Oaklands School 75th Anniversary, 1 July 2012


Two speeches by Nicholas Hagger, given at the 75th anniversary celebrations of Oaklands School, Loughton, on 1 July 2012


Nicholas Hagger, first address on 1 July

1937/1944-47: a boy’s memories

It’s great that so many Oaklanders have come back to wish Oaklands a happy 75th anniversary, and we thank you very much for coming. I hope you’ve had, and will continue to have, an enjoyable afternoon visiting the places and classrooms you remember, and the exhibition, and maybe spotting yourselves in photographs and connecting with other memorabilia and of course catching up with some of your contemporaries. Matthew mentioned A View of Epping Forest. I am delighted to have been able to include a section on Oaklands as thousands of local people have passed through Oaklands’ hands over the years and will appreciate many of the references as Oaklands has never been mentioned in other books about the Forest.


Not all of you will be aware of how the original Oaklands came to be called Oaklands 75 years ago, even though it had no oak-trees. Miss Lord started her teaching career at Oakland House School, 86 Shooters Road, Blackheath and was there for 15 years. She loved the children and her teaching so much that she wanted her own Oakland House. Just after the First World War she had stayed with long-standing friends of her mother’s during her training: the two Miss Butlers of 86 Spring Grove, Loughton. One of the Miss Butlers offered to provide the funding for her to start her own school, and Oaklands School, Loughton began in 1937 on the corner of Trap’s Hill. Miss Lord told me that on the first day it had one pupil who was made to troop through the front door, out of the back door, and round to the front door again many times to give the impression that a lot of pupils were arriving. When I started there in 1944 there were about 60 pupils, some of whom are here today.


Miss Lord and Miss Reid, her most senior colleague, were both trained at the Froebel Educational Institute – Miss Lord graduated in 1921 and Miss Reid in 1926 – and both emphasised closeness to Nature. I remember an aquarium on the Nature table on the first-floor landing of the original Oaklands, outside the room where assemblies took place. It was wartime, and there was a Morrison air-raid shelter in the garden, where some of us sheltered when the siren sounded on top of the police station to warn that an air-raid was about to begin. There was a quince tree in the garden and we often had quince jam for elevenses.


Miss Lord’s former colleague Miss Root, the Maths Teacher (affectionately nicknamed “square root”), had joined when she happened to walk by one day at the exact moment when Miss Lord was hanging out of a first-floor window with her hand in the gutter unblocking leaves (as Principals sometimes have to do). Miss Lord called, “Root, what are you doing here?” Later that morning she signed Miss Root up to teach Maths “for a term”. Each term after that Miss Root said, “I’ll just stay for one more term” and she ended up staying 40 years.


Oaklands moved to Albion Hill in September 1944, just after D-Day. It was still wartime and there were flying bombs (V-1s in the last half of 1944, and V-2s from early 1945). Those first Oaklands teachers on this site had to keep children safe not just from hazards on the ground, but from rockets fired indiscriminately into the air from France as well.


I can remember being a little boy in short trousers wearing a green blazer (with a badge showing an oak-tree) and a green cap, being walked to school by my mother – in those days most pupils arrived on foot or by bus, not car – and hanging my satchel on one of the pegs inside the door nearest the gate. The Nature table was outside Miss Lord’s study (which is now the office). In 1946 according to the register in the exhibition there were 33 in Upper II, 32 in Lower II, 24 in Form 1, 25 in Transition and 32 in Kindergarten (a school of just under 150 in five classes).


The field we’re in was full of buttercups in those days. During break we sometimes lay among them and looked up at the huge oak, reputed to be 800 years old, that’s shown on the school badge. The bottom of the field had camps made from fallen branches. During break we could climb on the wooden jungle gym, which stood below the study. In those days the tennis-court was grassed. That was where plays were performed and I remember seeing the older children putting on Hiawatha with some dressed as Red Indians in coloured feathers. In those days much of the back of the school was covered in ivy.


