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Slate and chalk, and tiny classrooms - memories of historic Sheffield school show how much education in city has changed

Harriet Dowson, who attended Heeley National School as a young girl
Harriet Dowson, who attended Heeley National School as a young girl
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A former pupil at one of Sheffield's oldest school buildings has spoken of her days there after The Star highlighted the parlous state of the historic premises.

The old Heeley National School building, on Gleadless Road, dates from 1801 and children are believed to have been educated at the site even earlier.

Heeley National School as it looked in 1986

Heeley National School as it looked in 1986

But it is in a sorry state, having been left to crumble for years, and campaigners say urgent action is needed to prevent it being lost forever.

READ MORE: Rallying cry to save one of Sheffield's oldest school buildings
Harriet Dowson attended the school during the 1920s, between the ages of three and five, and while her memories of that time are understandably sketchy she looks back fondly on her time there and says it would be a shame to see the building disappear.

The 96-year-old, now living in Arbourthorne, recalls using chalk and slate at the school, where she says she was one of about 60 children crammed into three small classrooms.

Her younger brother Bert also attended the school but she recalls how on his first day their mother dropped him off only to return home and find him waiting at the foot of the stairs having done a runner and beaten her back.

Harriet Dowson as a young woman

Harriet Dowson as a young woman

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"I remember it was very small and there were about three tiny rooms, with about 20 people in each class," said Harriet, who has two children, called Susan and Trevor, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

"We were still using chalk and slate at the time but then I went to Anns Road School, down the road, where we were given pencils and paper.

"I enjoyed my time there and I hope they can do something with the building rather than pulling it down."

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Harriet, who was the second youngest of 11 siblings, was born on Denmark Road, in Heeley, in one of a short row of houses intriguingly named the Canary Islands.

Harriet Dowson at work as a buffer girl at George Butlers (pic: Vincent Malone)

Harriet Dowson at work as a buffer girl at George Butlers (pic: Vincent Malone)

She later moved with her family to a long since-demolished dance hall at the foot of Myrtle Road, which reputedly had a tunnel leading to Manor Lodge, and she has lived at her current home since leaving there during the 1960s.

Her father Richard worked for English Steel in Attercliffe and her mum had a fruit shop. Times were hard growing up but she insists she 'had it easy' compared with her elder brothers and sisters, most of whom were already earning a living by the time she started school.

She began work aged 14 as a buffer girl for the cutlery firm James Ryals, which later merged with George Butlers, and she stayed with the firm for 50 years, first at Sidney Street and then at a new factory near Meadowhall - only quitting to care for her late husband Harry, a plumber and driver, who died of cancer in his 60s.

She described the work, which left her fingers permanently crooked due to the hours spent grasping the equipment, as 'mucky' but enjoyable thanks to her 'lovely' colleagues.

Heeley National School as it looks today

Heeley National School as it looks today

Harriet, who has always been a big movie fan, remembers running home from the cinema in Heeley bottom during the Second World War when the air raid siren sounded, and narrowly avoiding falling incendiary bombs which sent trams up in flames.

She and her family took shelter in the cellar of their Myrtle Road home, which she recalls as a creepy rat-infested place, though thankfully the rodents scarpered when they were startled by the noise of the bombing.

CareTech Community Services, which holds the lease for the Heeley National School building, says it has no plans for the premises.

It had been given the go-ahead to demolish the building and replace it with homes for adults with learning disabilities but work never began as the anticipated demand failed to materialise, and planning permission has since expired.

Harriet Dowson and her husband Harry on their wedding day

Harriet Dowson and her husband Harry on their wedding day

Harriet Dowson with colleagues at George Butlers

Harriet Dowson with colleagues at George Butlers

Harriet Dowson's former family home on Myrtle Road, in Heeley (pic: Vincent Malone)

Harriet Dowson's former family home on Myrtle Road, in Heeley (pic: Vincent Malone)