My earliest memories are from about 18 months old. I remember sitting at the bottom of the stairs of our home in Watford, playing with a jigsaw puzzle (with huge pieces). I could see into the living room where dad was chatting with his friend Mike. For many years, whenever I handled pieces of that jigsaw I could revisit that memory. These days I'm left with vague impressions, rather than a full memory. The other really early one was toilet training. I could tell mum when I needed to go to the toilet so dad bought me a pair of "proper knickers" as a present. Mum had put them on me, but I was so excited that I wet them almost at once. Mum was exasperated and put me into my cot because I'd been "naughty".
My primary school years were from 1970 to 1976 then secondary school was from 1976 to 1983. I didn't go to nursery school or "playgroup" and I don't think these were common back then. Most children stayed at home with their mothers until they started primary school at 5 years old. I learnt to read quite early - in fact I can't remember not being able to read! I had the Peter and Jane Ladybird books (only the "A" and "B" books and only up to book 10) and the Janet and John books.
I have plenty of fragmentary memories from my pre-school years. At Iver Heath, I had my own little rose garden with Fragrant Cloud, Blue Moon and Pink Peace. I remember when the cows got loose from Home Farm on the other side of our road and came into our front garden. I remember visiting a large white house with big lawns and my nan pushing me around the paths in my pushchair (I also walked and held her hand). There were walks with dad in the local park when he came home from work; we went to see the beautiful rhododendrons there (and give mum a break). Sometimes my parents took me to Denham and sat me on the wing of the Spitfire plane parked there. We weren't far from the Pinewood Studios area and I still see many of the locations (Burnham Beeches, Langley Park etc) in old films and TV series. The series "UFO" and parts of "Space 1999" were filmed there and some episodes feature the lake where I fed the ducks as a toddler.
With only BBC1, BBC2 and ITV and only limited children's programming, TV held less attraction for children, but sometimes I had to be kept amused when I couldn't play outdoors. I learnt to tell the time with the help of Play School. Watch with Mother at lunchtime and I particularly like The Herbs and Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green. The main children's programmes between 4 pm and 5.45 pm. Either "Blue Peter" or its ITV rival "Magpie" played a major part in most of my peer group's lives. For me, Blue Peter started off with Val Singleton and Christopher Trace, later Val, Peter Purves and John Noakes (Jason the Siamese cat, Petra and Patch the dogs). At a young age I had a Blue Peter jigsaw featuring the presenters and Blue Peter pets, then later I got Blue Peter books (annuals) for Christmas.
Other daytime programmes I watched included The Zoo Gang (I rather liked Barry Morse who later turned up in Space 1999), The Saint (serious crush on Roger Moore), The Persuaders, the Golden Shot (a games show), a series teaching yoga (which mum and I did together) and the horse racing. Thanks to horse racing I had a head start when we learnt ratios in maths at the age of 12 - mum had taught me to understand the racing odds that were displayed on screen and I knew what the return would be on a 10p stake at certain odds (except in ratios you don't get the stake money back and 1:1 isn't called Evens!). I remember cheering on various horses, especially if ridden by Lester Piggott or Sandy Barclay. Despite this, I don't gamble and have only ever placed 1 bet in my life.
With less TV for children we made out own entertainment for most of the day. I mostly played with Hot Wheels cars, Matchbox diecast vehicles, jigsaws and Lego or played in the back garden with my rocking horse "Rinty". I was a very bookish child and as well as young reader books I got Playhour comic each week, but later got Jack and Jill. These were all neatly filed away in a basket and re-read often. I also had some of dad's childhood books including a book about the different saints. I had several Enid Blyton books including her retelling of Brer Rabbit stories and her retelling of ancient myths. It was from those books that I learnt what a comma and a full-stop were for. By 4 years old I could read short articles in dad's copy of The Times; though I could read the words I had no idea what many of the concepts were, but I particularly remember reading that trade union leader Vic Feather had broken his ankle.
One day sticks in my memory for an odd reason. I was probably 4 years old and sitting in the bay window using a toy knitting machine. This was a plastic frame with two opposing rows of hooks that you looped wool over (one day I'll make one with wood and nails – they are great for making scarves). Late that afternoon, I realised that I could not remember anything of the day. It perplexed me. At the time I wondered if I had spent the whole day "knitting" which is entirely possible as I could "lose myself" in an activity. While there's much I can't remember, this particular absence of memory is troubling.
Both sets of grandparents and also my mum's sisters used to visit us and mum's dad taught me to play draughts. I also used to pester my aunts to play Ludo and Snakes and Ladders. One Christmas, Uncle Eric got me a Triang pedal go-cart which I loved. The frame could be extended as I grew so I was still playing with it when I was 10 years old.
On Sunday mornings I went to Sunday School at church. This was as much to give my parents a break (especially when my twin sisters were babies) as for religious instruction. Apparently I was very impressed when the Sunday School helper (whom my parents say I had a crush on) killed a wasp with his penknife. I can still remember my favourite Sunday School song "Store your pennies in the bank of heaven .... you will find them safely waiting for you, when you get to heaven .... one day". Many of the lessons were Aesop's Fables. I remember the monkey who was so greedy he got his hand stuck in a box because he wouldn't let go of the peas (The monkey and the King of Benares). Then one Sunday the story was about 2 apes that fell in quicksand and needed to hold onto something strong to save themselves. One ape held onto his own whiskers, sank and drowned. That one upset me so much I didn't want to go to Sunday School again.
When I was 5, everything changed and I started Primary School. I read in a psychology book that you never forget the first day at school because of the disorientation and being separated from your mother. I don't remember my first day at all! I was always a self-contained child and I'd sometimes spent whole days reading books or building Lego houses or playing Hot Wheels, and I don't remember missing mum at all. If anything, I'd found a place with lots more books to read and where I could make things from Plasticine without mum worrying it would get stuck in the carpet.
My family moved several times when I was a child because of dad's work. This meant I went to 3 Primary schools. One thing I have to make clear is that it simply isn't true that "children make friends easily." Primary school age children establish cliques that don't easily admit newcomers or outsiders. Newcomers are curiosities at first, but it's hard for them to join one of the cliques. Being a geeky child with poor social skills, not only was it hard to fit in, I was also an easy target for bullies.
Children's TV - 1970s and 1980s
Around mid-morning there was Playschool; this had 2 presenters (one male, one female) and the content was a mix of educational and fun - songs, "through the window" (a short film e.g. about dray horses having a holiday in the countryside), tell the time, listen to a story and imaginative play with the Playschool toys (soft doll Jemima, plastic doll Hamble, Big Ted, Little Ted and Humpty). At lunchtime there was the Watch with Mother which might be Chigley, Trumpton, Camberwick Green, The Herbs, Mr Benn, Andy Pandy, Pogles Wood, The Woodentops or Bill and Benn. All of this was on BBC. Later on there was a morning slot on ITV, but I can only remember Pipkins about some animals (e.g. Hartley the Hare and also a tortoise) or Rainbow (Zippy, Bungle, George and various animations).
During the weekdays, BBC's afternoon slot for children began around 3:45 with a repeat of Playschool followed by various short programmes ranging from cartoon series (Top Cat, Deputy Dawg, Huckleberry Hound), educational (Animal Magic), drama series and book adaptations (e.g. The Viaduct, Carrie's War, The White Horse Gang, Tom's Midnight Garden, The Diddakoi, Lizzie Dripping, Rentaghost, Grange Hill) and art shows (e.g. Vision On, Take Hart). Jackanory was a serialised book reading which I particularly loved and I had several Jackanory books, so this contributed to learning to read at an early age. My favourite Jackanory book was about a rag-and-bone man. Another one I can remember was about some children who owned a Poodle and who took it to a dog show.
At 4:50 or 5 pm there was John Craven's Newsround. Magazine programme Blue Peter (Mondays and Thursdays) was an institution among my age group. On BBC, the best-remembered 5 pm Friday slot was kids' game show Crackerjack (It's Friday, it's 5 o'clock, it's Crackerjack!). The winner got board games and annuals while runners up got Crackerjack pencils - we were undemanding in those days. One game was "cabbages and kings" where you got cabbages for getting questions wrong. I vaguely recall a junior It's a Knockout called Runaround.
BBC children's TV ended with a 5 minute slot: Parsley (a spin-off from The Herbs), Captain Pugwash (the rude names are an urban legend), Magic Roundabout, The Wombles, The Clangers, Ivor the Engine, Crystal Tips and Alistair, Hector's House, Noah and Nelly and the SkylArk, Roobarb and various others. Some were European imports re-narrated in English. I just about remember Noggin the Nog, which seemed to be about Norsemen. Noggin the Nog was also in some of the comics and annuals I got early on.
I don't recall much from ITV. Its equivalent of afternoon Playschool was Romper Room which featured real children in a TV studio version of a nursery school. Whenever they required music for a game, the children had to chant "Please Mr Music Man, will you play!" It had Romper-Stompers which were upturned buckets with rope handles to stomp about on. Magpie (Tuesday and Friday) was ITV's equivalent of Blue Peter. ITV also had cult children's sci-fi series The Tomorrow People and Timeslip. There was also Follyfoot (about a stables), Michael Bentine's Potty Time and there was the Sooty and Sweep Show. When I was very young, there was a show presented by (garbled memories here) Ayesha Brush and others, which ended with a singalong: "rockin' rollin ridin' out along the bay ....".
My favourite Playschool and PlayAway (the spinoff version shown at the weekend) presenter was Brian Cant who was nominated the voice of childhood. One of my friends had a serious crush on presenter Floella Benjamin.
Childhood TV - Weekends
I was always irritated by the Saturday/school holidays kids' show "Why Don't You (Just Switch off the Television and Do Something More Interesting Instead)" - how could I watch the show if I switched off TV? It seemed to be presented by some incredibly smug kids showing how to do crafts, games and other activities. I dimly remember the Double Deckers about a gang of kids that hung out in an old double decker bus and had adventures; for many years I wanted to live in a double decker bus and when I went to secondary school I used to fantasise about how I would convert the bus for living in (ironically, these days I've been involved in converting buses back to their original state). The Banana Splits was more memorable, but I only liked the cartoon segments. We had The Monkees of course, but I thought they were stupid - I was into The Goodies.
There were various Saturday morning magazine shows. I vaguely recall Saturday Superstore and I loathed BBC's Multicoloured Swap Shop, but loved ITV's Tiswas (the early series with Trevor East and the Wellyphone calls). Tiswas introduced me to the talents of drummer Cozy Powell and, therefore, to heavy rock! Bill Oddie presented The Saturday Banana (also ITV). It should have been called Saturday Bonanza, but someone misheard the title and the banana title stuck! There was also the Mersey Pirate. While BBC had better weekday shows for children, ITV was the place to be on Saturday mornings.
On Saturday afternoons there was usually a children's slot after the national news slot following Grandstand (BBC) and World of Sport (ITV) around 5pm. There was also a Sunday mid-afternoon slot. The Saturday slot tended to be series, sometimes home-grown (Basil Brush, Space 1999, Catweazle, Worzel Gummidge, Dr Who, The Tripods), sometimes USAnian imports (Dukes of Hazzard, Automan, Knight Rider, Manimal, Logan's Run (series), Lucan (about a boy raised by wolves)). The Sunday slot was often a drama or adventure series, sometimes with religious content (The Talisman, Knights of God (Arthurian post-industrial era theme - surely it wasn't as late as 1987!)) although ITV had The Ghosts of Motley Hall which was about 5 spooks from different eras who lived in an old stately home (Matt the stable boy, the White Lady, Bodkin the Jester plus an aristocrat and an explorer/colonel).
Early on, a favourite Sunday teatime show was The Adventures of Black Beauty with its instantly identifiable theme tune (Galloping Home). Even when visiting friends for tea or a party, everything stopped for Black Beauty! This was made between 1972 and 1974 and regularly repeated. The premise was that Black Beauty from the book lived with Dr Gordon and his family. At first, the daughter was Vicky, but in the second series she was Jenny instead. Despite being horse-mad as a youngster, somehow I managed to miss a series called "White Horses" that aired from 1968 and was repeated for several years and also had a memorable theme tune. Because TV had regional variations, it's quite possible I missed this through moving from one area to another. I also failed to watch ITV's Follyfoot, which was based around a stables, as it clashed with something on BBC. Back then you had to choose what to watch; generally a "live" show won because a series or film normally got repeated.
Early 1970s - Iver Heath
My first Primary School was in Iver Heath, Bucks and I recall it being a fairly modern building. I lived on Swallow Street and usually walked to school. My parents had a navy blue Ford Anglia, but most children walked or cycled to school in those days. Sometimes dad put me on the seat of his moped (it used to belong to his dad) and walked me to school on that before going to work on the moped. There was one bit of the walk I hated, especially in winter. As we passed the cow-field, there was a dead branch in the hedge and it resembled a horse's decapitated head. I always shut my eyes and I've never mentioned this childhood horror to my parents. We sometimes stopped to say hello to Penny, a friendly Jack Russell terrier on a little crescent called Swallowdale. If we walked through Swallowdale, we missed the scary hedge.
I remember walking to school on cold days being fascinated by making "dragon breath". I also remember doing cartwheels on the grass verge and discovering at morning break that I'd lost my KitKat money! Quite often we'd meet up with other children, usually Anita or Tristan, and their parents and arrive at school in a group.
The intake class (or "1st infants") was Miss Hall's class. First infants and the two "2nd infants" classes were in their own little block with own toilets and own playground. Because many children went to school unable to read at all, Miss Hall gave us all symbols to identify our belongings drawer, workbooks and coat-peg. Mine was a biscuit. During the reading assessment, Miss Hall discovered I was already a fluent reader so I was swiftly introduced to the class library shared between her class, Mrs Clayton's (or Clapton, I can't remember) class and a third infant teacher, Mrs Sissons. I particularly remember learning how to spell "ski-ing" because it was an exciting word that needed a line (hyphen) to keep the two "i"s apart!
Unlike many people I have no memory of my very first day at school. I already loved reading and learning and school was a treasure trove of books and knowledge. I was probably so entranced by all the books that I didn't miss mum. Apparently I idolised Miss Hall. There were lots of outdoor activities in good weather: nature walks and learning to identify birds, flowers and trees. We all learnt the Green Cross Code and were given a printed hanky with the Stop-Look-Listen-Cross message on it. Mum met me for lunch and home-time either at the main gate or the field gate. Teachers supervised the gates, but you could sneak through at busy times by tagging along behind another parent.
One lunchtime I went to the field gate and was chased by an out-of-control Alsatian while waiting for mum. I crossed the road and ran home. The dog chased me and barked at me through the garden fence – I was petrified. The dog ran off and when mum finally stopped waiting and came home, she yelled at me. I thought this was terribly unfair - she should have yelled at the dog's owner. I don't think she believed me about the Alsatian, but I was scared of big dogs for ages.
I also remember one girl getting covered in paint and Miss Hall had to strip her off and bath her in the big sink. The girl wore PE kit while her clothes (with the paint mostly washed off) dried on the radiator. We also took in foil milk bottle tops to school as these were collected to get guide dogs for the blind.
On leaving Miss Hall we were split into 2 smaller groups for proper learning. No-one wanted to be in Mrs Clayton's class because she was stricter than Mrs Sisson, but that was where I ended up. She wasn't too strict, but she had standards of discipline and we spent more time doing maths, reading and writing. Again, I don't recall many details, except that I loved writing and learning new words. After Mrs Clayton (or Mrs Sissons), we moved into the main school building. I later learnt that Mrs Sissons was a ruthless smacker of small children whereas Mrs Clayton kept discipline with her voice.
We had PE lessons in the same hall that we had infant assemblies (the junior assemblies were over in the main school building). I don't remember much about these except one PE lessons was based on the Wizard of Oz and we had to be a character going down the yellow brick road. The teacher didn't believe I hadn't watched the film (it had apparently been on TV the previous weekend) and thought I was being contrary. I think my parents had decided the Wizard of Oz was too scary (especially as my sisters were only 3 years old) which was why we hadn't watched it.
There were 2 playgrounds. There was a small playground attached to the three infant classes, which comprised the asphalt playground and a piece of playing field with some saplings and small picnic tables. Separated by a strip of grass (I can't remember if there was a fence) was the larger juniors playground and the big playing field. There was a sharp slope down to a path between the juniors playground and the building and we were forever having announcements in assembly about not running down the slope because you wouldn't stop in time and would bash into the wall.
I have vague recollections of the headmaster who, I think, was Mr Willis (or Williams). At junior assemblies he used old-fashioned instructions such as "please be up-standing" and "please be seated". He also used to click his fingers and point, which was sufficient to reduce a child to silence. I recall his regular lectures about not running down the slope though. Some assemblies had moral plays acted by older children. I vividly remember them acting out Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse and was eaten by a Lion. They covered "Jim" with a grey blanket that matched the grey podium to illustrate him being eaten bit by bit. Apparently, Mr Willis started school dinner by saying "For what" and the children chanted "... we're about to receive...etc" though I never experienced this as I went home for lunch.
The next class was Mrs Williams which was upstairs. I remember yet more educational walks (we learnt about spores on ferns, baby birds etc) and educational television held in an open area near the stairs. We were no longer allowed in the "babies' playground." My only vivid memories, apart from spores on ferns were learning that a duck's beak is called a bill and learning the difference between hay and straw (such things are important to kids surrounded by farmland). It was while I was in Mrs Williams' class that the family moved to Essex.
Early 1970s - Witham
We moved temporarily to Eden Road (off of Allectus Way on the map link), Powers Hall End, Witham. My second Primary School was at Powers Hall End, Witham and my only enduring memory of Powers Hall End primary school is hating it! I was very homesick for my old school and wanted to know when I could go back there. My new school was a modern experiment in self-timetabling and I desperately missed the structured timetable of Iver Heath. I was 7 years old and needed order and being a geeky child I desperately needed structure not chaos and confusion. It would probably have been okay if I'd grown up with this system, but I was thrown into the middle of it.
