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A local history and genealogy site for Wimpole, a village and parish in South Cambridgeshire.
Curated by Steve Odell.


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Wimpole Park School
1948-1955

A Slightly Expanded History
There is a large flat area of arable pasture situated just inside the Arrington Gates to Wimpole Hall, a large country-house in Cambridgeshire now owned by the National Trust.
Between 1944 and 1960 the pasture, or Wimpole Park as it became named, was host in turn to the US Army 163rd General Hospital treating WW2 army casualties of war, (possibly) a small German prisoner-of-war camp, a squatters camp, an experimental 'fast track' teacher training college to help servicemen and women returning to civilian life, a community school, emergency local authority housing, and finally a US Air Force Hospital perhaps best remembered for being the 'place-of-birth' for hundreds of Americans.

Wimpole Park c1945 Wimpole Park c1945

After the Army Hospital left in 1946, wartime evacuees from London and other places began to move into the empty accommodation blocks of the Hospital (mainly around the outer perimeter). Many were homeless related to enemy bombing. Some families squatted there illegally but many registered and paid rent to the local authority. The two photographs above show Wimpole Park as it looked around the end of the war in 1945
Wimpole Park School was a temporary community school set up in one of the ex-army Quonset huts left behind after the first hospital closed. The school was situated just inside an additional entrance [visible on the second aerial photograph, now closed] into Wimpole Park at the bottom of Arrington Hill. Children from the age of seven up to school-leaving age were drawn from the evacuees and squatters, plus some from Arrington and Wimpole (and the seniors from Orwell). The education authorities provided cycles for all those travelling any distance.

A view overlooking the ex-US Army hospital huts at Wimpole Park. It is thought the image dates around 1950. The ex-US Army hospital huts at Wimpole Park. It is thought the image dates around 1950

In 1952 the United States Air Force 3rd Hospital Group (later known as the 7510 USAF Hospital) re-used the central buildings as a hospital again. The school and those living in the outer accommodation blocks were generally allowed to remain.
I'm unsure of the exact dates Wimpole Park School was fully operational but 1948-1955 would seem about right (unless someone tells me otherwise...). The end of the park school began with the opening of Bassingbourn Village College with the seniors being transferred there from July 1954. The juniors may have continued for a year or two before the remaining pupils were transferred to Arrington Village School.
In 1962 all the remaining village schools were closed and pupils from the parishes of Arrington, Croydon, Orwell, Tadlow, Whaddon and Wimpole were sent to a new Church of England primary and junior school built in Orwell.
During 1959/1960, the USAF Hospital was decommissioned and all the buildings and roads were completely removed. Nothing remains today of the two American hospitals, the school, the teacher training college or the accommodation huts. The land was handed back to Mrs Bambridge (the owner of Wimpole Hall) and returned to arable pasture.

