St. Gregory’s Primary School, Camberley

Several years after my old Surrey junior school – St. Tarcisius in Knoll Road, Camberley – was demolished and replaced by a housing estate, I reflected sadly that I hadn’t been back to photograph it properly: something which is even more disappointing given the apparent complete lack of any historical photos of the school online. So, when I heard of the great ruckus surrounding the potential demolition of my pre-junior school (now owned by a Bengali association), I decided to return while I was in the U.K. to make sure that I had some photos to remember it by.

The owners of the building had already received the provisional go-ahead from the local council to demolish the victorian, red brick buildings but after the plans were made public, local residents and concerned parties – apparently excluding the neighbouring Royal Military Academy, who the press had seemed to think would object most strongly to mosque towers overlooking their secure premises – complained to such a degree that the permission was revoked again by the council. This about-turn after discussion by the local council was well-received and it will be interesting to see how the owners now proceed with their intention to improve the facilities for their members.

As you can see in a couple of the photographs, building work had already begun to some extent in the rear of the building before permission was rescinded: a new concrete platform has replaced the rear playground and an additional toilet block and bicycle shed, while what was once a wonderful forest play area, littered with pine needles and large hollowed-out tree trunks, is now nothing but a muddy extension to the car park. I can certainly see the point of view of the association that the building is in dire need of improvement. The photos of the interior – grabbed at arm’s length through high windows – show how the rooms are still largely as I remember them in the late 1970s: even to the extent of intact climbing bars in the school hall, which swing out at 90° from the wall; the kitchen hatch from which we used to collect our half pint milk bottles; and a blackboard in one of the remaining classrooms. Let us hope that the monies set side for the building of a new mosque will instead be spent on renovation of this historic building.