Instead of being based in classrooms, we were based in the dead-end sections of corridor between rooms. There were 4 "rooms: Art&Craft, Reading&Writing (with a little house full of books), Home&Cooking (where you could bake biscuits), Maths&Science. Imagine a St George's cross where each white section is a room. One arm of the cross was longer and led to the toilets and the hall. I. At the end of each arm of the cross (except the long arm) was a carpeted area where the teacher took the register and where we had coat-pegs and drawers for our things. Each leg of the cross had a door into one of the rooms. remember school assembly, but have no recollection of PE lessons - maybe I simply never found out about them! I was there over Christmas and remember there being Christmas singing lessons in the hall.
Instead of set lessons, pupils set their own timetables. They had to attend a session in each of the 4 disciplines every day, but could decide which order to do them; when bell rang we went to the next one we wanted. If a class was already too full, we were sent to another one instead. We had a book and had to get the teacher in the room to tick to say we'd spent a session in there. Instead of the whole class doing the same subject at the same time, we could choose where to go. I would have spent all my time in Reading&Writing and Maths&Science were it not for the tick-book. I think the theory was that we changed room at morning and afternoon playtime and at lunchtime (I always walked home for lunch - there was an underpass and I could walk home on my own without having to cross any roads). The problem was that even playtime was flexible and I didn't have a group of friends to spend playtime with so I still didn't know when to change rooms. Instead of bottled milk, break-time milk came in tetrahedral containers.
I was put in the care of Shelly who got bored and abandoned me after a couple of hours and well before I found out how self-timetabling worked! Shelly, like most kids, already had her social circle and did not need an outsider intruding. For the first 2 weeks I didn't realise there was a playtime. I complained to my parents about no playtime and they phoned the school. Playtime was often taken during a Home and Cooking session, but I never really understood how this worked. I think the teacher who took the register of my group should have kept a closer eye on me to make sure I was finding out these things. As a result, I retreated to "book corner", ended up with the reading age of a much older child and became very introverted. My most vivid memory is when I tripped over a chair in the Reading and Writing room and broke my arm. That curtailed playtime activities and expanded my reading time greatly.
This "modern school" experiment was a total disaster from my point of view. I can honestly say I was very unhappy there. I was only there for about 6 months and during that time I didn't make any friends - partly due to being a geeky introverted child and partly due to needing a properly structured day and not the horrible confusion I found myself in. Perhaps if my social skills issues had been diagnosed at this stage I would have had more adult help and not left to flounder, but back then "geekiness" wasn't really recognised and I ended up even more socially awkward and introverted than before. Moving from school to school is probably much less traumatic for children without my slightly defective brain-wiring (back in the days before seriously geeky children were recognised as probably needing additional help in order to adapt to change) . After the unhappy Powers Hall End experience, I got on much better with adults than with my own peer group.
I was a temporary pupil there because we were renting a house while our own house was being built. Maybe I'd have fitted in eventually, but it took me several months to properly get the hang of the self-timetabling. My inability to remember any of the teachers and only one of my classmate's names demonstrates how unhappy I was at that school.
Mid 1970s - Bocking Churchstreet
After several months of renting a house in Witham, our new house had been finished and we moved to The Lillies (8 houses in a close and backing onto farmland) near the top end of Bocking Churchstreet, Essex. This is a linear village north of Braintree & Bocking and stretches from the bridge at the bottom of the street (where Bocking "proper" begins) to the Four Releet at the top (where it again meets up with Bocking "proper" on Broad Road). Bocking "proper" turned into Braintree and Bocking End.
The staggered crossroads at the top end of the street was known as the Four Releet which was the name of a house on Broad Road when you turned left out of Bocking Churchstreet. Not quite opposite Bocking Churchstreet was Lyons Hall Road and there was a post office/general store there. Because of the busy main road, we went to the shops down Bocking Churchstreet instead. In the other direction from Four Releet House was Monkey Hadley, a home for blind people. There was a footpath nearby that led from Broad Road to Bocking Churchstreet alongside Millard House (the old people's home) almost opposite Ashpole Road. Somewhere around the Four Releet was a Dr Barnardos home (Foley House) though I never found out exactly where that was.
Several of the Ashpole Road households whose gardens backed onto the Lillies were quite miffed when the land was redeveloped. They'd been used to walking across the fields as a shortcut and when it was turned into houses and gardens they had to walk right to the top of Ashpole Road and then down Bocking Churchstreet instead of cutting across. After we moved out (and before new people moved in) there were some problems with one of the households putting a ladder against their back fence and climbing over it so they could use our garden as a shortcut.
As youngsters, we never went that way because of the main road, though when I was a young teen I used to cycle to High Garrett and Halstead. We were only allowed to go as far as Ashpole Road on the left and Millard House on the right. Going down Church Street there was a little Spar on the left. Mrs Stuart ran the Spar shop which had that smell peculiar to Spar shops. Before it was Spar, it was Vivo. The meat-slicing machine was a source of fascination for most of us as the assistant sliced ham from a block and wrapped it in waxed paper. In later years this became a fish and chip shop and then a Chinese takeaway. Mum preferred the Co-op (where the meat was pre-packed on trays) so we didn't go to the Spar often. Outside the Spar was a little pump that sold Esso Blue heating paraffin by the gallon. There was a traditional bakery,Mann and Baldwin, in the alley to the right of Spar and set back behind it. We were allowed to spend pocket money on fresh cakes sold over the bottom half of the bakery's stable-style door. Further down on the left was the local windmill.
There was another close further down the road on the site of the Bull Pub. Although this close didn't have a name, it was known locally as the "Bull site". Not far away was the United Reforem Church and I always loved the Wayside Pulpit posters outside it; we used to read them when walking to or from school or home for lunch. Mrs Grice ran the playgroup in the United Reformed Church. My sisters went to a playgroup there before starting primary school. There were a couple of closes on the opposite side of the street as well. Millers Close backed onto arable land and there was a little wood (Round Wood) where we used to play. The next one down was Windmill Gardens which led to the windmill. I liked going to the Bocking Windmill open days. According to the guide (about 35 years ago!) the base of the mill is brick because the whole mill was lifted up by one storey and the brick section added beneath it.
Halfway down the road on the right was Fenn's Road and the Bocking Church Street Village Hall (which was also the library some evenings). On the right, the school could be accessed either from a footpath on Fenn's Road leading from the school to the village hall or from the main street just past the school playing field (swings, big rocking horse and the see-saw where I broke my arm again). Out of school playtimes it was used as a public recreation area.
The village hall was also school assembly hall and for a while it was used as a temporary classroom until a demountable had been erected by the playground. There was a big grey box at the top of two telegraph poles outside the Village Hall; this was the old WWII air raid siren and was used to summon the local part-time firemen when there was a fire. The village hall footpath led past old people's homes and we often chatted to them in their gardens. Past the school on the right was Pryke's (newsagents and stationers), Agnetha's (hairdresser), a florist, a small 2nd hand bookshop and Mitchell's (sweets, small toys and wool). On the left opposite those shops was the Post Office and an Off-Licence (attached to a pub). Further down on the left was the Co-op and Brown's (butchers) as well as the old farrier's place (probably used for the scrap metal trade by then) - Poulton's blacksmith. There was a green at the bottom of the hill with the old church school on it (the hall there was sometimes used for the Primary School Christmas party if the village hall wasn't available), St Mary's Church and a terrace of small cottages that had been the almshouses. The almshouses lacked a number 11 for some reason. The road then went sharply left. You could go straight on to Dorewards Avenue or turn right and go over the bridge into Bocking proper. For some reason we never went onto Dorewards Avenue (it led to a modern housing estate) except when carol-singing with the school. Most of the "rough" or "poor" children came from older houses at this end of the village or from over the bridge and up towards the Deanery.
Mitchells sweetshop became Ketleys after Mr Mitchell died. Years after I left Bocking Churchstreet, Ketleys was converted back into a private house. The Post Office and Pryke's both closed more recently. An odd little shop near Pryke's went through series of trades. At one point it became a secondhand book shop, but for much of the time I remember it being empty. Between it and the hairdressers (Agnetha's) was a narrow glass-fronted narrow shop that ended up being a florist. One of the pubs at the lower end of the street had a small room at the side that served as an off-licence.
It strikes me now just how cliquey the village was. We lived at the top end (geographically) and mixed with children from the top end and middle. Only rarely did we play on the areas of waste ground at the bottom end. It turns out there was a big motorcycle gang that used to congregate near the church hall. There was a big Courtauld's factory at the bottom of Church Street; this has since been redeveloped into the Waterside housing complex. We didn't socialise on Dorewards Avenue and apart from trips to the sweet shops, didn't play beyond Fenns Road. When I went back as an adult, the lower end of the village was unfamiliar territory while the upper end and middle was familiar. We were allowed to walk to school (and home for lunch) unaccompanied and at weekend we went to Mitchell's or Pryke's for 2oz of sweets from the jar. We played in the fields surrounding the village and we knew most of the local footpaths.
We had a mobile grocer called Derek who had a big yellow van. He was very friendly and if he had time he came to admire our little gardening plots in the back garden. he used to entertain us by wiggling his false front teeth to make the vanish and reappear. here was also a Corona lorry that came round fizzy drinks in big glass bottles (Corona lorries were almost as common as milk floats). You got a small deposit back when you returned the empty bottle. Sometimes mum let us take bottles to Mitchell's to get the deposit back and we spent the money on a can of Top Deck Shandy or Top Deck Lager and Lime (which were just flavoured, but we thought they were grown up).
There was also a "key swapping club" (swingers) on John English Avenue (off of Coldnailhurst Ave) and the local postman made enquiries when new people moved into the village. My mum was shocked about it, though I only found out about that aspect of village life many years later. More sedately, there was a "Young Wives Club" that met at the Village Hall, though I don't think mum joined, possibly because we were outsiders and she hadn't been invited. She joined Inner Wheel which is the ladies version of Rotary Club, but she got fed up as it was all about cooking and sewing.
Once I got used to travelling to secondary school by bus, I used to get a lift from home into Braintree with mum and then go and do my own thing then I'd get the bus home (usually early afternoon). It was half fare until the age of 14, which was 2p or 3p. On Saturday, the more frequent buses home seemed to be the ones that ran along Broad Road so I got off either at Monken Hadley or at the Four Releet. Often I knew the bus driver from commuting to school.
Some Saturdays, I got a single decker bus from Braintree Bus park to Maldon to visit friends who'd moved there (they'd moved from Braintree Public gardens on St Michael's Road to Promenade Lodge beside Maldon Promenade Park). Maldon used to have a bus station, but it has been redeveloped into housing. Later on I got a friend who lived near the Bus Park to give me a pillion ride to Maldon on his Honda motorbike (I borrowed a crash helmet from him). Eventually my parents found out and after they'd been cross, mum gave me her old crash helmet from when she used to ride pillion on dad's motorbike. When we moved to Chelmsford, I got a racing bike and cycled to Maldon instead.
The Village School
As I have no photos, I will describe it as best I can. Imagine you are standing at the top of the playground just in front of a brick built games equipment building. Here is what you will see.
On your right is the opening to the school playing/sports field. Beyond this was a farmland. The caretaker thought nothing of burning wood debris in the corner of the field and we kids sometimes played near - or even with - the bonfire. Around the field edges were wild plants including Lady's Bedstraw, Harebell, nettles and deadnettles, different grasses and clovers. We knew them all, just as we knew all the different trees and birds seen in the village. We did term projects about the countryside. In the mid 70s, the top half of our field was built over by the Edith Borthwick special needs school.
A third of the way down, on the right of the playground is a prefab classroom. Mr Basham taught there. Just beyond that is the bright red brick wall behind which are the main toilets. Then there's a caretaker's building and then more toilets (boys cubicles). At the bottom of the playground, directly opposite is another prefab. That was Mrs James' classroom.
As you stand with your back to the PE shed, to your immediate left is the school garden. Most of the left hand side is taken up by the school building. Halfway along it there is a door leading from the playground into the school. Just beyond the doorway, part of the building sticks out and there's a door into the room we called the "clay cage". The clay cage contained the clay, some tables and the kiln and was part of a wing containing the central heating furnace and the kitchens (school dinners were taken in the classrooms). If you walk from the playground into the school building through the aforementioned door, you are in the main corridor that runs the length of the building. To your left at the far end is Mrs Innes' classroom (Class 3). Lets go and stand outside her door, looking down the corridor towards the bottom end of the building.
To your right is an open area with some tables. Children are sent out there to get on with their work – art, English or maths exercises, learning lines from a play or whatever. There's an alcove with a big butler sink there as well. Being allowed to work there is a privilege as you are out of the teacher's sight. To your left, opposite the open area) is Mrs Hooton's class (class 2, later Mrs Herson's class). Next to it is Mrs Hammond's class (Class 1 – Top Class for 10/11 year olds). Opposite Class 1 is the door you came in. Just past Top Class is the school office and headmaster's office. Opposite those is the entrance to the kitchen and a fish tank just outside it. I looked after the tropical fish for several years. For a few years, at break-time there was a Tuck Shop on the tables between the doors of Class 1 and Class 2.
On the left, past the offices is a bay containing coat racks, though some classrooms also have their own coat pegs. Past the coat racks is Mrs Panell's class (the intake class or Bottom Infants, known to us as the "baby class" and later converted into an assembly hall). Opposite the coat racks (i.e. next to the kitchen) is Mrs Gillingham's class room which was sometimes used for music lessons, 11 plus exams or educational TV (as it had blackout curtains). Past that, I think, are staff cloakrooms or some other no-go area. Then at the bottom end of the corridor there are the big double doors out into a large asphalted area between the main playground and the gates. This area often got used for games such as Grandmother's Chest.
Back to the top of the playground with you! This time, turn to face the wall of the PE shed. Just to the left of the PE shed are climbing bars that look like football goalposts. Beyond the PE shed and to the right (just beyond the school garden) is the "baby playing field" with swings, big rocking horse and see-saw (I broke my left arm falling off the see-saw). This area was also a public recreation ground outside of school playtimes. A footpath to the left of the baby playing field leads up to the village hall where we had assembly and indoor PE. The footpath runs between some old people's bungalows to its left and the village hall to its right.
We filed up to the village hall in a noisy crocodile each morning to sing hymns and listen to Mr Boyes. The recorder group played tunes (inexpertly) as we filed in and out. Sometimes a class did assembly, either reading out school work or doing a short play. The annual nativity play and Christmas parties (one for infants, one for juniors) were usually held there as well. The Christmas Fayre/Fete was held there. Behind the stage was a warren of rooms and, on a couple of evenings a week, the village library. On Friday afternoons Merit Badges were handed out in the village hall. This made me unpopular as I always won a badge. I asked the headmaster if I could be excluded from Merit Badges as it wasn't fair on the others (and it was losing me friends and getting me bullied). I couldn't help being clever.
I visited the school some years after leaving and before I moved away from the village. Mrs Panell's class became the school hall. One of the staff areas opposite the kitchens (or maybe it was part of the old coat peg area) became indoor toilets (hooray!). The corridor was carpeted and the huge butler sink and its surround had gone (making much more space). Areas once cluttered with old-fashioned heating and water systems and big heavy desks and cupboards had been rationalised and used for storage or teaching areas. I realised then that it was no longer "my school". After a few years I had become a stranger and stopped visiting.
Quite early on, I was classed as a "gifted child" with advanced reading and writing skills. These days, I'd probably have been diagnosed with Asperger traits as well. When I was 9, I was already in top class with the 11 year olds and outperforming many of them (but with underperforming social skills). Nowadays, clever kids are given extra work and kept with their own age group, but that wasn't possible in a village school where teachers were also coping with "Educationally Sub-Normal" children (those we now call "Special Needs"). Like many nerdy youngsters, I was better at communicating with adults that with children my own age. All of this, combined with my poor understanding of social situations led to me being bullied for being posh, clever and weird and I became progressively more introverted. It was a vicious circle and I was put on medication when I was 10, but still had to "stick up for myself" or chant "sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me." That's all very well in theory, but names can hurt a lot when you don't understand why you're different and are flummoxed by social rules.
At Bocking Churchstreet Primary school we had only one male teacher apart from the headmaster. "Sir" was only memorable for having a name that we took the mickey out of. I was only in Sir’s class once when he stood in for another teacher one afternoon. I was about 8 years old and I can’t remember what the lesson was. He seemed a bit loud and stern at the time. When I moved back into the area in the mid 1980s I saw Sir's name in the local paper. He was about 50 by then and retired, but gave private tuition in maths to 10-11 year olds. Sir had just been “done” for inappropriately touching some of the girls he was teaching. Although I wasn’t in his class, it was a shock to read this about a person I was supposed to look up to as a child.
Mrs James's Class
I moved from Mrs Williams' class at Iver Heath to an unmemorable teacher's class at Powers Hall End and then finished the last few months of my "upper infants" year in Mrs James's class (Class J) at Bocking Churchstreet primary school. There was no National Syllabus and school didn't know what standard I'd reached at my previous primary schools. I was born in summer so they could either put me in a class where I was one of the older children or put me in a class where I was one of the youngest. After Class J, I ended up skipping Class 4 and going straight into Class 3.
Bocking Churchstreet school had the traditional structure I craved, but again I was an outsider with social deficits and remained an outsider (or labelled a "loner" for a long time. Loners are often thought of as children who won't mix, but in truth many loners want to mix but their brains are wired up in such a way that they can't understand how to do so. Teachers were well-intentioned in putting such children into groups in the hope they'd make friends, but sometimes I felt as though I'd landed on an alien planet!
When I started in Mrs James’ class at age 7, there was a boy there who was bigger and stronger than the others. I’ll call him "M". M didn’t realise he was bigger and stronger, because his mental skills were those of a 5 year old. His reading, writing and number skills were rudimentary and he came bottom in every class. Children tormented him for being “thick” or a "dumbo" (or even a "spazz" - a very common insult at the time) and, due to his lesser language skills, he lashed out physically.
The teachers knew M was "Educationally Sub-Normal" (the jargon of that time) and praised him for any progress he made, but M was always bottom of the class, last to be picked for team games and never picked to be a partner for pairs or group activities. When M played, he played rough and we were scared of him. Being left behind in everything made him frustrated and he had violent outbursts. Each year, he stayed in that class and the other children moved up. Any friends he had made (or rather any children that didn’t shun him), moved on. When my sisters were in that class, he was 3 years older than them and could be hard to control.