Summary by Steve Odell

Wimpole Park School Photographs

An Old Wimpole Childhood
Remembered by Irene Bruce



Memories of Wimpole Park School
by Alan Jordan
(Acting Head 1950-1951, Head 1952-1954)
[Written in 1990]
"Wimpole Park School must have been started in 1947 or 1948 to accommodate children of the squatters who were more or less pouring into the unoccupied huts at the northern end of the hospital. The first school staff were a married couple - the name Addy rings a bell to me ["possibly a Mr and Mrs Yaffee. As they were Jewish their daughter Gillian was excused morning assembly" - Irene Bruce]- who were quite eccentric. They squabbled continuously - in French, so as not to upset the children, though the effect must have been ruined as the arguments usually ended by her heaving a board rubber or a box of chalk at his head and storming back into her room with a mighty bang of the door. Actually they were really a nice couple and we liked them when they came to look us up on one occasion later.
The school building was one of the long double wards with one end divided by brick partitions into three classrooms and the other left open for use as a hall.
In late 1948 or early 1949 the Addy's left and Bill Summers who had been Adult Tutor at Impington Village College took over. By this time the number on roll was about 80, with ages ranging from 7+ to 16. At Bill's request I joined the staff on 1 January 1950, taking the 9 to 11 year olds. Bill Summers moved on in July 1950 and I carried on as acting head until January 1951 when John Sankey came in from the Emergency Training College. He left the following December to join the lecturing staff at Loughborough.
When John went, the vacancy was advertised but I think the situation and the squatters rather put people off, and Shire Hall offered me the post on a permanent appointment, which I accepted, becoming the youngest head in the county. I refused to leave my junior class being allergic to children over the age of 11(!), and we had a variety of assistants tackling the seniors, who were finally tamed by a young ex-Guardsman fresh from college.
Between us we made a reasonable job of running a school against the odds. We had a very good mixed rounders team, a fairish cricket team and did not disgrace ourselves at the various school sports meetings, despite the lack of a playing field. Two of the canteen supervisors were cordon blue so the catering, done in another hut, was good as school meals go, and Miss Whitmore used to bring her children in from the infant school in Arrington.
During my time the infant class was organised to take children from the earliest admission age, and we also inherited the seniors from the school at Orwell, bringing us up to the 95-100 mark. The girls paid a weekly visit to a centre in Haslingfield ["actually we went to Comberton" - Irene Bruce] for domestic science (the head paying bus fares and reclaiming them monthly from Shire Hall), and a peripatetic woodwork teacher did two days a week with the boys.
Contact with Mrs Bambridge [the last private owner of Wimpole Hall] was negligible; she had never forgiven the authorities for siting the hospital where they did, without consulting her, and the arrival of the squatters was the last straw. She presented the village school with a Christmas tree each year, but would not give us one - "I have no quarrel with you personally, Mr Jordan, but those squatters have already had far too many of my trees unofficially to have another one for Christmas." No doubt they also made free with the game in the park, though I knew nothing of that. I did meet Mrs Bambridge once or twice and she was charming enough to me; had I known at the time whose daughter she was I might have cultivated her acquaintance more thoroughly as I am a keen fan of Kipling's works.
The end of the school began with the opening of Bassingbourn Village College and we lost our seniors in July 1954. There was obviously no future for me; the Local Education Authority would have offered me an assistant's post on head's salary until a vacancy turned up, but I managed to find a village school in Norfolk, closer to my ageing and ailing parents in Norwich.
I hope this doesn't give you the idea that I was unhappy at Wimpole Park. At times the going was very, very tough but we had some very good times too, and the experience was invaluable."


Wimpole Park School
Pupil Groups 1948/55
Wimpole Park School Pupils, Intake Class c1950 Wimpole Park School Pupils, Junior Class c1951
Wimpole Park School Pupils, Senior Class c1951 Wimpole Park School Pupils, Senior Class, 10 July 1953
Intake, c1950/51  
    Seniors, 1950/51  
  Juniors, 1950/51
  Seniors, 10 July 1953

Wimpole Park School Rounders Team
1953

Wimpole Park School Rounders Team 1953 Wimpole Park School Rounders Team 1953
Back (standing): Miss Ellam (Teacher)
Second row (standing, left to right): Olga Lowe, Ann (Nancy) Presland, Mary Carter,
Irene Lowe
, Eleanor Smith.
Front row (sitting on grass, left to right):
Jennifer Webb
, Margaret Green, Sheila Lewis, Barbara Chapman, Ruth Jacobs.
(Photographed at Comberton)
Back row (standing left to right):
Jean Clark, Irene Lowe, Barbara Chapman, Margaret Green, Rosemary Mills,
Ann
(Nancy) Presland, Mary Carter.
Front row (sitting on grass, left to right):
Jennifer Webb, Sheila Lewis, Ruth Jacobs.

(Photographed at Comberton)
Wimpole Park School Rounders Team 1953
Back row (standing, left to right): Maureen Purdy, Irene Lowe,
Ann Presland
, Christine Arnold.
Front row (kneeling on grass, left to right): Barbara Chapman,
Rose-Mary Bullen
, Marjorie Chapman, Valerie Lewis, Margaret Green.
Photographs kindly loaned by Irene Bruce (née Lowe), January 2004.
The names were written on the reverse back in 1953.


