Betty Layward primary school celebrates namesake's 100th birthday - with four generations of her family
PUBLISHED: 20:03 10 November 2017 | UPDATED: 17:15 13 November 2017
betty layward school
To mark what would have been her 100th birthday, the son of Betty Layward tells Emma Bartholomew how proud the veteran governor she would have been to have a school named after her.
Betty Layward Primary School celebrated marked what would have been its namesake’s 100th birthday by inviting 20 members of her family to a party – and eating her favourite lunch.
Youngsters and teachers at the school in Clissold Road, Stoke Newington, learned about Betty’s life in a special assembly where a video of her 102-year-old sister Netta, who lives in Israel, was played.
Four generations of Betty’s family then toured the school, including her two sons Ellis, 68, and Michael, 65, her sister Carol, 87, her 92-year-old cousin Ena, grandsons Mark and Mani, and six-month-old great-grandaughter Nina Betty.
They unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion, before sitting down to Betty’s favourite meal: roast chicken followed by jam tart.
Betty was a tireless supporter of education in Hackney, firmly believing in every child’s right to a quality education. When she died aged 80, she was governor of three special needs schools: Richard Cloudesley in the City of London; Horizon, which used to be in Wordsworth Road, Stoke Newington; and Crusoe House in Hoxton.
Betty was born on November 1, 1917, to an Orthodox Jewish family in Hove. They moved to Stamford Hill where her father ran a grocery shop and Betty attended Craven Park School in Leadale Road.
The family moved to Willesden when she was in her 20s where her father also had a grocery shop, and Betty worked for a furniture company in Edmonton. She met her future husband Leslie through his brother, but the war intervened and he was sent to the Middle East to be in the Royal Air Force.
Betty had always wanted to be a nurse but her father apparently didn’t think it was a “suitable job for a middle class girl”. But once the war broke out she was able to take up the job as a volunteer and spent four years nursing injured servicemen at hospitals in Buckinghamshire.
When Leslie returned from service the pair got engaged and married in 1947, and opened a furniture shop in Stoke Newington High Street together.
They were both involved in local politics and through this got involved in becoming governors of schools. Betty, who was about 60 at the time, developed a strong interest in schooling children with special needs and disabilities.
Her son Ellis told the Gazette: “I think it’s possible people just asked if she would like to be a governor, and I know being one myself it’s hard to find people who are willing to be governors. People want to be governors at high achieving schools in the public eye rather than those that aren’t highly thought of.
“Once she went along she saw how much work was being done at the special needs schools, and decided someone needed to speak out for these kids and teachers.”
He continued: “All the schools she was associated with were for children with severe physical or emotional and behavioural problems. I just think she realised that too often these children didn’t get a fair crack at the whip when it came to education funding or generally how they were perceived by the public or educational establishment. She fought strongly to make sure they were well funded and that the work the teaching staff did was recognised as being of a high standard.”
She died in January 1998, and two years later the council decided to name the first primary school that had been opened in the borough for a long time after her.
Ellis said: “We were really touched, and it was very emotional for all of us. It took away some of the sadness over her death that she was being honoured in such a unique way.”
Betty tragically died after being robbed in the street by a youth who had seen her pick up her pension from the Post Office.
Ellis said: “He followed her around the corner and tried to grab her handbag, and being Betty she fought back. He let go and she fell back and hit her head and she never regained consciousness.”
He feels very proud of his mum, and Betty’s whole family found it “wonderful” to celebrate her life with the pupils and teachers.
“We have always kept a close family relationship with the school because it’s so unusual to have a school named after a person who is only recently deceased,” said Ellis. “Usually it’s someone who died hundreds of years ago. We always enjoy visiting, but her 100th birthday event was very special.
“I think my mother would have been really, really honoured and I suspect very emotional about the whole thing and pleased to have some recognition of the work she has done.”