Sometimes the teacher took us to play games in the school garden: In and Out The Dusty Windows/Bluebells or Sleeping Lions. The first few times I didn't know any of the games because we'd played completely different ones at Iver Heath. And my new classmates were confused that for me crossing your fingers and say "squitz" meant "I'll tell on you". To them it meant "exempt!" Moving regions meant learning a new language in the playground.
I remember the lesson books that had tracing paper between the pages where you wrote your answers. We had different lengths of coloured wood for learning "tens and units". There was also a book corner and I was in the "horse obsessed phase" so my favourites were Black Beauty and a "Black Roan and Buckskin" which was a sort of western and had a morbid cover image of a dead horse (the untameable "Black Roan") under a tree!
I was probably about 8 when we heard about Miss Jackson. She taught either Class 1 (final year) or Class 2 (next one down) and sometimes took one of the younger classes for an outdoor games lesson. At that age, this was a more organised form of playground games and not sports. One day she wasn't at school and eventually the rumour went round that she had tried to commit suicide using a gas oven after breaking up with her boyfriend. More gossip said she'd gone to Severalls (a psychiatric hospital) which would have made sense if she was badly depressed. I don't know if this was true or just playground gossip, but she never came back to our school afterwards and we were just told she'd gone away. I remember her as being young and rather trendy in how she dressed.
That year there was an emphasis on the Commonwealth and each class studied two countries. We studied India and Sri Lanka (which we were taught used to be called Ceylon). This involved a class trip to the Commonwealth Institute in London.
Because children had a tendency to run across the road after exiting the bottom gate (in the playground behind Mrs Panell's class) Mr Boyes told us in assembly about a boy who had been run over by a bus. I don't know when this was, but he made it sound like it was shortly before I joined the school. Much later I found out there was a boy a few classes above me who only had one arm. The Green Cross Code was still be hammered into us and we got road safety lessons in the playground or village hall. For the road safety lessons, there would be a mini road layout with a zebra crossing. We took it in turns for one pupil got to pedal a car around the road layout while another one crossed the zebra crossing. We were taught to always thank the car drivers by holding up a hand as we crossed. Children who cycled to school used a similar road layout in the playground to do their cycling proficiency lessons and get the cycling proficiency badge. Plenty of children cycled safely to school with friends from a young age and without any adult supervision. For some reason I didn't get a bike until a couple of years after my sisters so I missed doing cycling proficiency.
I skipped the intake class (Mrs Panell) due to my age (as well as Mrs Panell, one of the infants teachers was Mrs Pickford, but I never met her). After Mrs James, most of the top infants classes went into Mr Basham's class, though some of the older or cleverer children skipped this and went straight to Mrs Innes's class. I didn't find out till much later that Mr Basham was well known for smacking boys over his lap. Mrs Innes had a reputation for being very strict, but it turned out this was the best class I could have ended up in - her old-fashioned methods were well-suited to my nerdy mindset. The following year, Mr Basham was later replaced by Mrs Brown (I think that was her name); she never taught me but I heard that some children didn't like her as they claimed she gave special treatment to her niece when the girl was in her class.
Mrs Innes' Class
All the children were scared of Mrs Innes. I was one of the youngest in the class, having skipped Class 4 (Mr Basham) where I would have been one of the oldest. Mrs Innes was strict ("a dragon") and those of us who'd come from Mrs James' class had wanted to be in Mr Basham's class in the pre-fab on the other side of the playground. Her classroom was at the top end of the corridor in the school building. Mrs Innes arranged desks in pairs and rows across her classroom whereas the other teachers arranged their desks in informal groups. Mrs Innes was a large lady in her 50s who drove a Mini car called "Roo". On the first day in juniors, many children acted up. They weren't used to discipline. The whole class spent the next 2 playtimes walking in a slow crocodile (under her hawk-like gaze) around the painted lines at the edge of the playground while everyone else played. From then on, we behaved. Once she'd instilled discipline, she began to stretch our minds. Bright kids got more challenging work; slow kids got extra help. When I joined her class aged 8, my reading age was "at least 11" (the test only went up to age 11). By age 9 it was "around 15". I must stress that there's a big difference between knowing how to read the words and understanding the concepts they represented.
She made her own musical instruments and we were introduced to hammered dulcimers, zithers and other unusual instruments. Most of us had never encountered anything more exotic than a descant recorder or tambourine. We learnt to do plays, write poetry, complete maths matrices, show perspective on drawings and many other fascinating skills. We acted out scenes from history, learnt how people lived in different times and places and we learnt about her own schooldays which gave us another way of learning history.
We learnt to make corn dollies and visited the local windmill. We were taken on nature walks (mostly up Fenn's Road to the farm and back) at different times of the year and told to look out for certain sights and sounds, then we had to write about the walk. One morning we went into the playground with bubble mix to blow bubbles, and then had to describe this as imaginatively as possible. We all learnt to stitch, sew and crochet. One day she brought in some unborn hares, still in their membranes and with placentas, on an enamelled metal dish and we learnt a little bit about biology (this was probably when my lifelong love of biological sciences began). The pregnant mother had run out in front of her car and been killed, but Mrs Innes had tried to save the unborn leverets by performing a caesarean. Unfortunately, they were already dead, but we got an impromptu nature/biology lesson.
We had weekly maths tests and spelling tests. For the latter we had to learn 20 words from a spelling book on our own. I have always been much better at the reading and writing side of things than at maths. Some of us were sent to do group activities in open areas off the main corridor e.g. learn a short play or jointly write a page or poem about a given topic. When we rejoined the class we had to do a short presentation of our work. Only later did I realise that this kept the faster children (and more trusted children) occupied with more challenging work while Mrs Innes could concentrate on the slower learners and control the more disruptive children.
Mrs Hooton's Class
When it was time to move up to Mrs Hooton's class, many of us didn't want to leave Mrs Innes. We'd started her class reluctantly and though she was "old fashioned strict", she wasn't a dragon. She understood how children functioned and how to get the best from them. She was probably the best teacher I had there and I hope she opened the minds of many other children.
Apart from her long dark hair, I can't remember much about Mrs Hooton, probably because Mrs Innes was a hard act to follow! It also marked a return to the "modern" style of teaching with children around islands of desks instead of Mrs Innes's older style with forward-facing rows of desks. It was Mrs Hooton who told my parents that part of the problem was I preferred to discuss or debate something that other children just wanted to fight it out.
In the playground we played things like "The Good Ship Sailed on the Alley-alley-oh", "Grandmother's Chest", "When Suzie Was ...", "Scarecrow", "Knives, Forks, Spoons and Cutters" and games where you had to guess what colour someone had thought of while jumping over their outstretched legs. "British Bulldog" hadn't yet been banned and the boys played this across the whole of the playground from Mr Basham's demountable to the railings of the school garden. When they weren't allowed to play British Bulldog, they played exactly the same game under different names, particularly "Breakout" where one faction was Nazis and the others were escaping prisoners. And if Breakout got banned, it just got another name.
What I can remember are SRA (Student Reading Association) cards which were an American import into British classrooms and aimed at 8–11 year olds. I was 9 years old with a literacy age of 15 and a comprehension age only a few years less. SRA cards were laminated 4 page booklets. They followed the same formula and there were dozens of them, all colour coded for age or skill level. On the first 2 sides was an illustration and either a story or some factual text. Page 3 had a comprehension exercise where wrote complete sentences to answer questions. Page 4 had more general questions and maybe some word puzzles eg: Which 3 letters completes the following 2 words: ap (- - -)ase (Answer: ap(ple)ase = apple/please). Which is the correct spelling? Which words rhyme? Which words are opposites? After the first 25 or so, I found them mind-numbingly boring and formulaic. In theory, I should have finished the whole lot in record time. I’d read every factual book in the school library and 10 years’ worth of Readers Digests at home. The problem was, they weren’t designed to be interesting, they were designed to drum things into non-gifted readers through constant repetition. The teachers knew I wasn’t thick, but it was a problem that I wasn’t presenting a daily completed SRA sheet. My parents told the teacher I was bored. The school sent me to a child psychologist. He set lots of tests and reported back that I was bored. The cards were not challenging enough and were holding me back.
Bored at actually doing SRA cards, I started finding errors in them. Most were due to imperfect conversion from American English to British English. Obvious spellings had been changed (-or to –our, plow to plough etc), but there were oddities. I particularly remember a “what vowel comes next” exercise. According to the schoolroom chant, the vowels are “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y”. The answer to at least 2 of “what vowel comes next” questions was “W” – yet ”W” was not a vowel! I double-checked these things with the headmaster and was then permanently excused from doing SRA cards. Having a child who hated doing them because they were boring was one thing. Having a child proof-read and correct them was more than the teachers were willing to cope with.
Around this time there was a serious problem with bullying. I developed what is now called school-phobia and put on medication for anxiety. My parents wanted me to stick up for myself, but geeky children tend to be poor at understanding social behaviour and make easy targets. My younger sisters also suffered and ended up running away from school on several occasions. They were transferred to a school with better discipline (Manor Street Primary School, Braintree), but my parents thought I'd be better finishing the last couple of years at Bocking Churchstreet Primary. Sometimes they say they regret that decision. According to my sisters, Manor Street was a completely different world. The desks were set in front-facing rows, there were good manners and good discipline. This sounds like Mrs Innes' class - I would probably have done at Manor Street.
One of the parents came in to give French lessons which was another way to keep the faster children occupied. I learnt to tell the time in French, but my accent must have been atrocious. I have never had any skill with foreign languages, possibly due to my native language being so firmly hard-wired into my brain. On another occasion, Mrs Hooton was off sick so Mr Boyes too the class. In the morning we our first ever "proper" science lesson, with test tubes. We had a variety of substances, such as washing up liquid, and had to use litmus paper to test if they were acid or alkali (which his accent rendered "alkalide" to my ears). Thus began my love of science.
Mrs Hammond's Class
Having become bored and occasionally uncooperative in Mrs Hooton's class, I skipped the rest of Class 2 and was moved up into Mrs Hammond's class which kept my mind occupied a lot more. I spent about a year and a half here, so I went through 2 sets of classmates. In the last 6 months at this school I'd effectively finished the syllabus, done several written/research projects each term instead of just one and read my way through most of the classroom library. Apart from studying for the 11 plus, I was allowed to help out in Mrs Hooton's class with other children's reading and do more "projects". I could be very obsessive in gathering facts for those projects so they were bigger than anyone else's. We also put together a school "newspaper" and one of my projects was collecting together horror stories written by classmates - mostly involving skeletons, zombies and vampires.
During the first half year I was a year younger than the other children; I was less socially developed, was still outperforming them and was not always popular as a result. In the last year I was with the (sometimes resentful) age-mates I'd left behind 6 months earlier and finally managing to stand up for myself a bit more. During the last couple of years, the school introduced "Merit Badges" which were given out each Friday. Every class had a boy's merit badge and a girl's merit badge for subjects such as Creative Writing or Maths. One day I went to the headmaster (I was quite precocious in talking to adults) and asked him not to give me any more merit badges because it wasn't fair on other children. I wasn't being arrogant, but I had realised I seemed to have an unfair advantage.
In Mrs Hammond's top class (age 10-11) the more grown up of us were allowed to do unaccompanied trips from school – for example we'd be sent to do brass rubbing at St Mary's Church; do a survey of gravestones to find common surnames or to visit (in twos and threes by prior arrangement) a particular old person and ask him/her about life when they were our age. The village was safe with little traffic and people knew each other and they knew who – and where – we were! These trips gave the teachers more time to concentrate on the slower children.
In Mrs Hammond’s class we made a giant advent calendar to go on the wall. Some kids got to make scenes to go behind the doors and the rest of the class made the calendar with the cut-out doors. Of course, school broke up before the last tabs were due to be opened so we opened them on the last schoolday. Usually the nativity scene went behind the church doors (and it opened like double doors). Being the one who did that scene was a bit like being picked to play a major role in the school nativity play. Using the fabrics box, we made people to stick on the path leading to the church. I made lots of little old ladies in long skirts and shawls with the hair worn in a bun - because that was the sort of person who went to the village church at Christmas. Mine were all back views so I didn't have to draw faces.
As a rule, we didn't have homework at primary school. In top class some of us opted to have homework once or twice a week. We got word lists and had to look up the meanings or we got a sheet of maths to do. Once we reached Juniors, we had projects. If we wanted, we could also work on these at home. I often did, because I was a swot (I just enjoyed studying). The projects related to that term's class project and were folders full of handwritten information, cuttings and drawings. Some of us did 2 projects. Here's a list of projects I remember with the "Class Project" and my individual project(s) in brackets: The sea (Admiral Nelson); Farms (Sheep and cattle, Crop growing); Horses (Horse breeds); Birds (Gulls and Terns). Other class projects included trees, wild flowers, wildlife, the Victorians .... you get the idea!
There were more school trips - Codham Waterworks to see how water was purified; the Essex Show (twice) and even a week in the Lake District visiting a slate mine, a cattle farm, Lake Windermere, Kendal, William Wordsworth's cottage, Furness Abbey, Brockhole Nature Reserve and climbing a couple of hills (the previous year, the field trip had been to Wales). We were taken to Rose Hill swimming pool (open air) for weekly swimming lessons, though I never graduated past arm bands (due to aquaphobia following an accident when much younger). We also went to the New Museum of London (it was "new" back then I suppose) to learn about the great fire of London.
We also learnt to do sewing (applique - sewing things onto hessian to make pictures - and embroidery) and crochet. Both girls and boys learnt these skills! One year we made crochet squares for blankets for elderly people in the village. As a result, small groups of us went to visit one or other of the old people who had received a blanket and they'd tell us a little about their childhood or schooling.
On the last day of each term, normal lessons were suspended and we were allowed to take in board games from home to play with our friends. On another occasion (mid-term) we were asked to take in our favourite books from home. The idea was probably so that teachers could see what levels we were reading when at home. I took in "The Saint in London" and one of the Spike Milligan "War Memoirs", both of which came from my granddad. I'm not sure what they made of an 11 year old reading such things (I was also devouring Reader's Digest Condensed Books). I was showing off a bit and should probably have taken in one of the pony books or Tomorrow People paperbacks I constantly re-read.
Our weekly singing lessons were mostly based on "Singing Together" which the school recorded from the radio. Each term there was a booklet containing the words and music that went with the radio series for that term. This meant we could practise with piano, recorder and melodica (a wind instrument with a keyboard instead of holes) to accompany the singing. I played descant recorder (passably) and treble (tolerably), but my sight-reading wasn't very good and I preferred to play by ear. The school also had back copies of "Time and Tune" which seemed to be the predecessor to Singing Together.
Some of the teachers played piano (and Mrs Innes played just about everything and also made musical instruments). There was a piano in Mrs Panell's room and one at the Village Hall. Sometimes we did music and movement type sessions at the Village Hall, either to piano or to something recorded from the radio. The only one that sticks in my mind is the Doh-Re-Mi song from the Sound of Music - and entirely for the wrong reasons as I've never liked that film and I didn't want to "learn the stupid song"! While in Mrs Innes' class we learnt and performed a musical play called "Robin DDu". A few years later in Mrs Hammond's class we learnt a play that was set in a royal court (by the end of practice and performance I knew the whole play by heart and managed to keep my younger sisters amused during a long car journey by doing the entire play, using different voices for different characters).
We also saw educational programmes on TV from the "Schools and Colleges" series. We couldn't record TV programmes back then so either the TV came into the classroom on a trolley or we went to the TV room (which later ended up being Mrs Gillingham's classroom). Before the programme, there was a countdown clock on screen which gave teachers time to set up the TV and tune it in properly. Either the programmes were in black-and-white or the TV was an old black-and-white set. "Stop, Look, Listen" and "The World Around Us" were two series we regularly watched. The programmes were repeated several times during the week because few people could record them and the school might need to show the programme to another class.
When I was in Top Class there was a series of about 6 programmes that taught us how babies were conceived, how they developed and how they were born. This was a mix of film following a couple who were having a baby, and illustrations showing what went where. There was an emphasis on the couple being married; sex was described as the "love position" and the baby was planned and wanted. Parents had to consent to their children seeing this and several parents didn't consent - notably the mother of the "smelly" girls. Quite a few of the children already knew the basic ideas from seeing livestock or pets being born; some had seen livestock mating and I'd bought some science booklets at a school fete that included chapters on reproduction (and hybrids and mutations, two subjects I've been fascinated with ever since).
School Social Events
Sports day was an annual trial for me as I've never been a sporty, competitive person. When I joined the school I was allowed to choose which colour "house" to be in and I chose "green". Because of children moving away, during the last 3 years I was the only girl in "green" for my year. That meant I was automatically in every race at sports day and these were compulsory. One year I became ill, probably anxiety, and missed sports day altogether and another year I had a broken arm. I think finally some new girls who moved into the village were put in green to even out the numbers. The events included three-legged race, sack race, potato-and-spoon race and obstacle race as well as running races. There were seats for the parents on one side of the track (which started at the bottom of the playing field and finished at the top) and small seats or wooden forms for the children on the other side behind the wall (back wall of the toilets) and demountable. Many of us climbed onto toilet roof to watch and the teachers let us sit there as long as we didn't lark about. While I was quite useless and unenthusiastic about sports day, I always managed a creditable score of stars (House points) for green.
We had several big events each year, some of which were fundraising events for the the school. There was a summer fete in the playing field which often had pony-and-cart rides at the bottom of the field, The stalls were wildly exciting to us children in those pre-video games days. You could try to whack-a-rat with a cricket bat as it came down a chute. You could win a goldfish by throwing ping pong balls into glass jars (I won several and they all survived happily in our garden pond). You could see how many clothes pegs you could remove from a clothese line and hold in a single hand. There were pick-a-straw and tombola stalls and bran tubs and also cocnut shies and crockery smashing. There were craft stalls (lavender bags, crochet items, knitted or embroidered things, home made toys) and cake stalls as well. My favourites were bric-a-brac stalls which usually had plenty of books and comics. I bought my first biology books from a stall at the school fete and by 10 years old was already reading about mutations and deformities. One year the fete got rained off, so people bought a few things from the boots of each other's cars in the car park and went home again. it was a great disappointment. There was also a Pet Show, which was mostly dogs and caged pets.
The Christmas Fayre/Fete was similar, but held in the village hall and instead of pony rides one of the parents or someone from the Rotary Club dressed as Father Christmas. We had fun trying to guess who was behind the beard. There a competition in Top Class to design the programme for the school fetes and the winning design was reproduced on a spirit duplicator.
