The Opening of Rainham Council Schools in Solomon Road
Rainham Council Schools in Solomon Road later known as ‘Meredale’ officially opened on Wednesday May 1st 1907. It was mainly the result of an expanding population in the village which had grown to almost 4,000 by the early 20th century leading to a demand for more space to accommodate children of school age.
The 1902 Education Act had given control of education to county councils which led to new council schools being constructed and rate support given which allowed for changes such as maintenance.
About 250 pupils were transferred to the new school designed to accommodate 400 pupils from the old Wakeley Road and Orchard Street Schools and from Monday March 25th lessons began. Miss Dyason became head of the new school divided into two departments known as the Mixed Department and the Infant’s Department.
Architect Mr G E Bond from Chatham designed the new school and builders T Monk & Sons from Sittingbourne carried out the building work and they had the site completed within the time agreed.
The schools and playground covered an area of 260 feet while the school buildings extended to 100 feet in length. The best local yellow stock bricks were used in the construction along with red facings and red Bow stone. A large ornamental cupola surmounted the central building with a red tiled roof making the building architecturally attractive. All the classrooms opened into a large assembly hall 63 feet long by 27 feet wide. This allowed school assembly meetings and physical education lessons to take place. Each classroom could accommodate 50 to 60 pupils.
The inside walls of the assembly hall and classrooms were plastered with siraphite for sanitary purposes to within four feet of the floor while a large part of the walls were made of white gault. There were not any ledges on which dust could gather and all angles were rounded making sweeping and cleaning easier. The floors were designed in a terrazzo mosaic while cloakrooms had rows of numbered pegs with an adjoining toilet which included a row of basins with running water for washing.
Foul air extractors were in immediate use and heating was provided by hot water pipes and radiators. A large boiler which heated these was positioned in the basement below a concrete floor so that the danger from fire was kept minimal.
With part of the playground asphalted large shelters were provided for the pupils. Two cesspools drained the schools and one of these drained away surface rain water. Additionally, an area on the boy’s side of the school was reserved for the school gardens.
A bell inside the cupola on top of the central school building sounded for children to begin their studies each day. An unclimbable spiked fence with the front part ornamental which included brick piers bounded the school playground.
On May 1st 1907 the official opening of the school by Kent County Council Vice-Chairman Mr F W Cornwallis took place in the assembly hall. Chairman of Governors Percy Wakeley presided. Those who attended included school governors E Kemp, E Jelly, G Mattocks, W Stedman and G Quinnell. Parish councillors also attended along with the architect Mr Bond, builder Mr Monk, Mr F Wingate, Chairman of the Kent County Council Education Committee, Mr C Harrison Assistant Secretary of Kent County Council Education Committee, Mr R Locke County Council Representative for Rainham and Doctor Penfold Chairman of the Parish Council. Children from the school also attended under the care of head teacher Miss Dyason and Infant’s headmistress Miss Barker.
The ceremony started with the singing of a hymn by the children present followed by an opening prayer of dedication by Reverend Charles Cobb of St Margaret’s Church. Speeches from dignitaries who praised the new school then took place. Next, Mr Cornwallis presented attendance certificates and medals to pupils. From the Mixed Department James Bing, Frank Chisman, Alfred Naylor, Kate Barrett, Clara Croucher, Elsie Haffenden and Esther Smith won certificates and medals while Robert Croucher won a certificate. From the Infant’s Department seven year old Walter Ralph who had attended school every day won a medal and certificate while certificates were won by Albert Taylor, Charles Major, Frank Moore, Bertie Sellen and William Croucher.
The ceremony ended with prayers delivered by Reverend Wilkinson of the Congregational Church and the singing of the National Anthem. After this visitors were shown around the schools by architect Mr Bond and the school managers. At the request of Mr Cornwallis the children were granted a half day holiday the following Friday.
After the school had opened problems still arose. For example, in late May 1907 the Kent County Council Works Sub-Committee reported that Managers at the Council Schools had complained that the spiked top iron fencing bounding the playground was dangerous so the County Surveyor was contacted to arrange to have the spikes filed down. A proper roadway was also needed immediately outside the school because the existing dirt road flooded in wet weather and this was deemed unsatisfactory by the Kent County Council Works Sub-Committee. Kent County Council Vice-Chairman Mr F Cornwallis who officially opened the school had personal experience of this when his car got stuck in the quagmire in Solomon Road and had to leave his vehicle and jump between puddles and mud to reach the school to conduct the opening ceremony. The Kent County Council Works Sub-Committee recommended that the roadway should be properly made up with the cost coming partly from the County Council and partly from the district.
Six months later in November 1907 at another County Council meeting the Council School managers complained that Solomon Road had still not been properly made up and that a large 240 feet length of the footpath was missing that caused difficulties accessing the school. The Kent County Council Works Sub-Committee proposed that the footpath should be made up by the owners of the land fronting the school. They also called for the local sanitary authority to clear the rubbish that had accumulated in Solomon Road but more time passed before the road was properly made up.
In early 1908 the Kent County Council Works Sub-Committee proposed that the school be enlarged to accommodate a further 150 pupils. Although initial protests from the school managers and a petition objecting to the plans were submitted, Kent County Council finally approved the enlargement proposal in August 1908. The appointment of Mr Harold Greenhalge as headmaster who replaced Miss Dyason in April 1908 became the only other big change to take place in the early period of the school.
Rainham Council Schools later had its name changed and is now known as Meredale Independent School & Nursery. The original building remains with some changes and additions. David Wood.