An Old Wimpole Childhood
Wimpole Park School Remembered
by Irene Bruce (née Lowe)
[Written in 2004]
In September 1949, my parents, myself and two sisters, Barbara and Olga, moved from Derbyshire to a smallholding. It was called "Ethelbert" down Mill Lane, Arrington. At that time it was an asbestos 3-bedroomed shack with no water or electricity. Paraffin lamps were used and drinking water was carried from a standpipe in the farmyard across the road. There was only one fireplace with an oven at the side and nobody used the big room in the winter. We only passed through to go to bed.
Why on earth my father got the idea of running a smallholding from, I'll never know. He was not a businessman, he had three young daughters, a townie wife and only one leg. If the stump got sore or chafed by his stumpsock becoming hot and sweaty, he couldn't wear his leg again until it had healed up.
After a week we enrolled at Wimpole Park School. My youngest sister Olga should have gone to the Infant School in the village with Mrs Whitmore but they allowed us all to be together. I remember being disgusted at being in the same class as my two sisters. Miss Barbara Jones was the teacher in that class. I have to say it was a backward step as regards education because it was very elementary as far as I was concerned but they would not place me in the second class. I was not old enough!
In due course I joined Mr Alan Jordan's class. That was boring too. There were several diversions with various student teachers practising on us. One of them, a Mr Ouseman (I think) was giving us a lecture on the bible and started talking about Jordan - the dirty old River Jordan... I think he lost control of us for a while that day!
It must be mentioned that we had a black and white Welsh Border Collie called Bob and when it was almost time for us to come home from school he used to leave home and walk down to Arrington village. His first call was Huddlestones Stores to see if we were there and then back up to the school to meet us. Later on when we had moved to Ross Farm Cottage, Old Wimpole, he used to follow us to school. We would stop and send him home. When we were out of sight Bob used to sneak down the field at the other side of the hedge. This happened a number of times and he would eventually end up outside the school and lie outside the french window of my class room until playtime. Mr Jordan got fed up of sending me home with him and eventually allowed him in the classroom where he would lie at the side of my desk. Occasionally he would get up and have a walk around us and then come back to his place by me. He also used to come to Church with me, and lie there. He was my constant companion and I was heartbroken when Bob just disappeared one night. We think he was shot. He hated guns and went frantic until the gun was put down.
Before the Americans returned to Wimpole Park [in 1952] we were able to use the spinney opposite the school as part of our playing area. Once they came it was all fenced off and we had a very restricted area. However I think the windows of the NCO club were protected from our ball games.

Wimpole Park School Pupils, Senior Class, 10 July 1953

John Mitchell and Class, 10 July 1953
Irene Lowe is standing on the far right of the third row back