Sometimes there was a jumble sale in the village hall and I'm sure we would have come home with all sorts of "treasure" if we could. I'm not sure how successful these were in a village where everyone knew who the clothing used to belong to. It amused me to see another lady in the village wearing boldly patterned trousers (this being the 1970s) that my mum had made for herself.
In the autumn we had harvest festival. We all had to take in something (tinned fruit, some vegetables or fruit etc) to give out in harvest boxes to old people in the village. Either we walked down to St Mary's at the bottom of the street or we went by coach to one of the churches in Braintree (one year it was St Michael's) and sang harvest hymns and some of us read out poems or short essays (which we called stories even though they weren't really). Afterwards we went round the village in groups delivering harvest boxes to the addresses on a list. Every year we got confused because there was no Number 11 Bocking Churchstreet (it should have been in the almshouses). At Christmas there was a Carol Service and nativity play, usually in the village hall. One year we used the hall in the new Edith Borthwick School instead. I was a good reader and speaker and was always a narrator so the most I got to wear was a halo. I can't remember any real disasters except for children not remembering their lines and having to be prompted. One year the school did carol-singing round the village (probably it was arranged by Rotary or Lions Club and the school joined in). We'd all practised because of carol service so we weren't too bad. The teachers taught us how to make lanterns using a candle in a jam jar dangled from a pole by string.
Every year there was a Christmas Party, divided into infants and juniors. I went to the infants party when I was in Mrs James's and it was held at the old Church School on the green near St Mary's Church. I can't remember much about the food except, but I remember not wanting to play the balloon bursting game (using forks to burst as many balloons as you can to win the game). I've always had a dislike of balloons, especially when the go bang. Other games would be musical chairs, statues and pass the parcel. I think every child got a small present, often something practical like pencils and rulers. Other years the infant Christmas party was in its usual place in the village hall. Top class helped to decorate the hall and hide the paper fishes for one of the party games ("find the fishes"). The junior Christmas party was in the village hall when I went to it and was the same format, but somewhat rowdier. The parties were probably especially good for the children who didn't have much of a Christmas (or whatever festive season was appropriate to them) at home because of not having enough money.
When I started Top Class (half a year early), school decided to hold an Art and Craft Exhibition for pupils and parents. I entered the Poetry Class for my age group and the black and white photography classes. I won three prizes, which were book tokens and these were soon spent at Hannays bookshop in town. Being a small village, there were plenty of grumbles about favouritism because several of the main winners (who got prizes donated by local businesses) were good friends with particular members of staff and supposedly they got the prizes even though so-and-so's entry was much better (the same complaints you get at competition classes in any village fete or show). While I was at school, this was the only time they ran the competition.
Primary School Dinners
At Iver Heath and Witham, I had always gone home for dinner. At Bocking Churchstreet I alternated between school dinners, lunch at home and packed lunch. Although uninspiring and hardly cordon bleu due to having to cook in bulk, school dinners were healthy. We didn't have a dining hall so each classroom was converted into a dining area by addition of plastic table-covers. The dinner trolleys arrived and we lined up. Food was doled out onto plates as we got to the trolley. The only option was "no gravy," everything else was compulsory. You were allowed to leave one type of food on your plate; the dinner-ladies made you eat everything else. Dinnertime bullying took 2 forms – the stealing of the tasty things from your plate or the deposition of the yukky things on your plate so you had to choke down a double portion. Seconds were often available.
Every meal involved meat, egg or cheese: thin slices of pork or chicken; liver and bacon (which I loved); toad-in-the-hole; fish fingers, corned beef, pilchards, grated cheese or chopped boiled egg depending on whether it was a salad or a hot meal. We had greyish watered down mashed potatoes served with an ice-cream scoop and marrowfat peas (which I've always disliked). All vegetables were boiled into submission. Cabbage was khaki and mushy but I loved it. I hated the watery orange mush of boiled swede.
Once a week there might be somewhat soggy chips. Potatoes also came in "duchesse" form (piped onto trays and baked); sliced on hot pots; mashed on meat pie; or chopped in salad cream as cold potato salad (that peculiar waxy sort from a tin). On curry day there was rice. Sometimes there was tinned ravioli or spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce or real spaghetti with meatballs. Salads were arranged in longitudinal lines on a huge tray. A serving spoon swept across these lines, dumping a swathe of it onto your plate: coleslaw, cress, fine chopped beetroot, fine chopped lettuce, grated carrot, grated cheese (unless it was egg day or pilchard day) and a couple of slices of cucumber and tomato.
Plates were collected up by monitors and "pudding" or "afters" was served by the monitors. First were the "no custards". School custard, served from big jugs, developed a skin with the thickness and texture of a Marigold rubber glove. Semolina was gritty stuff and tapioca was nicknamed "frogspawn." The aforementioned, along with rice pudding, were served with strawberry jam. Combinations included jam roly-poly and custard, jam sponge and custard (it resembled bath sponge), lemon curd tart and chocolate custard, blancmange (how often do we see that these days?), trifle (or "how to use up leftover sponge and custard"). These apparently stodgy puddings were essential for children that were turfed out of the building 3 times daily to run around like maniacs outdoors. Very few children got obese. One girl was very overweight because she ate compulsively, including fish-fingers straight from her parents' freezer. Another pair of children were very overweight and had an even more overweight mother who insisted it was "glandular" but who served vast amounts of food at home and insisted on plates being cleared.
The Less Bright Children
In my days at primary school, Educationally Sub-Normal or “ESN” was the jargon for “Special Needs”. Being a small village school, Bocking Churchstreet primary catered for all the village kids – gifted children, average children, disturbed children, under-privileged children and ESN children. Teaching always had to be aimed at the average child making average progress at an average pace.
Gifted kids risked becoming bored and disruptive due to lack of stimulation (I did this a couple of times and then got free rein in the classroom bookshelves if I finished before the other children). ESN children got bored because they couldn't keep up. Some of the disturbed children wanted to sit on the teacher’s lap during the lesson, although others had bizarre behaviour such as drinking paint to get attention. The under-privileged ones were sometimes dismissed as lazy, but their home environment wasn’t conducive to good study skills (many relied on free school meals for their one decent daily meal – several came to school without breakfast).
The ESN kids had a tough time and were a challenge for teachers and other pupils alike. For example there was "M" in Mrs James’s class who stalled at the 5 year old stage for literacy and never moved up a class. He was frustrated and was tormented by other children and sometimes threw his weight around. Without any classroom assistants, it became harder for the teacher to control him and he couldn't get the one-to-one specialised teaching he needed so he remained stuck at the bottom of a class of 30 children. When I was about 9, the top half of our huge playing field was fenced off and the Edith Borthwick School was built. This catered for children like "M". In smaller classes, taught at his own pace and praised for every small step of progress, I hope his life became happier.
Another special needs child had a serious speech impediment. He was a bright, bubbly boy with an enquiring mind, but had difficulty making himself understood. My mother was a classroom assistant for a while and she patiently tried to get him to speak slowly and precisely. His thoughts just ran too fast for his speech and he probably needed a speech therapist.
School Loos & Smelly Kids
At the Victorian era Bocking Churchstreet school, the loos were rather malodorous outdoor toilets on the other side of the playground. A long brick wall shielded a row of cubicles (3 or 4 for the girls) and, at one end was the boys cubicle and gutter room (no urinals, just a gutter/drain and they pissed against the tiles). A roof had been put on the cubicles, but not over the alleyway between the wall and cubicles. There were no toilet seats, just 2 curved bits of wood bolted to the pedestal for parking one's buttocks on. They weren't varnished, but had been worn smooth by generations of bottoms. The paper was "tracing paper" with one side smooth and one side rough – in fact when a class ran out of tracing paper someone would be sent to get some toilet roll!
The drainage probably left much to be desired in spite of frequent application of Jeyes fluid. The roof leaked and the cement floors and woodwork got wet and had a dank smell. I'm sure they were no worse than many other outdoor toilets that served around 100 kids, some of whom had uncertain aim. It was said that one girl used to pee on the floor and not in the toilet, because she wouldn't sit on a toilet seat.
Us girls dared each other to run along the toilet alleyway, past the boys' room and out of the opening at that end of the wall. The playground side of the shield wall was ideal for stocking-ball games as there were no windows (who needed windows when there wasn't a roof?). I visited the school a year after I'd left. Some of the offices and staff areas had been converted into lovely indoor toilets.
The girl who allegedly peed on the floor came from a family with negligible personal hygiene. They had Dutch names and the oldest daughter “O” was my age, but at 11 could not spell her own 5-letter name. She and her clothes reeked with the faecal smell that people develop after weeks of not washing body or clothes. O was not allowed to attend the human reproduction lessons. Her younger sister was even stinkier, possibly from wearing O’s unwashed hand-me-downs, and her hair was a bird’s nest. They were actually quite pretty girls (O had a sweet placid nature, but her younger sister could be spiteful), but became outcasts because the smell really was unbearable. I don't know what their family background was, but their parents didn’t go to parents’ evenings and I'm sure the children were held back educationally by their circumstances.
There was also a stinky vicious girl. She was small, boyish and pugnacious. Her dirty hair seemed to get cut with garden shears. One day she and her gang grabbed me in the field and she made the boys expose themselves to me. At that age it was very shocking and I couldn’t explain to the teacher what had upset me so much. She often exposed herself to both boys and girls and seemed obsessed, rather than curious, with their genitals. In retrospect, maybe she was being molested by a family member. Many of us were scared of her.
These children remind me of the Charles Causley poem "Timothy Winters". They seemed to be invisible to Social Services. The local Lions Club found one family trying to cook a can of baked beans over a candle after their electricity and gas were disconnected due to arrears. The father had walked out and they weren't yet eligible for welfare payments. The organisation managed to get the services reconnected on "humanitarian" grounds while welfare payments were sorted out. I’m sure we gave some of our outgrown clothes and books away to less fortunate friends on the pretext of “presents” when they came to visit.
The Good, The Bad and the Misunderstood
I'm sure there were characters at Iver Heath and Witham, but I only really recall those from Bocking Churchstreet.
There was one big lad with a ruddy face and a shock of white hair who was accused of being a bully. He was actually quite soft-hearted, but was bigger and stronger than the other lads, had a speech impediment and was rather clumsy as though his body was too big for him. In days past, he’d have ended up a farm-hand. He got taunted as "Selwyn Froggett" (a simple-minded sitcom character) and just wanted to follow his dad into the mechanic's trade. One day, the school gerbil escaped from its cage. In his panic at trying to get out of its way and not hurt it, the boy’s foot landed on the gerbil. We had a sudden, messy lesson in life and death. It affected the lad a lot and he was in tears, but because he was big and rough-looking he didn’t get much sympathy from his peers.
There were 2 brothers who were serious bullies who relieved smaller kids of sweets, crisps and packed lunches and threatened to “duff up” anyone who told on them. The younger one terrified me for a couple of years (it felt like longer). They were large, strong, possibly not the brightest of children, but cunning. Life became a whole lot better when they'd both moved on to the local comprehensive school. They had a vicious younger henchman who began smoking and drinking at the age of 13 or 14 and his parents didn’t care. Many years later, I found out that the worst of the bullies came from abusive homes where wife-bashing and child-bashing had been normal for several generations.
One little girl who was in the top infants class with me was a biter. Her mum ran a posh frock shop in town and would have been mortified. My mum had to complain to the teacher that I kept going home with bite marks on my arm.
The “slipper” (over the headmaster's knee - more severe than smacking, but less severe than the cane) had a chastening effect on most out-of-control kids. One lad punched me in the stomach for no reason except that I was “clever” or “posh”. He got the slipper and his parents must have been told why. I think his dad had a go at him about the right and wrong way to treat girls as he was a reformed character for the rest of the final year at primary school. He also discovered that being friends with the brainy kid was very useful when you had problems with maths or writing.
A number of children came from the local Dr Barnados home and a few of them had behavioural problems due to their home life before being taken into care. One lad used to drink Rowney water-based paint to get attention from the teachers. He also got the day off when his mum visited him at the children’s home. For some reason he couldn’t go and live with her. It was a good day for him when we went on a class visit to Colchester Zoo as his mum met him there and he spent the day with her.
The children from Foley House finished school 10 minutes early to get the service bus home. The school secretary came round to all the classes to ask for "anyone for the service bus" and she put them on the bus at stop in front of the village hall next to the junior playing field (which was also the village recreation ground). Sometimes the person collecting children for the service bus home used to shout "Foley House" which meant everyone in class knew which children didn't live with their own parents. Later on, that was the bus route I used when going home from Grammar School (and many years later I met one of the bus drivers, which is another story altogether).
We sometimes had armed forces children at the village school, generally only for 3 - 6 months before their parents were posted elsewhere. Some were very mature for their age, but others were disruptive due to never settling down. Some were considered quite exotic because they were American. There were only 3 black children at the school in my time there, all from the Barnados home. When I revisited the village a couple of years ago, I noticed it was much more ethnically diverse.
I can't remember what the punishments were at Iver Heath or Powers Hall End primaries, but I vividly remember the standard punishments at Bocking Churchstreet. This is not because I was regularly punished though. I became a Prefect and was a door monitor at playtime.
Mrs Innes, who as a child had met Queen Victoria (or so she told us; though this would put her in her 70s, not her 50s!), regaled us with tales of rulers on knuckles and heads banged together when she was a child. Her punishment for the class's disorderly conduct was to make us march round the playground while other classes played. The combination of humiliation, missing out on playtime and peer pressure for the children who had not misbehaved instilled discipline into the class as a whole.
The standard punishment for boys who fought or hit was the slipper, administered over Mr Boyes' knee. Some boys regularly got the slipper, while others were too cunning to be caught. The other standard punishment was detention "under the clock." This was for lesser misbehaviour. The clock in question was opposite the head's office. The perpetrator(s) stood under the clock at playtime or lunchtime. The idea was that they missed play and were humiliated. It rarely worked. They were on the main corridor and could chat with passers by even though they were meant to be silent and consider their wrongdoing. The clock was also next to the big doors that led from the side of the building to the playground. This door was supervised by a Prefect to ensure kids didn't run in and out of the building. Kids had to have a good reason to go into the building at playtime and were supposed to use the door at the end of the building. The person in detention could therefore chat to the Prefect on door monitor duty.
I was only ever under the clock once. I got bored in Mrs Hooton's class and started playing about with the person at the next desk. Being under the clock was a lark and a novelty. The fact it never happened again was due to me being a bookish introvert rather than any chastening effect of detention. On another occasion I was larking about when we were learning a play at the village hall. The only thing I was good for as being a narrator and I got a bit bored between scenes. I got "lines" for that which had no deterrent effect at all - in fact I did double the number of lines during the detention lunchtime which was my way of rebelling.
My younger sisters went to the Bocking Churchstreet nursery school (or playgroup) at the United Reform Church and then to the local primary school a few years behind me. They were one of 4 sets of female twins at primary school. Two sets of twins were in the year above me and were very nice. The other set was in the year above my sisters and bullied them mercilessly. My sisters had an even harder time with the rough kids and they repeatedly ran away. My parents eventually moved them to Manor Street School in Braintree (it's now a local museum) where they did extremely well. It was right opposite Braintree bus station and they used to get the Hedingham Omnibuses bus home and walk from the Four Releet crossroads. Coincidentally I now own and drive one of the Hedingham buses they may have travelled on!
They only escaped temporarily by going to a different primary school. They ended up at the same local Secondary School as their former tormentors who made up for lost time with even worse bullying. That secondary school had a poor reputation for discipline at the time.
The 11 Plus
While reminiscing, I chatted to a colleague who is a Primary School governor. These days, gifted children are labelled "gifted and talented." They may be talented at maths or English or some other subject instead of just having a fuzzy "gifted child" label. They aren't moved up a class in order to be taught with older children, they are kept with their age-mates and given extra work or harder work. They might sit in on secondary school lessons in the subjects they excel at. For me this would have been English Language and Biology.
The optional 11 Plus exam was the gateway to selective schooling. Pass it, and you could go to Grammar School. Fail it, or not be put forward for it, and you went to the local Comprehensive with the bulk of the pupils from primary school. This was a mixed blessing – it might mean escaping from bullies or losing your friends. My sisters did not take it and they ended up being bullied by the same two girls that had bullied them at Bocking Churchstreet prior to my sisters moving to Manor Street primary school.
I was the only one out 4 applicants who passed the 11-plus. The school recommended it and my parents were keen. I was a couple of years ahead of my peer group and bored. Of the other 3, one girl was put forward by her parents. She lived not far from me and I think her parents were quite competitive. The other 2 were boys and I was surprised that one in particular didn't make it to grammar school as I thought he was cleverer than me.
We had special lessons from Mr Boyes, the headmaster (he was Welsh) and mock exams. Some questions were Mensa-type logic/reasoning puzzles that I had seen in the Readers Digest. Some involved constructing matrices based on limited clues e.g. Mr Jones's house has a white door. Mr Smith's door is not blue. Then 1 or 2 more clues followed by "whose house has the red door?" (There's an old computer game called "Sherlock" based on this type of reasoning). Others were comprehension or maths. I remember one practice test had "Which is the odd word out: repair, replace, renovate, refurbish?" It's "replace" – the others relate to overhauling something.
We also had to learn exam discipline and time management. Even in classroom tests we'd never had such rigorous conditions. We were given mock exams to take home to do. I think we did the exam in Mrs Gillingham's classroom. All I could say to my parents was that I'd answered all the questions. I then had to wait. When the letter arrived saying I'd passed, at first I was insistent that I'd go to Tabor High with my friends (such as they were). My parents reminded me that the older kids who'd previously bullied me would be there. Also, I would get bored again. We went to an open evening at Chelmsford County High School and saw the facilities. I fell in love with the science labs.
The girl living nearby failed. She said she'd only failed by a few marks, but in fact we weren't told our marks. It was just "pass" or "fail" and "you have been offered a place at such-and-such Grammar School" or "Unfortunately you have not been successful…." She didn't want to talk to me after that and her parents were less friendly. They also bought her a pony, but at this same time, I gave up riding lessons due to study commitments.
