Chapter 3: Construction - The first instalment

October 1961 was a turning point in the fortunes of Chancellor's School. It witnessed the meeting in Brookmans Park Golf Club at which the sale of the land was agreed in principle and the Report to the County's Education Committee stating that from l963 the children from the rural areas of the Mid Herts Division could no longer be accommodated in Hatfield Secondary Schools. It marked the end of the old struggles and the start of the new reality.

The speed at which everything happened from that date can only be attributed to the careful and innovatory planning on the part of the Education and Architect's Departments of Hertfordshire County Council. This was a process that these two departments had perfected over the previous seventeen years.

As has been outlined in proceeding chapters the County had been working to a Development Plan of needs as perceived in 1947. Obviously not all projects could be undertaken at once for financial reasons. Also the lack of building materials and skilled labour in the immediate post-war years imposed their own limitations.

The County devised a scheme to tackle the Development Plan which was novel in its time and was so successful that it was adopted nationally later. The scheme had two strands. The first involved drawing up a list of priorities and working to a Building Programme which could rely upon a planned supply of materials and expenditure. The second was the development of a building system which was relatively cheap and quick to assemble.

This scheme came about largely through the meeting of two minds: Mr. John Newsom, County Education Officer, and Captain Stirrat Johnson-Marshall, Deputy County Architect. John Newsom was anxious to get to grips with the implementation of the 1944 Act and obtain the best-designed schools for his County. Johnson-Marshall was interested in developing architecture in socially desirable ways. The ambitious building programmes being planned by Newsom needed a new way of approaching architecture and building in order to be achieved.

Until 1945 Hertfordshire had no independent Architect's Department. This was set up under the leadership of the first County Architect, C. H. Aslin. It was Aslin who appointed Johnson-Marshall as his deputy later in 1945. As the Department had many calls on its services Aslin was prepared to give Johnson-Marshall a free-hand in designing schools and in masterminding the schools programme.

What Johnson-Marshall was responsible for was the introduction of an industrialised building system which was constructed in factories and assembled on site. It required a unique working partnership between the architects at County Hall and the manufacturers of the system. It involved the introduction of standardised parts such as windows and doors which could be purchased in bulk. Assembly on site rather than building on site reduced labour and building time. All combined to reduce the cost of new schools in Hertfordshire and, most of all, save time.

This did not mean that all schools had to look the same, however. Each school could be designed according to the needs of its pupils and the site. The secret of this adaptability was a grid system of planning using a light steel frame construction.

One of the ways in which time could be saved using this system as opposed to traditional building methods was on the foundation work. A solid foundation was not necessary. Instead, at the base of each vertical steel support of the structural frame, a concrete pad only was needed as a foundation. Thus the man-days necessary to build a new school were reduced from 7,448 for a traditionally built school to 4,378.5 for the new steel grid system school.

The design teams at County Hall started by using an 83" grid, experimented with a 3/4" grid and eventually settled on a 2'8" grid before they joined in partnership with the Ministry of Public Building and Works, and the counties of Kent and Essex to form the South-Eastern Architects' Collaboration (SEAC) in 1963. SEAC developed various systems known as "Marks", As will be shown Chancellor's School buildings incorporate a range of these different development stages which explains the lack of uniformity of design between the teaching blocks.

Johnson-Marshall left Hertfordshire County Council in 1948 to become Chief Architect to the Ministry of Education but the system he inspired was perfected and refined by many able Hertfordshire architects after him. The building programme using the new system began in 1947 and was so successful that by the autumn of 1954 the 100th new school was completed in Hertfordshire. But this was not without setbacks and it was the continual pressure by John Newsom on the Ministry of Education that made sure that the momentum was maintained.

Some idea of the setbacks encountered can be obtained from the Report to the County's Education Committee in April 1952. The new Conservative Government put an embargo on starting dates for school building projects from October 1951, when they were elected, until spring 1952. The 1952/53 Building Programme was cancelled although it had previously been approved by the Ministry of Education. Housing was the major priority at the time. The Committee were informed that "the national shortage of steel and the steel rationing scheme has made it not only more difficult to build future schools but has already had the effect of slowing up a number of schools now under construction". These delays caused the loss of 1,200 Secondary school places in Hertfordshire alone.