In Transition I was taught to write in Marion Richardson-style handwriting. In Lower II I wrote about children from other lands – I had to write several pages as an Eskimo boy and as a boy in a Canadian lumber camp – and in arithmetic we did addition, in hundreds, tens and units in squared exercise books (with h, t and u above the squared columns). We read poems about Nature and I copied out Christina Rossetti’s ‘Who has seen the wind?’ and Blake’s ‘Little lamb, who made thee?’ and got a red star for each. In class we loved the reward system of red stars, which could lead to: a Gold Star prize. The teachers all set a great value on this prize – they frequently talked about it to motivate us – and such was the impact their motivation had on us that when I got one (my mother told me) I ran excitedly home, calling out before I reached the gate and waving the Nature book I’d been given, “I got a Gold Star prize.”


Mabel Reid is still remembered for her Nature walks round the new Oaklands and for her enthusiastic love of Nature. She made us keep a Bird Diary. Whenever we saw a new bird we had to draw it, colour it and write two or three lines about it. She took us pond-dipping at Strawberry Hill, to net caddis, dragonfly larvae, frogspawn, tadpoles, newts and Canadian pondweed, some of which were brought back for the aquarium. From September 1947 Mabel Reid became Miss Lord’s business partner – Miss Lord then owned three-fifths of Oaklands, Miss Reid two-fifths – and they ran the school together until Mabel Reid retired around 1967.


Both the old and the new Oaklands had a family atmosphere in which children thrived. I was at Oaklands until I went to Chigwell in 1947, and then my brother Robert replaced me, and in due course we were followed by my brother Jonathan and sister Frances, and unbeknown to us my sister-in-law Anne and her sister Elizabeth, and more recently by my daughter Nadia, son Anthony, nephew William and grandsons Ben and Alex, with a granddaughter Olivia on her way. Elizabeth Lord ran Oaklands through the 1950s, sixties and seventies, and you will now hear more about her from Carol Norris, who started at Oaklands as Miss Lord’s secretary.




Nicholas Hagger, second address on 1 July

30 years of the Haggers: 30 years ago

It’s not widely known how my wife and I came to arrive at Oaklands 30 years ago, and exactly what we had to do to renew the school during our first months.


In the mid-1970s we were living in Wandsworth, where I was Senior Teacher and Head of English at a large school. In 1977 we came back to Loughton for the christening of our second son, Anthony, at High Beach church. There was a gathering afterwards at my mother’s house and Elizabeth Lord was invited as a family friend. We stood on the lawn under the pear-tree holding cups of tea, and she asked what we were doing. I said we had been exploring taking over a school in Streatham where Ann, who had been teaching at Blackheath and was then teaching at Holland Park, would be Headmistress. She said: “Blackheath? I came to Loughton from Blackheath. You mustn’t go to Streatham, you must have Oaklands.” We had been head-hunted. For various reasons another five years slipped by but in 1982, when she was nearly 82, Elizabeth Lord decided that she had to make an arrangement that would guarantee the future of Oaklands, and we took over at the beginning of the summer holidays in 1982, almost exactly 30 years ago.


We moved from Wandsworth and lived over the road from the school. There was a lot of modernising to be done in a short time. Ann and I made a start by personally decorating ten rooms in ten long days – two coats on walls and ceilings in each room – with great help from some members of the Parents Association at the time, especially Richard and Margaret Snowsill. Matthew remembers the painting that went on in the basement, which consisted of a storeroom and coal cellars and which we had to clear and convert. We had to rewire the whole school because the wiring hadn’t been changed since long before 1944 (possibly since the First World War) and was deemed dangerous. Miss Lord couldn’t understand why this was necessary as the lights had worked perfectly well for all those years. We installed central heating, renewed the plumbing and upgraded the kitchen.


Ann began updating and modernising the curriculum. This was a continuous process while she was Headmistress and teaching the fourth form (Year 6). I carried on teaching in Wandsworth. I was off to work at 6 a.m. to begin a heavy day helping to run 140 staff, organising coverage for absentee teachers and organising exams and the timetable as well as teaching O and A level. When I returned at 6.30 p.m. I had marking and preparation to do, but I also had Oaklands’ paperwork such as issuing contracts to all the Oaklands staff and revising and modernising the pay structure, which had grown up higgledy-piggledy over the years. I calculated and paid the staff salaries, dealt with all invoices and at the weekends I mowed the fields. One evening I held a meeting about the parking in Albion Hill for all residents, parents, local councillors and police and secured an agreement that unofficially everyone would drive one-way down the hill to approach the school at peak times – a principle we still try to adhere to.