Most of the children went to Tabor High School, the closest secondary school in Braintree. A few went to Alec Hunter High School on the other side of Braintree. When I went to Grammar School 10 miles away in Chelmsford, I was a country child from a small and then rather rural village and completely out of my depth socially. In the 1970s, Bocking Churchstreet sometimes seemed to be trapped in the 1950s.
Green Shield Stamps
Throughout my primary school years, I vividly remember Green Shield Stamps (Tesco) and Co-op's blue Stamps. There were also Pink Stamps (Fine Fare), but mum didn't shop there so I hardly ever saw these. I think some petrol stations might also have given Green Shield stamps. The Green and Pink stamps were used to get catalogue goods from the companies that redeemed them while the Co-op stamps gave you a discount from Co-op itself. Basically, the more you spent in those shops, the more stamps you got.
I spent hours as a kid sticking stamps into their respective books. We never managed to fill a single Pink Stamp book as mum didn't use the stores that gave these away and I think my few pages of Pink Stamps all came from a relative! The Green Shield catalogue never seemed to have anything we wanted. In Chelmsford, the Green Shield store was on the corner of West Square (opposite the multi-storey car park) and later became an Argos store. I have no idea how or where the Pink Stamps were redeemed. Like most children, we were enthusiastic collectors and had a biscuit tin with stamps and stamp books in. It was like a game with rules about not mixing stamps of different colours or not mixing different denominations. I'm sure it helped us learn to count too, especially when collecting up the odd few stamps to fill a page.
As store prices went up, you got more stamps. Instead of being dispensed in a one-stamp-wide strip, they were dispensed in sheets. This got absurd - you got reams of stamps - so Co-op and Green Shield produced different denominations of their stamps: dark stamps worth 1 point and paler stamps worth 10 points (the number of points was printed on them of course). Mum didn't like Green Shield. All too often, we went to Green Shield with 10 books of stamps for a set of placemats only to find the catalogue had changed and we now needed 12 books of stamps. We kids continued to collect and stick stamps in books and I wonder if mum eventually gave the filled books to the local hospital League of Friends. We rarely seemed to get anything we wanted and what we did get ended up on school fete tombolas. More recently, I collected Esso Tiger Tokens for the local Cats Protection branch - we needed supporters to send in tokens just to raise enough for tombola prizes!
These days, trading stamps have been replaced by loyalty cards which operate more like Co-op dividend stamps. The points are converted into discount vouchers.
Pony Riding or Ballet?
Like many girls aged 7 - 11, I was pony mad. I had loads of paperbacks by the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Mary Gervase ("pony school" series) and others - all very formulaic, but absolute must-haves for pony-mad girls. Naturally I wanted riding lessons. Though there was a riding school at the bottom end of the village where my friends went, dad chose a riding school in Great Leighs (Fulbournes Farm). After I'd fallen off and broken my arm, he took me to a riding school in Wethersfield, called Sandhills Farm. When the owner left to take up a position at an equestrian centre, my riding lessons ended. This coincided with the start of Secondary School and I needed to concentrate on homework and school instead of pony-riding. This was a bit sad as riding had been great for my physical fitness and posture.
My sisters got a second-hand bike from some family friends and when they'd learned to ride it they each got a Raleigh Eighteen (yellow coloured, lady's frame, 18" diameter wheels) and they did their cycling proficiency at primary school. I'm not sure why my parents didn't think I'd be interested in having a bike, maybe it was because I did pony-riding. I was already a couple of years into secondary school when I also got a bike - a green Raleigh Shopper with 20" diameter wheels and front and back baskets. Once I'd mastered it, I much preferred borrowing my school-friends' racing bikes and when I was 16 I got a man's racing bike that I road until it wore out.
My sisters weren't into ponies, and they did ballet and tap dancing at the Village Hall. To enter for their exams, they had to go to Coggeshall. Mum altered dresses for them and dyed things the right colour for entering the ballet exams. I remember reading things such as "their pixie is very good, but the elf could do with more work". I think ballet lessons lasted about a year before they decided it wasn't really their thing.
Braintree Carnival and Essex Shows
Some of the older folks in the village remembered when there used to be a fair held on fields near Deanery Corner. Several of them had earned extra money by helping at the fair. By the 1970s the Braintree Carnival was held on a large green up Coldnailhurst Avenue. Businesses and clubs had decorated floats that were judged. There was a fairground with the Golden gallopers (steam carousel - you had to jump on and off as it never came to a complete stop), chairoplanes (which my parents considered too dangerous for us to go on), swing boats (also "too dangerous"), dodgems, helter-skelter, big wheel and the usual fairground amusements and sideshows from an era before videogames. As well as the fairground stalls, there were some stalls run by local charities, usually along the lines of pick-a-straw. Someone set up a miniature steam train and you could go for a ride up and down the track. During the day there were shows in an arena, such as the inflatable giant wrestlers carried on men's shoulders. In the evenings there was real wrestling and the local hero was Neil Sands. I used to have a Braintree Carnival programme he'd signed. At Carnival time, the local pubs put up signs saying "no fairground folk" (sometimes the signs were less polite in the terms they used). It could be quite overwhelming at the time, though I look back on it with fondness; I've been to a few steam fairgrounds in recent years and they often remind me of Braintree Carnival.
In the summer there was the Essex Show held in Great Leighs. We often went on school trips there and were usually supposed to look at the livestock and make a note of what breeds they were. The first times I went, the Essex Show still had a strong agricultural and country theme with classes with livestock classes, dog shows, horse shows, show jumping, the local hunt and other big displays in the main ring e.g. horse-drawn artillery display, Zulu warriors. There was a big fairground with the usual attractions and sideshows. One year I helped on the pony rides. There were also lots of trade stands for local businesses, many aimed at farmers but as the years passed they were more and more about different makes of cars and getting double glazing (Crittall Windows was still big in Braintree, but there was increasing competition). There were craft tents, horticultural tents and flower arranging; these were closed for judging at certain times of the day.
When I went to Grammar School in Chelmsford, the bus home often got stuck for up to an hour at the Essex Showground because of the traffic. One year Queen Elizabeth II was at the Essex Show on the Friday and this was a traffic nightmare; it was a hot day and we weren't moving at all so the poor bus driver ended up turning his engine off. The Essex Show eventually died a death, but it left me with a life-long fondness for country shows and heavy horse shows so I often go to Orsett Show, Barleylands Show and to heavy horse shows.
1976 - 1983 - Chelmsford County High School
By the time I reached Grammar School (Chelmsford County High School), I was seriously nerdy with poor social skills. I was a target for bullies straight away. One rough girl (let's call her "X") and her coterie made my life a misery for 5 years. X smoked down the school field, smuggled in vodka in medicine bottles and led on the other girls. In the second year, so many girls in my class smoked that the whole class rather unfairly got detention. After a few years of verbal and physical abuse I finally snapped, lashed out and hit someone. The physical bullying stopped, but the verbal abuse continued until X and most of her followers left after O Levels. I already knew that if you told the teachers they punished the bullies and the bullying went underground. Embarrassingly, in my last couple of years there, another girl developed a crush on me (maybe she mistook my nerdy engineering mindset for something else).
After passing the 11-Plus and accepting a place at CCHS, I went to an induction evening with my parents. Part of this was spent sitting in the school Hall hearing about what the school had to offer - this was pitched both at parents and at prospective intake pupils. Parents could also ask questions. Afterwards there was a tour of part of the school building to show off the teaching facilities.
One big shock were the sheer number of pupils. Primary school had fewer than 200 children, while secondary school had closer to 800. I'd gone from being the cleverest girl at school to being average. The other shock was commuting to school. My parents drove everywhere so I knew nothing about bus travel. My parents' advice, apart from the bus numbers, was to follow other girls so I knew where to get off for school and where to find the bus stop for going home. For several weeks I missed the "first bus" home through getting out of the last class to slowly. It was half an hour for the next bus - no big deal if you're familiar with the buses, but I felt that I was stranded in an unfamiliar town! The trick turned out to be to pack your homework stuff your bag, take your coat etc into last class and take your stuff from last lesson home with you because there wasn't time to go back to your form room and put it back in your desk. The French teacher in first year was notorious for overrunning so that we missed our buses. When I was in second or third year there was a bus strike and we were all stranded in Chelmsford. A group of us heading back to Witham and Braintree ended up walking to the rail station and pooling our money to get home by train. We then had to phone from the rail station to get picked up as it was a couple of miles from home. Up till then, I'd hardly ever travelled by train, and never done so without my parents.
Travelling during foul weather and in winter could also be challenging. We were supposed to be at school by 8:45, but in severe fog or snow there were public transport problems. If you arrived during main assembly, you had to sit in the dining hall and you were allowed into the main Hall just before the notices got read. If you got to school later than that you were supposed to join your class, but you wouldn't have any text books or exercise books with you except the ones you'd taken home for homework (and if you had homework to hand in, you put it in the teacher's pigeonhole and you filled out a "late slip" if she'd already collected everyone else's), then you'd have to go to your form room to get your books between lessons (unless it was a double lesson in that room). If you got to school late and you had school dinners you were supposed to sign the Late Dinners book outside the secretary's office. Otherwise the kitchen wouldn't make enough dinners to go round.
There were a couple of winters in the late 1970s that were so snowy the buses couldn't get through from Braintree. If enough pupils were affected, school closed early so the ones who did get there could get home safely; sometimes school got a phone call to say bus services between Chelmsford and somewhere else were being suspended at such-and-such time, which meant pupils who lived on that route had to leave in time for the last bus before services were suspended. We had to make an effort to get to school though. In heavy snow, my bus could take an hour to get from my stop on Bocking Churchstreet to Braintree Bus Park; we'd wait there to find out if the bus was going on to Chelmsford or turning back to Halstead. When I moved to Howe Green at the end of Fifth form travel was less exciting.
When school was founded, methods of transport included pony and trap, bicycle and omnibus. Girls who lived a fair distance away spent five days a week living at the School Hostel further down Broomfield Road. Girls living closest to school walked or cycled. Some were dropped off by parents on the way to work. By Sixth form, some had motorbikes (which were parked at one end of the bike racks) and a few had cars and driving licences; they had to park on side roads opposite the school. During my years there, the most common form of transport was Eastern National bus. The distance from my home in Braintree to school (measured along the 311 bus route) was 13.5 miles and took 1 hour on average. Some girls travelled approximately 15 miles which took a little over an hour and involved changing buses part way along the route. No-one thought anything of it (apart from written homework done on the bus home was a bit untidy as a result), though the school now wants to impose a 12.5 mile limit because pupils are tired from commuting longer distances. After moving to Chelmsford I sometimes cycled to school so I could go cycling with friends afterwards.
In 1977, the big national occasion was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee. Our normally sober classrooms got a bit more decoration. Miss Pattison had met the Queen Mother and in 1962 the Queen Mother had visited CCHS, so school was a supporter of royalty. A lot of us had jubilee stickers on our books and school bags. I'm sure there was a lot more going on, but I don't remember it!
During my third year there was a nationwide paper shortage. To save paper we were asked to fit two lines of writing per ruled line of a standard feint exercise book. For one History essay I managed to fit 3 lines per line of standard feint, but apparently it played havoc with the teacher’s eyes. A lot of us still read comics and many of those comics combined two-into-one in order to save paper and they split up again when the paper shortage was over (a couple of years later we would get into teen magazines).
From about 3rd year, I was aware that some of the girls developed crushes either on a teacher (usually a sports mistress) or on one of the Sixth formers. Sometimes this was more a case of hero worship than attraction, though there were rumours of "incidents" where a girl had made advances. There were also rumours about the orientation of some teachers; no-one actually cared either way and it was just part of school gossip. In single sex education there simply weren't any male teachers to have crushes on. We had a male maths teacher for one term and I believe he was the only male teacher the school has had (presumably the school is exempt from the usual sex discrimination rules when employing teachers) and some girls became more interested in flirting than in maths. When I became ill at 17, the fact I'd been in single sex education led one doctor to suggest that I was sexually confused and in denial about being attracted to my classmates (not so! when we had building contractors on site I was one of the girls covertly ogling them).
In our final year we were allowed to do some fun activities such as hold a garden party behind the Sixth Form House. This involved cucumber sandwiches, flouncy dresses, lacy gloves and wide brimmed hats. We weren't allowed wine, but there was plenty of tea. The staff were invited so it was partly a thank you in the last weeks of formal lessons before A Levels. After A Levels, we'd go our different ways. Sadly the lovely garden behind the Sixth Form House (where we once had a goat tethered to keep the lawn trimmed) has been built on since I left.
I've never been to a high school reunion. Dad was a school governor, but when we got a new headmistress who wanted to change everything, he didn't get on with her. The headmistress threatened to change my school records in the hope of getting me to make dad "toe the line" (her words). I never told him. At the time I was frightened she might doctor my records sufficiently to expel me in order to spite him (at my first job interviews I had to explain why I could not able to provide school records as a reference). After leaving school, I never received invites for the Old Girls' Society or reunions though other girls were invited to "stay in touch" with the school. Maybe mine got lost in the post, but I suspect it was never actually posted.
The history of CCHS was printed in the School Magazine over the years and a sense of its history was instilled in all of us, right from the start. On the wall between the Headmistress's Office and the Gym were photos of the previous headmistresses. Sometimes, former headmistresses (Miss Cadbury) or governors (Miss Cramphorn) came to speak to the school at assembly. Before the tour of the school as it was in my time, this is a summary of its history:
Chronological History of CCHS 1906 - 2011 has more detailed information
Chelmsford County High School 1913
Early Floor Plan. Rooms 4 & 5 (with 13 and 13A above) were not part of the original building
if you compare the floor plan to early photos, but were added along with a new entrance for "Juniors".
A Walk Round Secondary School
The main part of CCHS was basically built around a quadrangle (the "Quad"), although the building had grown add-ons over its long history (built in the early 1900s). There was a large entrance in the centre of the front facade, but that was for staff and visitors. The usual entrance for uniformed pupils was the door with "Juniors" inscribed on the lintel to the far left of the front facade. After going through this door, to the left were Rooms 4 and 5 (general teaching rooms). Straight ahead (north corridor) there were lower school toilets and Rooms 7 and 8 on the right hand side. A spur opposite Room 7 led to coat pegs and the Music Room (room 6, I think). Halfway to the Music Room on the left was an open area (used in my day for coats) that later got turned into another class room; on the right hand side opposite this area was a short corridor to the science labs (Chemistry Lab on the left, Biology Lab on the right, Room 22 - set out as a lecture room - at the end). This short dead end corridor was fascinating because it held the cabinet of pickled biology specimen. Between the science labs and the main "square" of the school was a green area with a small pond in it.
If you turned right after going through the Juniors door (west corridor), on the right was Room 3 (a small maths room), Room 2, school offices and Room 1 (History Room) all on the right hand side. Opposite Room 1 was Room 6 whose occupants got to ring the lesson bell! The Stationery Room was also along here. Opposite the Maths Room were stairs up to Room 11, (two thirds of the way up) and then 13, 13A, The Needlework Room (Room 12) and the Cookery Room at the top. In a dead-end section of corridor between the cookery room and needlework room were fridges, freezers and a pantry used by cookery class. There were some Middle school loos under the stairs. Opposite the History Room were stairs leading to Room 15 (Latin Room, again two thirds of the way up) and the staff room (and homework pigeonholes) and the opposite end of the long Cookery Room at the top. To the left of the main staffroom (i.e. the south end of upstairs) was a classroom that had become another staffroom, and unlike the main room this had a window panel in the door. There was a small seating area outside of this smaller room so that a teacher could talk to you without you going into these rooms. It was pretty nerve-wracking if you got sent to knock at the staffroom to ask for one of the teachers. Near the foot of these stairs was a short passage leading to the Sick Room and to a door that led into the Quad behind this original bit of the school building. Past Rooms 1 and 2 was the school gym and a corridor turning to the left which led to the school hall and canteen (this south corridor was an enclosed walkway that once separated the main school building from the gym hall).
If you continued straight on down the north corridor after going in through the Juniors door, you went past Rooms 7 and 8 (on the right), past coat pegs (on the left), past the corridor to the Music Room and science labs (to the left) and you had to turn right into the east corridor. On the left of the east corridor were the middle school loos, Rooms 9 and 10 (Geography Room) and at the end of that corridor on the left were stairs up to the library (1st floor) and lower 6th form rooms (18 and 18A, I think) and art room (2nd floor). Under the stairs were the 6th form loos. At the end of the corridor you went across the Quad to get to the school hall and canteen.
The two-storey library/art block on pillars above one end of the Quad. This formed a covered walkway between east corridor and the Hall and dining room. It was also popular on rainy break times if you didn't want to stay in the classroom. The covered area was used for storage of chairs, large wooden "boxes" (used as props on the stage and also as steps and as tables for fundraising stalls). A common game was to jump up and "touch the beams" i.e. the horizontal concrete beams supporting the library floor. On the main Hall side of the covered area were steps that led down under the stage, this was where the props for plays were stored and was out of bounds unless you had permission (drama club activities, Sixth form revue, school orchestra activities etc). When I was leaving, there were plans to enclose this and create more teaching rooms.
At the far right of the front facade was a large entrance leading into the gym, which is actually a separate hall tacked on and had been the original assembly hall when there were far fewer pupils. It still had that function for House assemblies and on one occasion for when the whole of lower school got a stern telling off over "manners" when getting on the bus (a member of the public had reported us as being more like a rugby scrum than young ladies). Between the gym and the outside door there was a foyer area with a PE office to one side and a big box of "lost and found" PE kit. To mum's annoyance, girls who forgot their own kit sometimes borrowed indiscriminately from other lockers and then left the borrowed kit lying around in the changing room. Staff put abandoned kit in the lost and found box. The Gym had 4 doors: the big front doors, the doors to the main (west) corridor, the door to the changing room and doors to the dining hall that had been tacked on to the south side. All outdoor shoes had to be removed when going into the Gym, except when it was used as a themed restaurant at Christmas Fayre.