This situation continued on and off throughout the 1950s. In 1959 the Government issued a White Paper "Secondary Education for All - A New Drive"; in an attempt to cope with the overcrowding in many of the Country's secondary schools. The County's Education Committee discussed their response to this document in December 1959. It noted that "As a result of the Ministry of Education limitations on the 1960-62 school programme, it is expected that at least 75 per cent of the Secondary schools in Hertfordshire will be overcrowded in 1962-63 by Ministry standards".

The Committee approved a list of projects to relieve this overcrowding for the period 1962-65. It included a three-form-entry Secondary Modern School for Brookmans Park for 450 pupils. In September 1960 the County's Education Secondary Sub-Committee were informed that approval had been received from the Ministry of Education for this project in the 1962-63 Major Building Programme at an estimated cost of £165,880.

At last all the disparate issues behind the building of a new school were coming together. In May 1961 the Secondary subcommittee discussed the Governing Body of the proposed Secondary School at Brookmans Park and a complete specification of its accommodation. This included an Assembly Hall, Gymnasium, and Library. staff and administration rooms, 24 classrooms for geography, music, needlework, general science. metalwork, woodwork, housecraft, art and craft. All this was in the one L-shaped block with an area of 39,202 square feet. Provision for a youth wing was also included.

The estimated cost of the project was as follows:

Buildings - £166,160
Site works, roads, paving, etc - £18.145
Caretaker's house - £3,200
FE accommodation - £1,750
Youth wing - £13,851
Private Architect's fees - £9,600
Quantity Surveyor's fees - £7,800
Clerk of Work's salary - £1,200
Layout of grounds and planting - £8,289
Furniture and equipment - £19,774
Kitchen equipment - £ 2,849
Dining furniture - £638
Total - £253,256

The School would be built using a steel frame manufactured by Hills and Company of West Bromwich, a pioneer of this type of construction, with heating supplied by Andrews-Weatherfoil Ltd. (Heating).

In October 1961 the Mid Herts Divisional Executive was given a progress report. County had appointed an outside architect. Vine & Vine of Wood Green, which was normal practice for secondary school projects as a way of relieving the pressure of work in the Architect's Department. The working drawings were nearing completion. Planning approval had been granted by Hatfield District Council on 12th May 1961, despite some objections from local residents.

At this point the project suffered a slight hitch. The Ministry had given approval for an expenditure of £198,058 for building works. Nine tenders had been received ranging from £204,015 to £216,744. The lowest was from C. Miskin and Sons Ltd., of St. Albans. This was £5,957 in excess of the amount allowed by the Ministry. The cost of the project was considered unusually high due to abnormal items such as the high level of fencing and the external road charges imposed as a condition of sale of the land.

Reductions therefore had to be made. The contingency provision was reduced to £2,000, Minor amendments were made to the building specification and the scope of external works was reduced to bring the contract sum to the amount approved by the Ministry of Education. The County still had to find a further £3,045 from their own resources in order to proceed with the project at the earliest opportunity. This was in addition to an increase in the furniture costs by a further £1,988 already approved by the County in November 1962.

One other setback concerned the Youth Wing. The 1944 Education Act included the provision of community and youth centres. In May 1946 the Education Further Education subcommittee recorded that the "Ministry regard community centres as an essential part of the educational services of a locality and a normal responsibility of the Education Authority".

In March 1962 the Mid Herts Divisional Executive Further Education Sub-Committee received a Report about the provision of youth clubs in the Brookmans Park area. It stated that "the needs of young people in Brookmans Park were inadequately met by one Youth Club meeting in their own small club room adjoining St. Michaels Church and in private houses. The building of the school would enable this group to expand their specialised activities by making available to them its facilities". There were fourteen to twenty youths in the group. The Sub-Committee recommended that a Youth Wing be included in the proposed Brookmans Park Secondary School.

This was duly submitted to the Minister for inclusion in the 1963-64 Building Programme. In January 1963 the Minister's decision was reported to the Education Committee at County Hall. The Youth Wing was not to be proceeded with.

At the January 1963 meeting the Committee agreed to the extra expenditure, and work on the new school commenced in February of that year. The next problem was to decide on a name for the new Secondary Modern School in Brookmans Park. This subject was on the Agenda of the Mid Herts Divisional Executive Secondary Sub Committee in March 1963. There were two suggestions, "Gobions" and "Chancellor's".