After Mr Jordan's class we eventually moved to Mr John Mitchell's Class. I think he tried to train us as under some military principles. Certainly he did with P.T. [physical training]. Of course by then the older girls went by bus to Comberton once a week for cookery lessons. What an escape that was! I wonder if we learned anything.
After John Mitchell we had Mrs Dorothy Mansfield, an ex-Naval Officer in the Wrens. Mrs Mansfield started up an evening youth club for us once a week and also used to take us to the Green Plunge swimming pool in Royston in the summer. Miss Ellam who replaced Miss Jones used to take the girls for needlework lessons and I believe a Mr Street (?) used to come in to teach the older boys woodwork. The school put on the usual Nativity play with carols at Christmas and we had a Christmas party.
There were school sports days which were usually held on the cricket field/cow meadow at Arrington. Wimpole Park School used to take part in area and county sports. There were also the rounders teams which used to play against other schools.
Sometimes a trip was arranged to the London Museums or other similar places. This was a rare event as saving up the money for such a trip was very difficult. We used to take a packed lunch and of course the coach trip was a rare occasion for us. I think the only other coach trip we went on was the Sunday School Outing.
After we moved to Ross Farm Cottage, we were given Council school bikes, always bone-shakers, and if they needed to be repaired we took them down to Mr Horsefield's garage at Wimpole. Many's the time freewheeling down Hoddy Doddy Hill [local name for the narrow road from the corner by New Farm, down past the folly to Wimpole Home Farm. A 'hoddy doddy' is local slang for 'snail'.] we and the bikes came to grief. Either because the brakes didn't work or a tractor and trailer or combine were in the way.
Mostly we went to school through Wimpole Park but we weren't supposed to unless we were on foot. If we saw Mrs Bambridge we used to get off and walk. It was not unknown for her to put her shooting stick through the spokes of a wheel. Mr mother did write to her requesting permission to cycle through the park rather than use the main road. It was refused. Of course, if one of our bikes was out of action then we would ride two up with one another.
About once a year, a dentist would visit the school with a caravan. His name was Mr Toller ("Mr Toller makes you holler!"). Another thing was the periodical inspection by the "NIT" nurse. Usually Nurse Wentweed or Nurse Jarman who were District Nurses and midwives. There was also the daily issue of malt and cod liver oil for certain children.
School dinners were cooked in a building away from the school and monitors were detailed to collect the dinners in big containers and the empty containers were taken back again on a big trolley. It's a wonder any of the crockery ever survived. It was not unknown for a trolley to tip over due to going too fast and riding on it.
In those days the elder children were allowed time off school for the potato harvest. Wonderful to earn some money. I went in 1953 but I think it was stopped after that.
Needless to say I failed my 11+ much to the surprise of my teachers and although I re-sat at 13 and passed the exam, I failed the interview. On being asked if my father could afford my books I said "no". I have to say my parents were very upset but it was the truth. My father was off work for about 2 years after an appendix operation - he had a large wound because the appendix had curled round and stuck to his liver. Horrendous - so many times he put his artificial leg on and it pulled the wound open again.
It was after this that my father worked for the Americans at Wimpole Park on the Emergency Standby Unit for the Hospital. Other people worked on the unit as well but one night when the power went off there was no one who knew how to operate the changeover and they had to send for my father. It was a wild and windy night and we lived in a cottage up a track rutted by tractors. They used a jeep with a driver and a Mr Cox who knew where we lived and there was such a commotion! The woods and fields lit up from the jeep's headlights and Mr Cox getting out and falling in the mud and shouting "Shit, bloody shit" and quite a lot more but we didn't hear all of it. Of course, my father had to put his leg on before he got dressed by torch light, while Mum scuttled around lighting the lamps. Eventually off they went and Dad started the generator to return the power. Unfortunately, because of that lapse of time a young woman died. Of course, there was an enquiry and appropriate action was taken. I don't recall hearing the ladies name and no enquiry was going to bring her back.
My father was asked to go with the Americans when they left to some other base but my mother didn't want to go.
Roberts Transport Cafe used to be on the Old North Road [A1198] where Jack's Hill was. Another transport cafe was run by Dolly Folbigg at Arrington Bridge. We used to bike down there and buy crisps, sweets or a drink and then go and sit on the bridge wall. Just before Roberts Cafe was another Tea Room. We used to go to the back door to take our shoes to be mended by Mr Reed who was deaf and dumb.
A doctor's surgery used to be held in a house in Arrington village, or in the Park. About once a week there was a film show in Arrington Village Hall where we all sat on hard wooden chairs. Often the film used to break down. There also used to be dances in the Hall. Hard seats around the walls, a little band, some french chalk on the floor and the youngsters from the local villages in their finery. Most of us had to walk or cycle home. If we went to Royston or Cambridge, we used to leave our bikes in Bernard Newell's blacksmith shed next to the Post Office run by Miss Newell. I think she was a sister or aunt. Bernard Newell lived at the top of Arrington Hill and kept greyhounds.
At the bottom of the hill next to Arrington Hill there is a drainage channel under the road. We used to be able to stand up and run through there shouting naughty rhymes at the top of our voices. It echoed too.
One incident that happened at "our" entrance to the woods was a car set on fire. We were coming home with our dog and saw an American go into the woods at the top of the hill. Nothing new, but on reaching our corner saw the car alight. We looked in and under it and then moved away as it really got going and a tyre burnt. We went to the farm to phone for the fire engine then home to say what was happening and then back down to the road to wait for the fire engine and the fun! Gamlingay fire engine came out and the American crew. Talk about panic "stand back, stand back!" - checking it over - "everything under control". Repeatedly. Not listening to what we were telling them. My mother made tea in the milk churn for the fireman which we took down the woods in relays and collected more water to make more tea. Someone told us to be careful going through the woods because of the loose American but, as a fireman said, no one would touch us with Bob around (True! Even Mum couldn't smack us because he'd go between her and us, although he never bit anyone.) My father was told to make sure we did not talk about the incident with the car. Never found out the reason why.
Then there was the episode of Eileen Wright from Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire, my mother's home town. My mother met her on Hoddy Doddy hill. She had walked from Old North Road Railway Station and was looking for Wimpole Park USAF Hospital. She was pregnant and looking for her boyfriend. My mother bought her home and next day they, Mum and Dad, took her down to the Park. She did find her boyfriend and she stayed with us for several weeks and he also came up to our home to see her. Eventually he was court-martialled and she had to go back home. The morning she was going she hung about until Mum went to the farm to work and when we came home we found she had stolen our best clothes. We hadn't much anyway and then stealing from people who had provided her with a bed and shared our food with her was very upsetting. She never carried a bucket of drinking water from the farm or did any work and we had resented that. I didn't like her. Mum was too soft.
I recall the vicar coming visiting up the woods and he sat on the settee. Unfortunately he sat on a broken spring that stuck through sometimes and he kept fidgeting. It was hard not to laugh and even more so when several kittens came up out of a hole in the box arm of the settee.
One of my cousins saw a cow being milked for the first time and said "don't you pull the tail?" Denis nearly choked trying to bury his head in the cow while we heathens just roared. Another townie cousin asked where were the Indians in the woods!