I will always remember the smell of the changing rooms; a mix of bleach, sweaty shoes, sweaty bodies and damp clothes that dried off in the lockers (goodness knows how it didn't sprout mould). Each locker was divided into several wire compartments and each girl had a tall compartment for clothing and the small compartment underneath for footwear. I think each locker served 9 people i.e. no individual lockable lockers to prevent your kit being "borrowed". The lockers lined most of the sides of the changing room and there were central benches with clothes pegs over them to hang uniform on during sports lessons. Valuable were put on the Gym windowsill or in the PE shed, depending on whether it was indoor or outdoor PE. There were showers and we were encouraged to use them, but in reality there just wasn't time and very few people enjoy chilly showers. There were a couple of toilets and basins in here, which also got used by pupils in the main Hall and dining hall.
Tacked onto the far right beyond the gym was a modern building tacked on to the school - the dining halls, kitchens and assembly hall. Just in front of these was a detached house that used to be the original caretaker's residence, but which became class rooms for smaller classes (usually 6th formers). Along with some school friends, I helped redecorate this building during a holiday period. We submitted an estimate and plans, and even references from our parents who had let us redecorate our own bedrooms, to one of the Deputy Headmistresses. School provided the money for woodchip wallpaper (to cover the uneven walls), Polyfilla (to fill the worst of the holes where shelves had been removed), paint and decorating equipment. Rather unfairly the school newsletter/magazine credited all of this effort to the newly formed PTA (the previous one had disbanded when Miss Pattison retired) who had converted the cloakroom area opposite the science labs into an additional music room. It's time to put the record straight - this building was redecorated by Sixth formers wanting to give something back to their school!
Back to the Music Room corridor at the far left (north) of the school .... at the end of the corridor by the Music Room was an exit.. Turn right and you got to Bancroft Wing which ran down the side of the top playing field. This was a long building housing the physics labs and named after a former headmistress. At the top on the right were the toilets. Then there were 3 rooms on the right: B1, B2 and B3. B2 and B3 were used for Physics while B1 was smaller and used for Biology, especially for dissection classes. Right at the end of the corridor was a room used for storage and occasionally for small tutorials.
Tacked onto the end of Bancroft Wing and accessed from the playing field, not from Bancroft itself, was the school swimming pool. Turn left at the end of the corridor instead, and you got to an Upper 6th pre-fab (Room 25) and the 6th form house (which used to be the house next to the school, but was acquired and adapted into teaching rooms). There were various other rooms, changing rooms and buildings and after I left the open area under the library (which was part of the old Quad) was apparently enclosed and turned into more classrooms.
At the back of the school were plenty of playing fields. Looking from school, the top Sports Field was bounded to the north by Bancroft and the swimming pool and at the top end by the east corridor of school. The tennis courts were to the right, bounded on the south by the Keene Homes (and screened by a row of cedar trees). There was a long hedge between the top field and the bottom field (the tennis courts went right the way down the right hand side of the bottom field as well). Then a hedge separating the bottom field from the allotments, where there was sometimes a flasher. To the north of Bancroft was another playing field, formerly the KEGS (boys school) cricket field which became our athletics field. Part of this has been Astroturfed and part has been tarmac-ed over to replace the tennis courts that were lost when Chelmer Valley Road was built (this road also wiped out allotments and a pleasant footpath which went alongside the river all the way to Broomfield). The remains of the bottom sports field seems to have trees on it now. When I looked at recent satellite images, I found it sad that large amounts of the sports fields have been lost to buildings.
Having spent so many years there, I can recreate much of the school, as it was between 1976 and 1983, in my mind. I sometimes dream I am walking round the school, almost like a ghost. Sometimes I am hurrying to lessons, but more often I've forgotten my books and can't find my form room or I'm in the wrong lesson. I have sometimes thought I'd like to go back and walk around, though the changes would jar with my memories.
There were altercations and I wasn't a perfect pupil by any means. As well as poor social skills, I was too self-opinionated and I stood my ground - positive qualities for my line of work, but not at school. The problem for school was that I do not automatically respect authority figures such as teachers - they have to earn my respect (I didn't disrespect them and I wasn't disruptive, but I often questioned things that I considered unfair). The French teacher was convinced I wasn't trying, but when I changed French teachers, I actually did surprisingly well and got a good grade - the first teacher's immersion method simply didn't suit my way of learning.
In 1979, the headmistress retired and the new headmistress threatened me several times. Dad was a parent governor and she thought she could control him by threatening me. She even threatened to "change my school records" showing me as a troublemaker. This meant I couldn't use my school records as references in my first jobs. The new headmistress came from the sciences and her emphasis on these meant that other subjects, in which we'd had a good reputation, started to fall by the wayside. She seemed unable to steer an even keel.
In the First year I was in Room 5 with English teacher Mrs Dunstan as Form Mistress. In Second year I was in the Music Room (Room 6) and we had Mrs "English" Greenwood (there was also a Mrs "music" Greenwood). Third Year was Room 13 upstairs and our Form Mistress was the History teacher, Miss Pearson, but we were too noisy and got moved to Room 1 downstairs. Fourth Year was Room 7 with Miss Burns the Biology teacher as Form Mistress; she was much more of a disciplinarian and the class had a reputation for being noisy or unruly. Fifth Form was Room 10 (Geography Room) and Mrs Hickman. Lower Sixth form room was 18A with Miss Judge and Upper Sixth form room was Room 25 (the demountable) also with Miss Judge.
Once on school premises, we were not allowed to leave without good reason. Between First and Fifth Years, we had to stay in the grounds during lunchtime (i.e. no leaving school grounds to buy food from fast food places). A favourite place to spend warm and sunny lunchtimes was the paved path that ran alongside Bancroft to the swimming pool. With the wall of Bancroft on one side and a wire fence the other side, this path was usually lined with girls sitting with their backs to the wall or the fence and reading comics, Jackie magazine or doing homework. You had to pick your way over outstretched legs and school bags to one or other end of the path when you wanted to move elsewhere. Other favourite places were behind the hedge that divided the top sports field (used for hockey and tennis depending on the season) from bottom field (used for hockey or athletics depending on season) and against the boundaries of the former KEGS cricket field. We used to sneak a radio into school on Tuesdays to listen to the new Top 40 pop charts at lunchtime. Dinner ladies patrolled the fields so you had to keep one eye out as radios were not allowed at school.
On the south-west corner of the top sports field (the corner by the Keene's memorial homes and the school hall) was a weeping willow tree. On the south-east corner, between the entrance to the tennis courts and the gap in the hedge to the bottom field, was the PE shed where hockey sticks were stored in winter, and tennis rackets were stored in summer. These were numbered and you ended up with preferred sticks/rackets identifiable by colour and number. Hurdles were also stored in the PE shed in summer. In the north-east corner of the bottom field (diagonally the PE shed) was a second PE shed beside a mound of earth that must have been excavated when the shed was built. Running alongside the bottom hedge (dividing the field from allotments) was the long jump area. Between this PE shed and the swimming pool was the high jump area. We also did shot putt and javelin as well as track events. The "KEGS field" ran behind houses on Broomfield Road, between the school and First Avenue. here was grass path leading to an entrance to the field between two houses on Broomfield Road - this was a set of big gates between brick pillars and sometimes dinner ladies had to shoo CCHS girls away as they were talking to boys there! Where the grass path met the playing field was a cricket pavilion that was out of bounds. It was a good place to hide behind to listen to a smuggled-in radio. In summer, the athletics track was on this field.
In lower school, skipping games were popular; the ones where you had two girls tuning a long rope and others jumped in or out during a chant. Sometimes there were 2 ropes, turned in opposing directions. The game I remember ended with "take (however many) salts or else you're dead!" and the "salts" were double speed skips. Another game involved all-but-one of us linking hands in a ring and tangling ourselves up (without unlinking hands) then calling the "doctor" to "cure" (unravel) us. In 3rd, 4th and 5th form these games were considered babyish, but at the end of 5th form (O Level time) and sometimes in Sixth form, we'd let out hair down and play junior school games again.
In Third year, part of the Integrated Studies afternoon was to go into town and take notes and make sketches. In Sixth Form we were allowed to go to the reference library if we had "free periods" in the afternoon. At that time, the reference library was by the bus station, underneath the lending library. We were also allowed out at lunchtime. As we no longer wore uniform, this often meant going to the pub as we looked old enough (this may be an argument in favour of a Sixth form uniform). It was well-known that you could get pot at the Prince of Orange pub (Hall Street, just off Moulsham Street, just behind the Elim Church) and a couple of girls were a bit "not with it" in the afternoon as a result. Sometimes we'd cadge a lift back from one of the Marconi apprentices who had a large enough car. I remember several of us plying a friend with strong coffee in the hope that teachers would notice she was stoned. We also spent many free periods in friends flats above shops on Broomfield Road as they were rented out to Marconi apprentices (these shops and flats were demolished, along with part of Cedar Avenue, when the Parkway extension was built).
The Chelmsford County High School for Girls (CCHS) motto was "Vitae lampada ferimus" (we carry the lamps/lights of life) and the crest was a flaming torch set against the Essex county symbol of three seaxes. While primary school theoretically had a uniform of white and grey, it was never adhered to. CCHS staff acted as school uniform police and would caution you for infractions whether or not you were on school premises. Other schools also had a the “uniform gestapo”. We had a few "discretionary days" (a day's holiday while they did staff training or got the central heating running) which didn’t always coincide with other schools’ discretionary days. On one such day I'd been shopping (because my bus pass was still valid even though school was on holiday!) and was hanging out with uniformed pupils from another school at the local bus station. I got a tongue lashing from one of their teachers about me being out of uniform. At the end of it I just told the teacher that I didn't go to her school. For some reason this gave me huge satisfaction (I suppose I could answer back and be in the right for once!). The teacher did not apologise - they never did. We were also supposed to have briefcases or satchel-style bags, not rucksacks or sports bags. After the first year I was fed up of being teased about carrying a black briefcase and went through a succession of shoulder bags.
CCHS uniform for years 1 – 3 was long-sleeved white blouse with lapels (short sleeved in summer) and a shapeless 2-tone blue tunic made of hardwearing upholstery-fabric that stuck to walls when you leaned on them. A blue and white striped tie was compulsory with the long sleeved blouse . Knee-length socks and flat shoes (brown or black) were worm in winter, but sandals (but no open toes and no sling backs) were allowed in summer. Nylons were permitted after 3rd form. There was an optional regulation pattern blue summer dress which was cooler than wearing the tunic in summer. In the 3rd year the tunic became optional and we could wear an upholstery-fabric skirt instead. If home made, it had to be a simple A-line skirt. Subtle make-up was allowed from 5th form onwards. Luckily school boaters (straw hats) were a thing of the past and I don't think there were ever school berets, though plain woollen hats were tolerated in very cold weather. I can't remember anyone fussing too much about the colour of our woollen gloves, but they were probably meant to be black or blue,
The panorama is best opened in a new window – it’s a very long photo!
There was a thin French navy jumper once tunic days were over (thank goodness for Damart undies, it did nothing to aid warmth). There was a French navy blazer with the school crest on the pocket. This was compulsory on certain occasions and during summer instead of a coat. It was also warmer than the jumper. In colder weather there was a school regulation blue gabardine knee length coat that did not keep out the cold. Same colour warmer alternatives were grudgingly permitted, but my parents insisted on following the uniform to the letter (all obtained from official outfitter Hornes in Southend). The school regulation scarf was French navy with longitudinal white stripes. I got told off for wearing my "Dr Who scarf" (a multicolour effort about 20 foot long, similar to that worn by Dr Who in the Tom Baker era), so that got hidden in a carrier bag and only worn on the bus. Several of us customised our school regulation coats with non-regulation belts (mine was a denim one from Oxfam) until spotted by the uniform gestapo. For a while I got away with wearing a plain blue pleated skirt in fifth form, but only because my family were in the middle of moving house and hadn't had time to get a new regulation skirt to replace the one I'd outgrown.
Sometimes, when walking from the bus or rail station to the school in bad weather, we got soaked. We were allowed to change into PE kit and wear it until break-time (or very rarely until lunchtime if you got really soaked through) by which time your clothes should have dried out on the radiators. The form room would be full of steaming clothes as they dried off. It only happened to me a few times, though one of those occasions (towards the end of fifth form) was a "soaked to the skin" event in a thunderstorm when the rain seemed to come at me from all directions as well as water being splashed from passing vehicles.
I think it was while I was in Fifth Form that school introduced "wear what you like day" which Miss Brooks called "Civilian Day" because we were in civvies rather than uniform. I think we had to donate to charity and there were restrictions - smart casual. I wore brown corduroy trousers which were too tight to be comfortable (and which contributed to the competitive dieting during Sixth Form). During Sixth Form I wore jeans or trousers the whole time except for a bet (that I couldn't go a week wearing skirts or dresses) and the Upper Sixth Form Garden Party (which was rathe Laura Ashley in style).
In 6th form we could wear "smart casual" and during that time the awful upholstery fabric skirts and tunics were phased out and plain navy skirts introduced for the lower school. The summer dress was also dropped when the tunics went. Slogan or logo teeshirts weren't allowed, nor were torn, faded or frayed jeans. Plain or patterned teeshirts and neat jeans were okay though. Many of my "young adult" clothes came from my mum's younger sister. My Sixth form clothing was based around tidy blue jeans, black corduroy trousers, black skinny rib jumper, denim short sleeve jacket (summer), black corduroy jacket, patterned jumpers, various teeshirts (no slogans of course), a long Arran cardigan a silver anorak (made me look like a spaceman!) and lilac-and-pink trainers. Many of us altered our fifth form blouses by removing the collars and sleeves and adding contrasting edging. I removed the crest from my blazer and continued to wear that. It was very much what college students might wear. After I left, the school uniform went through a "grey skirt" phase (which didn't set the school apart visually from local comprehensives) and has now gone to lilac, navy and tartan. Sixth form went from smart casual to "businesslike", but Sixth form uniform based on black blazer (with school crest), black skirt and plain blouse has now been introduced.
School Dinners Secondary Style
For the first couple of years at secondary, I had school dinners. At the beginning of the term, we got a book of dinner tickets – one ticket per school-day. At morning register, there was also a dinner register so the kitchen staff knew how much food to make. Late arrivers (due to traffic problems) were supposed to sign the late dinners book outside the school office to ensure the kitchen adjusted quantities.
In a school of 800 pupils (though not all had school dinners), there were 2 35-minute sittings i.e. each the same length as a lesson. First sitting was for seniors, second was for juniors. We sat at tables of 8 in the dining hall, school hall and the corridor between these. A dinner lady told each table when it was time to join the queue. You handed in your dinner ticket at the servery door, got served, got cutlery, returned to your table and ate. The "Staff dining room" was the foyer between the dining hall and the front of the building.
This was not without problems. If you were at the end of second sitting and there were shortages (due to non-signing of the late dinners book), you got emergency rations of cheese and crackers. Stationery (getting new exercise books when yours was filled up) was once a week during 2nd sitting and meant rushing your meal in order to join the stationery queue. If your table was at the end of the 2nd sitting queue and you urgently needed a new exercise book, you had a problem. Sometimes the dinner queue moved slowly and those on the end of the 2nd dinner queue had to gulp it down and get to lessons. In the 3rd year I switched to packed lunches. My parents were fed up with hearing about "no time to eat dinner" and "only had cheese and crackers".
While I remember the logistics of getting one's dinner, I don't remember much about the food. Plated salads were served from stacked plates. I discovered Spam fritters which I initially liked, but later hated due to their frequency on the menu. Rather soggy chips were available twice a week. There was liver and bacon; bright yellow chicken curry with sultanas in; spaghetti Bolognese; fish fingers; sausages; toad-in-the-hole; beef cobbler and corned beef hash. Usually there were 2 meat/fish options – at least for those at the front of the queue!
The choice of 2 puddings (until one option ran out) included jam/syrup sponge, mince slice or fruit pie with optional custard. Sometimes there were fruit salads, trifles or rice imperials in individual glasses (i.e. the Duralex drinking glasses common to most schools I've visited). Since you collected your meal in one go, you had to eat the first course before seconds got cold! It's a hard habit to break and for years, my parents complained about me bolting my food at home or in restaurants.
Unlike modern school serveries, this was not cafeteria style – you didn't pay-per-item at the end. You handed in your ticket and got set portions doled out. When salads were an option (a few days per week, mainly in summer), grabbing a cheese or pilchard salad was easy. With the hot food, you had to have a portion of meat or fish – vegetarians were not tolerated! At least one portion of veg was mandated, two was recommended. No-one patrolled the eating areas to make you clear your plate. Leftovers from our plates were scraped into a pig swill bin. It wasn't bad, but it did get boring after a while as there are only so many dishes that can be freshly made in bulk in a school kitchen.
While sometimes there were shortages, on other days you could go back for seconds after everyone had been served (if you were at the front of the original queue, this was an advantage in getting seconds). In winter I often had seconds of the less popular options such as liver and bacon or curry. With the school emphasis on at least one PE session per day, plus outdoors activity at lunchtime, I noticed only a few fat girls (one of whom probably had a chromosome abnormality).
Lessons at Secondary School
Apart from alternate Wednesdays, the schoolday started with assembly in the main school hall. First to third years sat cross-legged on the floor. Older pupils sat further back on chairs. Upper Sixth sat on stage - the house captains (and any special guests) in the front row and the rest of Upper Sixth in three or four rows behind them. The Headmistress was centre front, with the two Deputy Heads one either side of her. Musically talented pupils would play as we filed in and out of assembly - the themes tune to "All Creatures Great and Small" was a favourite on the piano. Alternating Wednesdays were Form assemblies and House assemblies. Sixth Form assembly (on Wednesdays) was in the school hall.
At CCHS, our school-day was divided into morning assembly followed by 8 35-minute lessons: 2 in the morning followed by morning break, 3 after break and three after lunchbreak (1 hr 10 mins). Generally each subject had a 35 minute slot, but once a week it also had a double-length slot. This was especially necessary for science lessons where it took time to set things up and clear things away.
Just before the year's exams there seemed to be a "silly season" where pre-exam nerves manifested as rowdiness. Teachers referred to this as "examinitis" and did their best to restore proper behaviour. The exams were both a preparation for O and A level exam disciplines and helped teachers assess your proficiency. There are arguments that not all pupils perform well at exams, but we'd all passed the 11-Plus so we couldn't have been terribly unnerved by sitting tests and exams. After the Second year exams I went into the B stream for both Maths and French while the pupils with aptitudes for those subjects went into the A streams. In the first few weeks of the Third year there were a few transfers between the A and B streams based on class-work. I went on to get B grade in both subjects.
