me most was that there was no plaster on the walls. As a child I never realised that the walls were not plastered, they were just painted brick."

Pupils at the Blue School around 1950 to 1951. Photo courtesy of Peter Fletcher.

Wayne, who is 66, lived at the time when he went to the Blue School at Wrekin View, Madeley. He still lives at Wrekin View but at a different house.

"The head was Arthur Rigby. He was lovely," said Wayne.

"He was tall and had dark-rimmed glasses, silver grey hair, and was very smart. He was the last mayor of Much Wenlock – that would have been in about 1966. We were in his class when he became the last mayor.

"The school was as it was when my mother Mary Owen – Owen was her maiden name too – was there in the 1920s.

Wayne and Jean peruse memorabilia from the time Wayne's mother, Mary Owen, was at the school in the 1920s. Picture: Dave Bagnall.

"It was basically four huge classrooms. You had to go down to the bottom two, and there was no staircase in the school. There were two flights of steps either side outside the building, one was the girls' steps and teachers' steps, and the other one was the boys' steps. As a boy you could only use the girls' steps if you had a message for Mrs Rigby, the head's wife.

"There was a small playground at the front which was for girls if they wanted to play by themselves, and at the back was a boys' and girls' playground.

"The girls' toilets were at the front, but the boys' toilets were nearly down to the Parish Rooms, so if you were absolutely desperate you had had it! There used to be steps from the Parish Rooms right to the Blue School. They were both church-owned.

It's different for girls... Wayne Owen and Jean Wright at the girls' outside toilets. Boys had a long trek down steps almost as far as the Parish Rooms on Madeley Hill. Picture: Dave Bagnall.

"There was no central heating. It was by great big coke stoves. Dinners were delivered in a Much Wenlock council cream van, already cooked. They must have been cooked centrally, probably at Coalbrookdale School.

"The annual sports day used to be on the Regatta Fields at Coalbrookdale, which we had to walk to.

"We were taught the basics, the three Rs – reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, and that was about it.

"By the time I got there it was only three classrooms and three teachers. Mrs Rigby taught the five to sevens. You went up to the next one – Mrs Smith for a year, Mrs Jones for another two years, and two years of Arthur Rigby to finish off.

"Afterwards I went to the Abraham Darby School which had just been formed. Originally it was the Madeley Modern School, and in 1966 they extended the modern school and couldn't accommodate the pupils while they were building it so the lower two forms had to go to the old grammar school at Coalbrookdale, which had closed because they were getting rid of grammar schools in the area.

"I spent two years down there. We trekked down there and back again."

Wayne went on to work in London for British Telecom before returning to Shropshire 15 years ago.

Parent Mrs Jennifer Kilshaw, of Lincoln Hill, Ironbridge, takes a close look at the subsidence at Ironbridge CofE School, on January 13, 1970 – the subsidence was the death knell for the school.

Jean Wright, who was at the Blue School for six years up to 1967, said: "It was in a bit of a state but was very much as I remembered it. Everything was still there.

"In the part we were able to go to inside, upstairs the classroom configuration had not changed at all and the headteacher's office was exactly as I remembered and the chalkboards were in exactly the same place and hadn't been taken down. We weren't able to go downstairs but went around the outside of the building.

"The school had to close because the playground slipped away and it was unstable. It happened quite often. My father Dennis Bailey was a builder as well as an undertaker and every now and again a crack would open up in the playground, the part overlooking the river, and we would get a slightly longer summer holiday while repairs were made.

"That happened a couple of times because of some cottages at the bottom of Ironbridge bank being taken down which were shoring it up.

"My father went to the school himself as a child, as did my brother Richard."

Jean, who lives in Coalbrookdale now but lived in Belmont Road, Ironbridge, back then, said: "It was a small school, with only about 60 pupils and three classrooms. The headteacher Mr Rigby who taught the older children was lovely, but I'm afraid his wife who taught the infants was not.

Workshop clutter in one of the old classrooms. Picture: Dave Bagnall.

"Myself and a friend who has emigrated now were the last two to take our 11-plus there. No special arrangements were made. We just did the 11-plus exam seated in the classroom with the other children around us doing their lesson. I passed and went on to Wellington Girls High School.

"Sadly, because quite often a child would drown in the River Severn, Mr Rigby started us in having swimming lessons every week at a time I think a lot of schools did not. He hired a coach from Elcock's coach firm which would pick us up on a Wednesday afternoon and take us to Wellington swimming baths.

"That would have been, I think, 1963 or something like that, and was quite unusual at the time."

Owner of the building is now Lucy Grafton, whose husband Bob originally bought the old school in 1979, but who died in February this year.

"His plan was to live in part of it and then convert it into separate accommodations for other people, and he did in fact get two flats done and they were lived in as tenants over the years," she said.

Bob used to work in antiques – "he always used to say he would buy junk, and sell antiques" – and used the building as a workshop.

"He left the blackboards as they were useful for his business, writing down notes. He did a lot of work on the building himself. He was a trained civil engineer. He loved the building.

"I'm selling because it is an absolutely enormous building and I can't afford to run that. It needs quite a lot of renovation. It's Grade Two listed and is built of blue brick, one of only a few blue brick buildings in Ironbridge.

"It's so beautifully made, and such a stunning building. I would hope it would maybe be bought by developers and they can sympathetically develop it into different apartments. It needs a lot of TLC.

"We have had quite a lot of viewings."

Most Read

Most Read

Top Stories

More from the Shropshire Star

UK & International News