Between 1962 and 1969 I commuted to secondary school across North Hertfordshire – between Letchworth and Stevenage, about 10 miles each way, 100 miles a week, 4000 miles a year, over 25000 miles in all. The commute took nearly 90 minutes, each way.
The school was The Technical Grammar School, Stevenage, which in 1963 became The Nobel Grammar School, Stevenage. It was a new school – it had opened in 1961 and for the first year of its existence the school shared buildings with Stevenage Girls’ Grammar School nearby. The school where I attended for those 7 years, in Telford Avenue, wasn’t opened until 1962.
I wasn’t the only one from Letchworth – there were four of us – me, Les Stewart, Pete Belcher & Richard Gibbas – all from the Grange Estate. Initially we caught a bus to Letchworth Station, then the train to Stevenage, then a bus from Stevenage Station (which, in those days, was in Stevenage Old Town) to the town centre and finally another bus to Six Hills Way. From the bus stop in Six Hills Way we walked via Fry Road and in the back entrance to school. In later years we walked from the Grange to Letchworth Station, as the bus which we caught was the ‘works’ bus and detoured around Icknield Way, Green Lane and Works Road on its way to the station. It could sometimes be quicker to walk!
My mother would wake me at 6.30 and the bus to the station was around 7.10. If we were lucky we’d catch the 7.25 train to Stevenage. If not, the 7.40 would still get us to school on time. On the train we’d meet Tony Morfett who was in the year above us. He came all the way from Bygrave, on the other side of Baldock and had to cycle all the way down to Baldock Station, to catch the train. The train home left Stevenage around 4.15 and I’d usually be home by 5.00.
In the early days the suburban trains to school were quite basic. The locomotives were often a BR Class 20 (D8000 class, at the time), which were designed for freight use and I can distinctly remember some of the coaches being articulated – I think that they were originally 3rd Class coaches before 3rd Class were withdrawn. They were certainly uncomfortable, with hard, bench seats. We often shared homework notes on the train (and sometimes on the buses as well).
Unusually at the time, the school started and finished early – 8.35 for registration and assembly, with the first lesson (I think) at 8.55. The school week had 39 lessons of 40 minutes each – 8 lessons Monday to Thursday and 7 lessons on Friday. On the Monday to Thursdays we initially finished at 3.35 but, during the hard winter of 1962/3 we were allowed to leave 5 minutes early at 3.30 and this stayed the same way for the rest of my time there. Fridays were an early 2.55 finish. I can remember during that cold winter we once had to walk from Bedwell to school as the bus wasn’t able to get up the hill from Bedwell Crescent to Six Hills Way.
If you were interested in trains it was an interesting time to travel to school on British Railways. Steam locomotives were still in use and on the way home we were sometimes able to catch an express train (often pulled by the class A4 (Streaks) or class A3) between Stevenage and Hitchin, before getting off and changing for the branch line to Letchworth. Later, British Rail would be testing their prototype diesel locomotives “Lion” and “Falcon” on the line out of Kings Cross and we could spot these quite a way away, due to their distinctive colours – Lion was white and Falcon a 2-tone beige.
Sometimes we had sports events after school, such as swimming competitions (the school had a swimming pool) and cross country running. I’d get home pretty late from these – yet we were still expected to get our homework done for the following morning. I was quite good at rugby and would sometimes go to Stevenage on a Saturday for inter-schools rugby matches, too. Once we had to clear the snow from the white lines around the pitch before we could start playing!
Because most of my friends were from Stevenage, in later years I’d go back to Stevenage on a Friday evening too – to the youth club in Stevenage old town.
I don’t remember my parents being at all concerned about us youngsters spending so much time on our own, travelling across the county. Things were different then.