In the first year we had English Language, English Literature, French, Maths, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Singing, Music, RE (Christianity), Needlework, Art and PE/Games. The headmistress, Phyllis "Floyd" Pattison was a firm believer in a healthy body and a healthy mind, hence the balance between academic lessons and daily PE. I turned out to be good at English Language, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I was not very interested in Geography or History. The Singing teacher told me I had perfect pitch, so I ended up in the school choir, only giving it up in Lower 6th because I didn't want to do solo. However, I can only sing or play music by ear and was no good at Music theory, especially at musical dictation. There was also a trip to the Museum of London.
There were 2 art rooms above the library and quite a variety of art topics. In the first year we were taught some pottery techniques and I made a rather lumpy clay pot. We learnt about "repeating designs" and designed "wallpaper" (mine was an owl silhouetted by the moon). During lino cutting and printing, my knife slipped and I still have a "tramlines" scar on my left index fingertip. My watercolours skills were pretty basic, but I learnt to handle a brush with some dexterity (these days I use diluted acrylics). I was somewhat better drawing with pencils - generally the subject matter is recognisable! I would have loved to do woodwork craft items. During the first 3 years, art tended to be competitive so I enjoyed it more when I could do art as a relaxation subject during Sixth form (no grading of work etc). My science overall doubled up as an art overall and one year a friend wrote "I am Picasso" on it - a reference to my drawings not always being accurate.
In the second year German was added and RE was more about comparative religion than Christianity alone. In the third year Latin and Cookery/Home Economics was added (for half the year only, we did needlework for the rest of the year) and Singing was dropped. In the third year, RE became "Moral Discussion" with less emphasis on religious content and more on personal morals and social responsibilities.
During third year we were supposed to study the difference between an old town (Chelmsford) and a "new town" (Harlow). I missed the coach trip to Harlow and was decidedly unenthusiastic about studying Chelmsford, seeing as I lived in Braintree and Bocking and my only experiences of Chelmsford were the Cathedral for school services, Debenhams (that used to be Bonds) and the High Chelmer shopping precinct when mum wanted to go to Sainsbury, Tesco or Bejam. I've since made up for my lack of enthusiasm, having amassed a huge collection of photos and books about Chelmsford and its history. This formed part of "Integrated Studies" which combined History and Geography (and a bit of Social Science), possibly to help timetabling as we now had so many subjects.
At the end of the third year we chose our O Level subjects. English Lit, English Lang, French and Maths were compulsory. I did the sciences (Biology was so intuitive for me it was a doddle, and dad got the idea I'd go to medical school). I did Latin, because dad had failed Latin and I wanted to outdo him. I made up the compulsory 9 subjects with History, which I failed because I decided to concentrate my revision efforts on the sciences. I took, and passed, English Language a year early which allowed me to concentrate on my sciences.
Needlework started off with making a flannel using a piece of old towel and some bias binding and learning how to thread and use a sewing machine. I learnt basic dressmaking techniques and one of my term pieces (a denim bag with shoulder strap) was on display at an Open Evening. I mastered the basic skills, but have no flair for design or dressmaking. When I chose not to do Dressmaking to O Level, the teacher (Mrs Smith) was very kind and said that as long as I'd learnt how to mend and alter things for myself, that was a good thing. I have a trusty old-fashioned Singer machine, identical to ones we used at school, though I doubt Mrs Smith anticipated that the skills she taught me would be applied to things such as upholstery and leatherwork!
I had a single term of Home Economics (cookery class) in Third year. I had already learnt the basics (sponges cakes, scones, gravy, pastry and crumbles) from mum quite early on. In Home Economics we were taught how to make bread, flaky pastry, Bakewell Tart (complete with feather icing), Cornish pasty and scones. To my mind, the most important skill was how to read and adapt a recipe. This was all good stuff if you hadn't learnt to cook at home and for those who wanted to go into catering. I am a "functional" cook rather than someone who makes fancy dishes, but I can prepare my own meals from ingredients rather than relying on ready meals.
In the 1970s, I didn't really think of dressmaking and cookery as being part of the female stereotype, that realisation came in the 1980s. School had been founded in an era when career opportunities for women were quite limited. In the early days of the school, women "retired" from teaching once they got married, and when even highly educated women often ended up running a household rather than pursuing a career. Make-do-and-mend and cooking on a budget were essential skills in wartime as well (and, I'd argue, for students living on a grant). Home-making skills are life skills, but I would have loved to have tried metalwork, woodwork, electronics (beyond that taught in physics) or other engineering subjects as alternatives to the more traditional, or stereotypically, feminine skills (we need more women in engineering!).
In 4th and 5th years, we were taken to recruitment events at the Chelmer Institute which was within easy walking distance of school. Local businesses had stands there and you could register interest in a summer "work experience" placement or an apprenticeship. The college computer rooms were also on display for those who wanted to do Computing A level as an after-school class. Back then, the main companies recruiting were RHP (Ransom, Hoffman and Pollard), EEV (English Electric Valve) and the various Marconi companies (Comms, Radar, Marine and Research). I did one of my summer placements at Marconi Research in Great Baddow (the whole summer, for pay!) and the other was a 2 week stint at a medical lab in Southend hospital (unpaid work experience).
Memory fails a bit here, but I think it was around this time we went on a school trip to London to a World Citizenship Conference (Council for Education in World Citizenship, I think). There were speakers telling us about the issues in other countries, how to get involved and how to be good world citizens. This conference was held close to the Commonwealth Institute and I remember spending part of the afternoon in there. Apart from the excitement of getting the train and then the London Underground and not getting left behind, I can't say I found it particularly interesting at the time. More interesting was our visit to KEGS just down the road; this was a boys' school, but allowed girls in the sixth form hence our visit to learn what facilities it offered. It was architecturally more old fashioned than our school.
Plenty of girls left after O Levels. Some went straight into apprenticeships though a couple dropped out and got married at 16, much to the disappointment of the teachers who had hoped CCHS girls were more ambitious than that. In Sixth Form we had an influx of girls transferring from private or church-run schools, especially from New Hall school. A few girls wanting to do minority A Levels (e.g. Music) transferred to KEGS which had a mixed sex Sixth Form. At A Levels I did Biology, Chemistry, Physics (which I failed, having concentrated on Biology and Chemistry after my illness) and a maths top-up course to support physics (I dropped "extra maths" due to the illness). AO General Studies was compulsory to give a bit of balance and prevent us becoming too narrow-minded. If there was enough demand, some pupils could do Russian or Spanish lessons (which might have involved going to KEGS for an afternoon).
Those of us not doing art A level were allowed to do a recreational art afternoon during the week, during which we learnt screen printing, macramé, basketry and, in our last year, we renovated a dolls' house to donate to a school. I greatly enjoyed this relaxed approach to art and turned out to be reasonable at some of the techniques. Some of the other girls spent the afternoon doing "community service" e.g. classroom helper at their old primary school or a special needs school, helping out at an OAP home (usually with occupational therapy) and other such things. During 5th form my family had moved from Bocking Churchstreet to Howe Green (south of Chelmsford) otherwise I would have chosen to be a classroom helper at my old primary school. In later terms, many of us used that afternoon for aerobics/dancercise instead often led by whoever had the latest fitness tape.
At the start of the 1980s, school short-sightedly viewed computers as glorified typewriters/word processors and resisted having a computer room. It was only just purchasing its first computers (Sinclair Spectrums) when I left after A Levels. It relied on fundraising for this so I remember fundraising efforts during my last Christmas Fayre. Some girls did A level computing by going to the local college (Chelmer Institute of Higher Education) one afternoon a week.
At secondary school, we got 1 – 1.5 hours homework every night. Each subject set 30 mins homework at least twice a week. That was on top of a 45 min bus journey to and from school – no wonder some of us did our homework on the bus, even though the teachers complained about messy homework. The French teacher in the first 2 years believed in the "immersion method" which left me floundering. Some nights, it took me an hour to do the 30 mins French homework, aided by a dictionary and my school books. And I still got 3/10 and was threatened with detention because the teacher insisted I hadn't spent more than 10 minutes doing French homework. It was a nightmare and though I'm sure the teacher was a nice person really, I absolutely dreaded her lessons.
I've never been good at foreign languages. After 2 years of compulsory German, the teacher told me there was no way I'd be doing German O level (something we both agreed on!). French was compulsory and was painfully drummed into me and I can still just about read it. The teacher for third year French was more understanding that "immersion" didn't suit all of us, with the result that thanks to her I got a surprisingly good grade in French O Level. Latin was optional and while I had no real aptitude for it, Dad had failed Latin which was compulsory at his school, so I was determined to outdo him. I scraped through and it has turned out to be surprisingly useful in improving my English grammar, French and Biology (especially the binomial classification system). I've also found it hugely useful in later life when trying to decipher words from Romance languages.
Where you get lots of youngsters together, pranks are inevitable (as is bullying it seems). In Third year, we started off in Room 13 upstairs, but because some girls held "chair races" - "galloping" their chairs along the aisles between desks - we made too much of a noise and had to swap rooms. We moved to Room 1 (History Room) and for a joke a couple of girls put a third girl in the waist-high wastepaper basket. Because they put her in bottom-first, she couldn't get out again.
Girls from a class above us put a wind-up butterfly (powered by a twisted elastic band) in the register during lunchtime. This fluttered out when the form mistress took afternoon register and apparently startled her greatly. Then there was the time Miss Searles got shut in the Geography Room cupboard where atlases and textbooks were kept. Miss Searles was short, plump and came across as somewhat vague and most of us had a great deal of affection for her. I met her in town some years later when she'd retired and I wonder how much of the "vagueness" was real - she still remembered me!
In Physics, charging ourselves with static electricity from the Van der Graaf generator and then touching an unsuspecting classmate was a time-honoured prank. In winter, when the pond froze over, another prank was putting chunks of ice down people's backs. Sometimes exercise books got "lost" only to turn up in the wrong desk where they'd apparently been hidden (I was never sure if that was malicious or just a silly prank).
Not all messing about was safe and teachers were quick to chastise whole classes over unsafe behaviour. One year, those of us who used the back bench in Chemistry lessons got lectured by the teacher because someone had messed with the concentrated acids kept in the cupboard at the back of the room (it wasn't our Chemistry group). Messing about was also not allowed in or near the swimming pool, though one class no doubt found it funny when their PE teacher fell in the footbath.
Sporting and Social Events
School was divided into four "Houses" for sports and other competitions: Pennefather (green), Chancellor (blue), Hulton (red) and Tancock (yellow). The names referred to local notables (I think they had to be connected to the school somehow, otherwise how did Mildmay get missed out?). I was in Chancellor (the Chancellor Hall on Market Road, Chelmsford is also named after Frederick Chancellor). The teachers were also allocated to different Houses. Unlike Primary School, there were no "house points" but there were competitions between the houses e.g. Debating Society and sports events. Each House had a hockey team and there were junior and senior inter-house hockey matches. Had there been points for loudest voice yelling on one's team, I'd have won hands down - it left me unable to speak for the next few days (I'd had plenty of practice calling family members in for dinner across a third of an acre at home!).
The school sports day was held at a sports stadium on the Melbourne estate opposite school. Being uninterested in competitive sports, my only memories of this are of sitting in the stands doodling or chatting and taking minimal interest in the athletics events. I can only remember this in my first two or three years at CCHS and I think we held it on the "new" sports field after that. There were also Staff vs Sixth Form hockey matches and tennis matches and one year there was a Staff vs Sixth Form swimming competition. It was always interesting to find that some of our sedate non-PE staff were very sporty; for some reason we couldn't imagine them outside of a dusty classroom and racing round a muddy field.
There was always a Christmas service at the Cathedral, which meant walking down there in a crocodile. Being in choir I didn't sit with the rest of my class. To this day I automatically sing the twiddly descant bits of many carols. The Commemoration Day service was also at the cathedral. Out school hymn was "Our Father by whose servants, this house was built of old" and there were several spoof version of it (that we daren't sing on Commemoration Day) one of which commemorated a small roofing collapse at school and ended "... the coping stones have fallen, and flattened Miss Read's bike".
The other big event was Awards Day (or Prize Giving) when the O Level and A Level certificates were given out. Up until I was in 4th Form, this was held in the old Odeon cinema near King's Head Meadow (junction of Parkway and Baddow Road). The Odeon was then closed down ready to be demolished so I got my O Level certificate at the Cathedral. This wasn't really a suitable venue, so from then on Prize Giving ceremony was in the Chancellor Hall and that's where I picked up my A Level certificate. I went to my A Level awards wearing a black trouser suit, cream blouse and matching hat, forgetting that we were not supposed to wear trousers, but were meant to look like "young ladies". Afterwards, we went back to the school for a social afternoon circulating in the school hall and chatting to teachers and special guests. The Headmistress didn't speak to me at all, though the Deputy Heads did and a couple of the parents and special guests said I'd looked businesslike. I've always been much more comfortable in trousers than in a skirt.
It surprised me that there was no school Harvest Festival (pupils instead participated in their own church's Harvest Festival or were encouraged to go to Chelmsford Cathedral's Harvest Festival) though we did sing the appropriate hymns in assembly at that time of year. Once a year we had Open Evening when parents and siblings (and any other relatives) came to visit the school. There were demonstrations of simple experiments in the science labs and displays in the assembly hall, gym and other classrooms. One year my needlework project was displayed in the Needlework Room. There was a fundraising Christmas Fayre with the usual sorts of stalls, plus some games in several classrooms (bobbing for apples type thing). In the First year, my class did small toys/ornaments (e.g. felt mice, teasel hedgehogs). One year, my class did a stall themed around the 4 playing card suits and I walked around wearing sandwich boards to advertise it. Fifth Form traditionally did stalls that didn't take too much attention away from revision (my class did bread and cakes) while Upper Sixth took over the school gym as a cafeteria which was supposed to have a theme. Many girls in our year wanted to do a 1940s theme, but an equal number of us were against this on the grounds that not everyone remembered that era with fondness. Other classes ran games in the form rooms closest to the main hall. There was the traditional grotto on the school stage.
There was an annual Open Evening when parents, brothers and sisters came into school. This included displays of needlework, artwork and cookery as well as demonstrations in some of the science labs. Open Evening was the only time I have ever set foot in the Staffroom (upstairs at the front of the building) as it was used as a display area. I remember admiring some fancy cushion covers (made from interlaced ribbons) and a decorated cake in here. Each piece displayed was labelled with the name of the pupil and which form she was in. In the two art rooms at the top of the library/art block were displays of artwork, especially work produced for O or A Levels and several pupils would be sitting sketching or painting and ready to answer parents' questions. In the science labs in Bancroft there were simple science experiments e.g. completing an electric circuit by heating a bimetallic strip so that it bent and touched a contact. Some of the teaching rooms might have small study groups speaking French or German (and parents were welcome to join in). It was a good way of showcasing the school's achievements and facilities to younger sisters and encourage them to take the 11-Plus.
During school lunchtimes there were various clubs e.g. choir, brass instrument group or woodwind/recorder group. These groups could play music at assembly to accompany us filing in and out of the main school hall. I think there were also language clubs (for conversational French etc) though I didn't belong to any of them. For the more sporty, there was tennis club (which for a week turned into "Wimbledon-watching" in the lecture room), hockey club, gym or athletics etc. Those chosen to represent the school also went to after-school sports practice. Drama club was also after school. There was an annual school magazine with reports from the various clubs as well as a creative section and other news. My poem "The Clown" was in the 1981 issue.
Whenever there was a General Election, this was mirrored with a school election. Some of the Sixth formers became candidates and canvassers for the political parties and went round wearing rosettes and canvassing for support during break times. Each party produced its own posters that were put on the walls, especially the wall opposite the coat racks on the north corridor (where Rooms 7 and 8 were). This happened twice while I was there; once when I was in the lower school and once when I was in the upper school. As well as Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties, there was an Environmental Party (this was the beginning of the Green Party). The National Front wasn't allowed and I think a watered down National Party replaced it (putting Britain first but without any racism). I'm sure there was a Monster Raving Loony Party as this was an election tradition and in the first of the school elections I participated in, there was also the Hippopotamus Party (a Canadian joke political party). We all got to vote and the results were announced at assembly.
We were encouraged to do fundraising at breaktimes and lunchtimes and this usually these were food stalls in the Quad, set up in the covered section under the library. These tended to be "cake and biscuit" or "soup and sandwich" stalls and were announced at that morning's assembly with the amount made being announced a day or two later (alternate Wednesday morning assemblies were "Form Assembly" so the notices were read out on the other days instead). Our class's second year fundraising project was to collect up magazines and newspaper for recycling. This was stored at the front of form room (luckily we had a large room) and every couple of months a parent took it to a recycling centre to be sold by weight. We separated out the comics and teen magazines and held a "Comic Stall" in the Quad. From my fifth year onwards, the break-time food stalls competed with the Tuck Shop held in the dining hall servery.
When I was in First year there was a Pet Show for small caged pets (held in the Biology Lab) and one classmate stuck whiskers on her friend and tried to enter her in the Pet Show. In my first few years, there was also an annual gymkhana held at a riding school outside town. Quite a few girls owned ponies. I only remember one school ski-ing trip and that was when I was in First form. This had been an annual event, with teachers taking girls to Austria for a week during the school holiday and teaching them to ski. Several girls from First form went and some of the anecdotes were used in morning assembly. It seems that some girls had invented a new downhill sport called "dustbin lidding" where the aim was to stay on a rotating dustbin lid as it sped down a snowy slope.
Parents were not supposed to take their daughters away during term-time unless it was an educational trip. Having tickets for Wimbledon Centre Court or Court One (and only for those courts) was considered educational, perhaps it inspired the girls to do well in tennis lessons. During Wimbledon fortnight, the TV on its trolley was left in Room 22 (lecture room with rows of flip-down seats and a ledge in front of each row for your books) and we were allowed to watch Wimbledon during lunchtimes as long as we were quiet. I think it was for third year and above, but Room 22 had a back door and it was sometimes possible to sneak in at the back. In later years we had pancake races in the Gym, using some of the Gym equipment as obstacles.