In 1983 we built what is now Oak House where the Art Room had stood. We moved the Art Room and tacked it on to the side of the Garden Room. We had to move the steps you walked down to reach this marquee, which at that time led down to what is now Oak House.


The husband of a then member of staff, Bill Sergeant, his son-in-law Syd and I moved each step (a great slab) with only a pick-axe, a garden fork and a few pipes we borrowed from the building site to act as rollers. We prised and levered and rolled and dropped into place, improvising a technique that can’t have changed since the building of Stonehenge. Around this time I personally redecorated the assembly hall, again with help from parents, especially Martin Wickham and Richard Snowsill. Those days started our ‘can-do’ philosophy.


We moved into our new house, what is now Oak House, in February 1984. In those pre-computer days I manually prepared our bank spreadsheets and entered every invoice payment in account books. My paperwork was done on my electric typewriter and it was down to me to balance the books. And I was still mower of the fields, starting on the outside and approaching the centre in ever-decreasing circles, and in the early days I was also the school keeper who opened the school every morning and locked up at night. When the cleaners didn’t turn up (which was often) Ann, Matthew and Anthony went round emptying the waste-paper baskets and cleaning the loos.


We had in-house catering staff for lunches, and every Friday evening since we took over Ann, along with sometimes me and sometimes Matthew, had shopped at Makro in Charlton and two or three other places for more than 200 lunches for the 5 days of the next week, i.e. more than 1,000 meals. We all carried the large tins and frozen food down the cellar steps to the basement shelves, fridges and freezers. The worst Friday job was humping two huge sacks of potatoes I picked up from Creeds into the boot of my car, which made the whole back part of the car sag (not to mention my back), and then humping them down the cellar steps. Many people are now doing full-time (and therefore much better) what I was then doing part-time in my evenings and weekends until I gave up working in Wandsworth in 1985 – a measure of how far the school has come in 30 years.


All this personal energy and loving care we put into Oaklands recreated and continued the family atmosphere. In 1986 we finished building an extension for the Transitions, and by the end of the 1980s, the waiting list was so long that we founded Coopersale Hall from it. Then we were able to have a company do the catering at both schools and we didn’t have to shop for food ourselves. We were asked if we could save Normanhurst in 1996, at 2 p.m. on a Monday when it was set to go into administration three days later, and my wife took a step back from being Headmistress to act as a consultant to all our schools. At this point I want to pay tribute to Mrs. Ann Hagger for her work as Headmistress of Oaklands and fourth-form (Year 6) teacher for 14 years and all she did behind the scenes to help turn Oaklands into the school it is now. (Clap.)


Our son Matthew joined us as Managing Principal and started shadowing me in 2001, and has been instrumental in steering through all the recent developments that have given us many “outstandings” in our latest inspection reports. I want to pay tribute to all his hard work in helping to take Oaklands to a new level – and incidentally he has been instrumental in arranging and organising this magnificent event today. (Clap.)


During the last 30 years inspections have become more and more rigorous, and we have had to keep standards constantly rising, but I hope you’ll agree from all you see and hear today that Oaklands has retained its strong family atmosphere and links with Nature, and provides an equally secure environment for a new generation of children. Our excellent staff are as dedicated and forward-looking as Oaklands staff were in those early war years and they deserve our appreciation. (Clap.) Last year I was visited by a boy who left before me, in 1946, and is now living in America. A few of you may remember him: Gordon Roberts. He wrote and said he hadn’t been back to Oaklands since 1946, and asked if he could have a quick look round while visiting this country. I showed him round last year and we sat on a bench near the Garden Room. He said in wonder, “Parts of it haven’t changed at all and are just as I remember them. It still has the feel of a happy family school.” It’s been said that the Queen hasn’t changed during the last 60 years. I hope that Gordon’s right and that something similar has happened here during the 68 years since 1944 – that while modernising we have retained our original ethos and founding principles (-ples and also – pals).


We are now celebrating our 75th anniversary and we are buoyantly looking towards the future, and I am confident that many of you – or your children or grandchildren – will be present at the celebration of Oaklands’ centenary – or 100th anniversary – and will find that today’s spirit is still continuing in the different circumstances that will undoubtedly be prevalent then.


Thank you very much.




Nicholas Hagger