My father once saw a gamekeeper standing in the hedge opposite our bedroom window. Never drew the curtains did we three girls getting undressed by lamplight. Dad was furious with us for not closing the curtains and said he'd scare him. He then went and emptied the lavatory bucket where the man had been standing.

Sometimes the water from the pond came as far as the gate to the back door. The pond is still there but the house isn't - it can be seen on the old ordnance survey maps.
Drinking water and milk was carried from the farm and there were tanks around the house to catch rainwater for washing and cleaning. Sometimes pond water was used. There was no electricity. Bread, coal, groceries and similar things were left in a box at the end of the wood. Money was left too. The post we used to collect from New Farm. 'Spare time' up Wimpole Woods was spent getting wood for the fire and sawing and chopping it. It kept us warm though and kept the woods clear of all the rotting trees that are there now.
My mother had a very hard life but she was loving and kind to everybody. I will never ever match up to her. As children we had a wonderful carefree life with lots of freedom and a loving home. No mod cons, only hand-me-down clothes, very few toys. A pack of cards and a few games and, if we were lucky, a cake once a week. But we were happy, fit and healthy.

Can anyone positively identify which is the Wimpole Park School classroom hut (or huts) on the right-hand aerial photograph above?
The two aerial images above are from the National Trust's collection and only freely available as low-resolution images to the size shown. Does anyone have larger high-resolution images free of any copyright or licensing complications that I could use?
Please get in touch if you have any other photographs, even if only snapshots, that would help illustrate life at Wimpole Park and the school between 1944-1959.

Panorama of the Wimpole Park Site 2002Panorama of the Wimpole Park Site 2002Panorama of the Wimpole Park Site 2002
A winter panorama (2002) across the location of Wimpole Park panning around from due north to due south-east. Wimpole Hall is just visible on the centre horizon. The central clump of trees can be identified in the middle of the hospital complex in both the WW2 aerial images and in the two 'huts' photographs above.


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