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Looking back at the first day nurseries in Stafford

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: May 11, 2014

Riverside Day Nursery in the 1950s

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TODAY’S parents don’t need to give the care of their very young children a second thought . . . childcare in the guise of day nurseries or preschool playgroups will take care of their little ones while they work to boost the family budget.

But it wasn’t always like that and in the years following the Second World War, children could be assured that before attending school at the age of five and for several years afterwards, mum would be at home.

But there were exceptions as women increasingly entered the world of work and parents faced the dilemma of placing their young ones in the care of grandparents - if they were still alive - or day nurseries.

In the aftermath of war, of course, some families were left without a breadwinner and mum had no choice but to work; a few parents saw a job for mum as a means of improving their standard of living.

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The war years had seen many women doing men’s jobs and as the UK got back on its feet after the weariness of war, women no longer expected to stay at home but wished to improve their lot.

Local authorities, such as Stafford Town Council - as it was then known - stepped in and provided day nurseries such as one which was located in a field behind the Royal Brine Baths and South Walls.

For about 14 shillings a week (70p), youngsters received the best possible care and meals while their mothers worked in an increasing variety of jobs - shop work and nursing had hitherto been the stark choice for most girls leaving school.

The new day nursery was called, appropriately, the Riverside Day Nursery, sitting beside the River Sow, with the Bridge Street car park and the old British Restaurant on the opposite bank.

British Restaurants, incidentally, were set up as a wartime measure to provide good cheap meals for the local population and Stafford’s facility would be replaced in later years by the Tesco superstore and its car park.

The Riverside Day Nursery was not early years education as such but in many respects children attending got used to the idea of interacting with each other as they played and shared resources which in today’s digital age would be regarded as basic.

Caring for the children would be the whole team of nursery nurses including Doreen Godridge whose husband, Terry, provides us with an insight into life at the Riverside nursery in the mid-1950s in a series of photographs.

Children play happily in the sandpit, with hoops (they were not called hula hoops in those days), spinning tops, toy wheelbarrows and, as a treat, they watched with fascination as police horses were exercised in the field adjacent - the police stables were based in nearby North Walls.

On warm summer afternoons, camp beds laden with blankets would be taken outside for children to have their afternoon nap - the idea was not confined to nurseries, of course, and many children of the 1950s may recall being told to rest their heads on desks for a 15-minute nap.

Terry Godridge recalls that the adjacent field was known as the Death Meadow, with others telling of its reputation among young footballers for the amazing amount of debris, including glass, which had to be cleared before a match.

Times change and day nurseries, no longer the responsibility of local authorities, have gradually been taken over by private enterprise hopefully offering the kind of happy carefree days suggested by these photographs from 1953-54.

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