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“The events of the week had definitely put the College on the map. It might be praised, it might be attacked, but it could not now be ignored.” - W.R. Bray, author of The Country Should be Grateful, 1947.


Shortly after the Official Opening of the South-West Essex Technical College, an Open Day was held on Saturday 4th March 1939. The exhibitions and demonstrations that had been set up for the Official Opening were once again used, this time to show the public what was on offer.

It was a long day that stretched well into the evening. The public were able to tour College facilities such as, Common Room, Swimming Baths, Laboratories (science and engineering), Art Rooms and Library. Demonstrations were held across the College’s curriculum including, oxy-acetylene and arc welding, cabinet making, glassblowing, beekeeping, pottery and jewellery & silversmithing. And a variety of exhibitions were on display including, the evolution of Walthamstow, historical maps, drawing & art and first year plumbing work (South-West Essex Technical College & School of Art Open Day, 1939).

In the afternoon and continuing into the evening, the College Hall came alive to performances by the orchestra, conducted by Mr L.J. Dyer, playing works by Wagner and Mozart among others. After the musical performances, a gymnastics display was held followed by a one act play of ‘A Quaker Wooing’ by the Dramatic Society. The first floor also showed a series of films up until 8:30pm, and when it was dark, lantern talks on travel and transport were given (South-West Essex Technical College & School of Art Open Day, 1939).

The day turned out to be a major success and probably pushed the building to limits it hasn’t seen since (with the possible exception of bomb damage during World War 2). The phrase, ‘if you build it, they will come’, fits the College perfectly. For years, the people of Walthamstow had watched this huge College being built before them, their curiosity building with it, until the doors were finally opened. W.R. Bray (1947, p.11) claims that the Open Day had 25,000 visitors. It must have felt like an army was invading the College, a precursor to what was to come during the war. The visitors came by every mode of transport possible, foot, bike, bus, train and of course, car. Vehicles overflowed from the College’s private road and were parked the length of Forest Road from Wood Street to the Bell.

How much each individual saw at the event can only be guessed and how the floors survived under the weight of 25,000 marching pairs of feet is a testament to the build quality. In the end, the day had a huge impact on the College, as W.R. Bray (1947, p.11) says, “Those who stayed behind to put things straight felt that the events of the week had definitely put the College on the map. It might be praised, it might be attacked, but it could not now be ignored.”


Updates:

First published: 27/01/2021


Reference list:

Bray, W.R., (1947). The Country Should be Grateful - The War-time History of the South-West Essex Technical College and School of Art. Walthamstow: The Walthamstow Press Ltd.

South-West Essex Technical College & School of Art Open Day, (1939). Programme of the Exhibition of Work. [Leaflet obtained in College Records], 14 January 2021


 Researched and written by Thomas Barden

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