At its next meeting in June 1963 the following was recorded in the subcommittee's Minutes: "The last meeting of the Committee recommended that the school be known as 'Gobions'." The Education Urgency Sub-Committee at County Hall declined to accept this recommendation at its June 1963 meeting however, and referred the matter back to the Divisional Executive so "that a more attractive title be selected". At the meeting of the Divisional Executive in July 1963 it was recommended "that the school be known as Chancellor's School".

There is some controversy locally as to how the School obtained its name. This relates to Brookmans Park being fortunate enough to have two Lord Chancellors associated with it, Sir Thomas More and John Lord Somers.

There is no evidence that Sir Thomas More ever lived in Brookmans Park but there is no doubt that his family owned a property, More Hall, which once stood on the land now known as Gobions Open Space. The More family’s interest lasted for nearly two hundred years, from 1500 to 1693, during which time it was temporarily confiscated by Henry VIII.

There is no question of the involvement of John Lord Somers in the Parish. He owned and lived at Brookmans House from 1701 until his death in 1716. He was buried in St. Mary's Church. North Mymms where there is a Memorial to him. Chancellor’s School was built on land that was part of the Brookmans House Estate and North Mymms Common. The Great North Road passed across the land between these two pieces of land until around 1851, when it was redirected to its present route.

The meeting of the County's Education Urgency Sub-Committee on 30th July 1963 settled the issue even if the evidence given for the choice of name was dubious. The Report stated that "The Divisional Executive have now reconsidered the matter, and in view of the fact that the house which stood on part of the site some 400 to 500 years ago was occupied by the Lord Chancellor of England in the reign of Henry VIII, now recommend that the school be known as Hatfield, Chancellor's Secondary School". This recommendation was duly approved.

Progress on the detailed arrangements for the organisation of the school now referred to as Chancellor's started in earnest. A governing body had to be constituted and nominations were sought. In December 1963 those nominated by the Mid Herts Divisional Executive were reported as Mrs. Kent-Lemon, The Rev. B. Tunstall and E. K. Atkinson. Those nominated by Hatfield Rural District Council were Cllr. Mrs. W. E. M. Peacock, Cllr. W. G. Humphrey and Cllr. C. S. Weedon. Mrs. P. Hughes, Mrs. J. M. B. Mackie and W. T. Rogers were nominated by the County Council. Their term of office commenced in January 1964.

One of the first tasks of the new Governing Body, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Graham Humphrey, was to appoint a headteacher. In March 1964 the County's Education Secondary Sub-Committee was informed that Mr. F. Maynard had been appointed from 1st September 1964. He was currently the Deputy Head of The Onslow School in Hatfield.

One of his first jobs was to decide upon a uniform and badge. Frank Maynard describes in an article how he tried in vain to draw a full-bottomed Lord Chancellor's wig - the school's chosen emblem. Eventually a sketch was donated by Ede and Ravenscroft, Robemakers to H. M. The Queen. Frank Maynard also recalls in the article his first four appointees to the teaching staff: Mr. David Johns. Head of English; Mr. David Noble, teacher of Technical Studies and Mathematics; Mr. Michael Gregory, teacher of Science and Mathematics; and Miss Marion Froggatt, teacher of Music and General subjects. These four were joined on the first day of the opening of the School by three part-time teachers: Mrs. Sylvia Martin, English, History and Needlework; Mrs. Audrey Elliott, Housecraft; and Mrs. Christa Turner, Physical Education. Mrs. B. Hill was the School Secretary. The Canteen Staff consisted of Mrs. D. D. Housden, Cook-in-Charge, with Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Holmes, kitchen assistants. Mr. G. J. N. Bates was the Schoolkeeper.

In September 1964 seventy-two children from Brookmans Park, North Mymms, Westfield. Essendon. Newgate Street, Northaw and Little Heath crossed the threshold. The organisation of the classes had been done to balance out abilities and achieve "a spread of children from the catchment area, so that the isolationism of the villages would be broken down and Chancellor's would become a community". This began a tradition that has continued to this day.

The end of the journey which had started twenty years before had been reached and the children of the rural communities of Mid Herts finally had the School they had waited so long for. But the completion of the building of the School as it is today still had a long way to go.