While I was in First year there was school play celebrating a school anniversary of some sort. I was in a short scene depicting an Edwardian family from the founding years of the school. This was supposed to include a typical family evening with the children demonstrating their piano skills, followed by the family singing "The Bells of St Mary's". To the teacher's surprise (or horror) I'd never learnt piano so I had to sit playing with a ragdoll. My ringletted hairpiece wouldn't stay in place either. And someone later told me the song was an anachronism. Never mind.
For one of the school variety shows (for want of a better term), our group wanted to do an original sketch, so we did "Ten Little High School Girls" and in each verse a teacher commandeered one of the girls. The only bit I can recall is "... little High School Girls, innocently playing, Miss P swiftly captured one and soon had her relay-ing" and a hockey stick came out of the wings and hooked one of the girls, pulling her into the wings; a few seconds later she sprinted across stage holding a relay baton. I had a hand in writing the somewhat awful rhyming couplets, but it seemed to go down well.
When I was in Second Year (1978) there was the "Dracula Spectacula" play put on by older drama students. This was a spoof horror production from which the line "It came off in my hand, master" still remains a motto for some of us. There were red teeshirts produced with a batwinged vampire design (I bought one and wore it during a 20 mile fundraising sponsored walk round Hylands Park). The hero (played by a Sixth form girl) was "Nicholas Necromancer"; apparently school deemed the scripted character name "Nicholas Necrophiliac" to be unsuitable.
A major event during my time at the school was Miss Pattison's retirement which was marked by a set of short acts and musical interludes on stage. I was in some of the musical interludes singing sections from Haydn's Creation and I remember one of the acts was about building a wall between "us" and "them" - all very metaphorical. There was a rather macabre, and to my mind incomprehensible, playlet by drama club where all the pupils were numbers who were learning a play and one number didn't get to speak and went and killed herself. This didn't go down well and got cut after the first night much to the dismay of the teacher who'd written it. One of the acts was a letter-shuffling act explaining Miss Pattison's nicknames. One was "Floyd" after the boxer and another was polyphylla (a pun on Polyfilla aka Spackle) because she championed a polymath (diverse) curriculum.
I won't mention most of the teachers, but some stick in my memory. Miss Palmer, a music teacher and school orchestra conductor, was a flamboyant character whose flailing arms made her resemble a bird in flight. Every so often one hand flicked back her long hair – was she calling up 2nd violin or was she getting hair out of her eyes? This was a common dilemma for the musicians! Miss Read, the English teacher, was renowned for her bicycle parked against the front wall of the school. In a spoof version of the school hymn (Our Father By Whose Servants This House Was built of Old) we had the lines "The coping stones have fallen and flattened Miss Read's bike" (we had a few problems with falling masonry).
Miss Searles the Geography teacher was short, plump and vague and had once got stuck in the geography room cupboard. Although we teased her in class, it was with great affection. I think she was well-loved by everyone. I met her while out shopping in town a few times after she retired and looked 10 years younger and was far less vague – and she still remembered my name! Miss Harris the physics teacher had cropped hair and almost always wore a brown suit. She was very masculine looking, though the official reason for the cropped hair was "safety around bunsen burners".
For many years there was a "no male teachers" policy that would be impossible to enforce today. We only got a male teacher for a couple of terms when we were in 4th or 5th form - a maths teacher who was related to the German teacher. Sad to say, many of the girls were more interested in flirting than in maths and there was much adjusting of make-up before the maths lesson. Had there been male teachers right from our first year, it wouldn't have been a big deal for most of us.
It was rumoured that a couple of years before I joined the school, an unmarried teacher had been dismissed for getting pregnant because this set a bad example for the girls. I have no idea how true this was (it wouldn't be allowed in modern times), but when we were in Sixth Form the fact that our form mistress cohabited with her boyfriend was also very hush-hush. As an aside, I only know of one pupil "getting into trouble" - years after leaving school I discovered that a fifteen year old who collected her "baby brother" from a child-minder on the way home was actually the child's mother, not his older sister.
Characters like these made the school what it was and it's sad that I see so many of their names in Obituaries columns these days. Each year there were the staff vs 6th form sports events and before A levels, 6th formers did the annual "6th Form Revue" for the whole school – this was a series of sketches, most of which poked affectionate fun at teachers and school institutions. Much of the school revue was a pastiche of "Monty Python" and "Not The Nine O'Clock News", but some sketches were entirely original.
These are the names of teachers I remember:
Jolly Hockey Sticks!
I am in favour of compulsory PT or PE (known to many of us as Physical Torture or Physical Exertion) . That doesn't mean I enjoyed it on a personal level. Most of us with sight problems wore glasses, not contact lenses (which were too expensive). I am very short-sighted and without specs I couldn't see well enough to do PE. The teachers insisted I took my glasses off for gym lessons and then wondered why I couldn't do even the basic vaulting over a box or waling along a beam without misjudging distance. It also undermined my confidence and I was considered clumsy, or worse, lazy. Even with glasses, I am not very physically co-ordinated; I've only managed to hit a rounders ball once in my life - and that was by accident! My tennis is not much better: "Concentrate! Watch the ball!" I did concentrate and watch the ball, but I rarely managed to hit it (only many years later did I discover that very strong prescription lenses, such as I have, tend to "flatten perspective" and may have been part of the problem).
We had a daily 35 minute PE/sports lesson except for one day when we got double PE (1 hr 10 mins). In winter we did hockey, swimming (once per week), athletics, netball, gym/modern dance. In summer we did tennis instead of hockey. I managed to be an enthusiastic and reasonable centre half in hockey, but the end of year report was in summer and the PE section of my school report was always about tennis so I never got better than "tries".
Swimming was an ordeal. We were divided into "red caps" (non-swimmers) and "blue-caps" (swimmers). I have a phobia of water as the result of a swimming pool accident when I was 7 or 8 years old. I can't even stand water on my face when showering. School pride dictated that no girl had ever left unable to swim. The sports teachers seemed to think I was being deliberately awkward. Finally I got a spare pair of glasses made for swimming and school were told that I needed to wear them. That helped a great deal. I eventually managed a sort of front and back crawl, but the moment I got out of my depth I panicked. At least I was excused from swimming when I had a period or verucca! Sadly my phobia meant I am one of the few girls to leave CCHS still unable to swim. If there are any sports staff reading this – I am sorry, I did my best and if it's any consolation, I'm still phobic. One of the swimming teachers once fell in the footbath. A later swimming teacher actually used to get in the pool to help non-swimmers.
From 6 PE sessions in 1st year (4 single + 1 double lesson) we cut down to accommodate other lessons. By 6th form we only had a couple of PE lessons plus a triple lesson occupying a whole afternoon. The single lessons were aerobics and "dancercise" which I loved as I was constantly weight-watching. Being motivated, I was quite good at them and was also very fit (I cycled a lot). In the triple lesson we could do table tennis, fencing, basketball (or netball if we chose). Even better, we ran many of those lessons ourselves with minimal supervision. We also used tapes for aerobics. Tennis, table tennis (in the main Hall or dining hall) and basketball/netball were not closely supervised. Staff (often not PE staff) just checked we were actually doing sport and sometimes sat within calling distance marking homework (presumably for health and safety). Fencing was closely supervised for obvious reasons!
In between A levels, school was fairly deserted and we were often did unsupervised PE/sport to unwind. French cricket with tennis racquets, badminton and volleyball (using a netball and badminton net) were great fun. We also did our own aerobics lessons as magazines were giving away free aerobics tapes (Jane Fonda's exercise tapes were very in vogue).
I also have memories of several of us doing time trial laps round the school on our bikes. The staff didn't know about this as only the caretaker/groundsman was around at the time. The school was locked up, but we had been using a self-contained 6th form house for revision and we'd decided to let off steam.
In Sixth Form we were considered young adults and treated as being more mature. I'm sure this had a psychological aspect - in Fifth Form we were still in uniform and were allowed minimal make-up, but in Sixth Form we dressed "smart casual" and wore visible make-up. There were some rules - no scruffy clothing or torn jeans, no "punk" hair colours and piercings were confined to the ear lobes only. The form rooms were smaller and more casual - instead of forward facing desks, they might be "tutorial rooms" where we sat round a central table.
In Lower Sixth, our form room (18A) was on the first floor, near the school library. The library was supported on pillars and created a covered area at one end of the Quad (after I left, this covered area was turned into classrooms). We had lockers on the landing and, if memory serves, there was an upright piano in the form room though we rarely played this because of the library next door. We had a kettle in the room (which we took it in turns to fill from the taps in the toilet area under the stairs) and were allowed to stay in at break time and have hot drinks and other instant meals made with boiling water. In theory, this should have meant lots of Pot Noodle dinners, but in practice this wasn't the case. We made instant soups, instant custards and instant semolina in drinks mugs - it was okay as long as it wasn't too pungent and we didn't fill the rubbish bin with leftovers. We also had a splendid view of the workmen re-asphalting some of the roofs around the Quad and there was both overt and covert ogling of some of them.
I missed a chunk of Lower Sixth due to serious illness that kept me off school for much of the autumn term. I returned somewhat before Christmas, but had to drop one of my subjects (Maths for Physics top-up lessons) in order to catch up with my A Level studies and so I wasn't overworked which could have caused a relapse. Having discovered boys (in theory or in practice), many of us went on diets and started doing fitness tapes. Sad to say, there was an element of competitive dieting where we'd compare how little we'd eaten and how many lunches we'd skipped. For some of us, lunchtime meant sucking limes as we'd heard this killed the appetite. This went on right through Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.
During Sixth Form we had a combined Biology and Geography field trip to Dale Fort, not far from Milford Haven, in Wales. It was a mile's walk from Dale village to the field studies centre and we had enough time between lessons and field-work counting barnacles, identifying plants, creatures and debris in the littoral zone, day trip to the very deserted Skomer Island to spot puffins) to walk there a few times though there was little to do except post letters and go to harbourside shop to buy paperbacks (I bought James Herbert novel). Or we could go to the entertainment building and play Space Invaders. I was with a group of girls (some doing Biology like me, some doing Geography) in the girls' accommodation block in "Ankle Biters" dorm which comprised 2 sets of bunks and 1 single bed. The shower area was along the hallway. Some of the others managed to get rooms in the newly built and nicknamed "Dale Fort Hilton" which had rooms with en-suite facilities.
Our Upper Sixth form room was a prefab (Room 25) at the front of the school between the Music Room and the north end of the main building. At first this seemed the short straw because the other Sixth Form groups moved into the Sixth Form House next door to the school and they had a kitchen area. The prefab was divided into 2 areas - the front was a teaching area and the back was a casual seating area and instead of a kettle we had a large water-boiler which had an additional pan you could put on top to warm milk (using the steam from the water). Every couple of days two of us had to walk from the prefab into the school building to refill it (or refill it using old squash bottles filled from the taps when we used the loos), but we seemed to have a never-ending supply of boiling water for drinks and soups (still no smelly snacks though). It was rather nice having the whole prefab to ourselves (fewer than 20 of us) at break times.
It was expected that CCHS girls went to university or into an apprenticeship, business or even sport. The emphasis was on academic achievement as opposed to vocational skills (hence CCHS was quite slow to embrace computers) and girls were expected to aim high. Miss Pattison promoted sports, sciences, languages and arts equally. Her successor, Miss Brooks put a strong emphasis on science and fell out with some of the governors over seeming neglect of the school's excellent sporting tradition.
Careers advice wasn't so much about eventual careers as about choosing university courses. We were given two paperback books each "Your Choice at 13+" and "Your Choice at 15+" ; the first was to help us choose O Levels and the second to help us choose A Levels (this was based on which subjects did you have to get good grades in so that you could do a certain university subject). In sixth form there was also a checklist where you ticked what you were or weren't interested (I think it was scored 1 to 5 i.e. from "very" to "not at all") and this was analysed to give you a list of possible career routes. My results included "toxicology" which shows a big flaw in the system - most people who love animals and who like science probably don't want to go into a field that includes experimentally poisoning small animals.
Sometimes a former student came back to visit CHS and tell us about their career. I recall going to a talk by one such girl (I was probably in 2nd or 3rd year). It was held in the school gym and she told us about life as a stewardess on one of the Arab airlines. At that time, stewardesses were still thought of as "trolley dollies" while CHS was aiming for academic high achievers heading for university, but the mitigating factors seemed to be "travel broadening the mind" and she was exposed to a very different culture and language. Much later, there was a girl who was planning to become a professional ladies golfer and who was already very successful at junior ladies golf. In Miss Pattison's time, a sporting career was considered equally worthwhile, but this seemed to change when Miss Brooks took over. Another acceptable practice was the "year out" or "gap year" - a year of doing something worthwhile or horizon-expanding before starting university. We had a talk from a girl who'd spent her year as an au pair, mostly in the USA. The family she lived with was headed by an obsessive collector of vinyl albums stored on shelves in his library; one of the au pair jobs was to clean a certain number of albums each day.
Following serious illness when I was in Lower Sixth, I'd very much lost my way and now had no idea what I wanted to do after leaving school. I had been aiming for pathology, but that was probably from watching too many episodes of Quincey. One of my Asperger-like traits is that I don't have future ambitions, but people around me expect me to have ambitions so I had to make something up in order to fit in. I ended up going to a careers evening at Gt Baddow comprehensive school and signing up for a Higher Education college to learn some practical skills while I tried to work out what I wanted to do in life (in the eyes of CHS I was a dropout, though I hope I've made up for it since). I'm now in my mid 40s and though I enjoy being in engineering I never did develop "ambitions". With my eventual science qualifications, I've twice worked in microbiology labs and enjoyed it (and apparently have an aptitude for it), but the wages just didn't pay the mortgage compared to working in engineering.
School After I left
Though I was never invited to school reunions or to join the "Old Girls" Societies (due to some issues between my family and the Headmistress, and due to me being seen as a drop-out for not going to Uni), I occasionally hear or read of changes at the school; dad was a former Parent-Governor and is still interested in what goes on and he expects me to be just as interested (I never did tell him about being threatened by the Headmistress who crossed swords with him).
On Mondays and some Wednesdays, there is Form assembly instead of full assembly. Sixth Form assembly is Wednesdays in the main Hall. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are House assemblies for 2 out of the 4 houses and form assemblies for the remaining pupils. Full assembly, which was 4 days per week in my time there, has been relegated to Fridays only. Due to Fire Regulations, instead of the whole school assembling in the Hall, Years 7 and 8 (First and Second Form in my day) have School assembly in the Gym while Years 9-11 (Third, Fourth and Fifth Form) have assembly in the Hall. At some point after I left, the daily hymn-singing was dropped from assembly, but this was reintroduced when Ofsted reported the school as not meeting obligations to provide a "Daily Act of Collective Worship". Ofsted believe collective daily worship unifies a school. 7 years of assemblies with hymns from "Songs of Praise" mean I can belt out seasonal hymns with the best of them (and descant parts to Christmas carols) despite being an atheist throughout secondary school - morning assemblies prepared me for singing at weddings and funerals.
The school day still begins at 8:45 with registration as it did in my day, however the school buildings are now open from 8:00. Assembly (when held) is much shorter 8:55 - 9:05 rather than 20-25 minutes in my day (time to file in, have one or two readings/lessons or guest speaker, 2 hymns, let late arrivals file in, hear announcements/notices including results from inter- house/club/school/county events, then file out). With the school being so much larger, pupils now have 5 minutes transit time to get from one classroom to another. In my day, you left class when the bell rand and got to the next class as fast as possible, which meant pupil-jams on stairways and some corridors. Instead of 8 35-minute lessons (some of which were "double lessons 1 hour 10 mins long), the school day contains 5 1-hour lessons. Morning break is still 20 minutes, but lunchtime is 1 hour instead of 1 hour and 10 minutes. The day also ends 5 minutes earlier.
The school uniform for Years 7-11 (1st Form to 5th Form) is no longer French navy and white, but is navy, lilac and dark blue (having gone through a rather scruffy "grey skirt" phase soon after I left). Instead of Sixth Form being "smart casual" it became "attire suitable for the workplace", but a Sixth Form uniform based on a black business suit is now in force with a blazer to be worn at all times!
The House system has also changed. At intake, we were allocated to a House based on first person in the year goes to this house, 2nd person to that house, all the way through to the last person in the year (the year comprising 3 classes or tutor groups suffixed C, H and S). The Houses were separate from the classes in each year where (based on surnames arranged alphabetically) the first 30 pupils went to C, the next 30 to H and the last 30 to S (transfer pupils from other schools went to whichever class had a space made when a pupil moved away). Nowadays, houses and tutor groups seem to be the same thing: when starting at CCHS the first on the register goes to C, the second to G, the third to H and the fourth to S, the fifth to C (rinse and repeat).
The Houses have gone back to having names again, but not to the historical Governors' names. Instead pupils voted for names of famous and inspiration women. C (green) became Marie Curie, G (blue) became Tanni Grey-Thompson, H (red) became Audrey Hepburn and S (yellow) became Stewart. House-points have been introduced and inter-house competitions include pancake races, shows, decorated classrooms, karaoke, sports day and winter games. A House Shield is presented in December.
Want to know more about the school? Chronological History of CCHS 1906 - 2011
Life After School
Due to illness in the sixth form, I didn't go to university, but went to the local college and learnt Economics, Accountancy, Law and typing. I got Law A Level in 1 year and my Accountancy and Economics were A level standard, but lack of a grant meant I left college during the second year and got a job. A few years later, I went back to the same college for my Software degree. Typing - or at least "keyboard skills" - was a hugely useful skill in later life as the workplace became ever more dependent on computers (and fluency with a keyboard gave me a head-start in some respects).
My first "job" was a summer job in a hospital pathology laboratory. I enjoyed this greatly and had a career path planned out: A levels, University degree and then pathology. Unfortunately serious illness interrupted this neat career path and I left school with 2 A Levels and went to college to learn some vocational skills. I had decided to do some work and earn an income while I got my life back together again. I got Law A level and was particularly good at property law, but I didn't get a grant for the second year at college. My father was expected to stump up the whole amount in "parental contributions". The estimated parental contribution was based on the previous year, during which my 2 sisters were still at school. They now needed funding for their college so I decided to get a job and become self supporting. At the same time I met someone and made the big mistake of setting up home with him.
My next jobs were in an engineering company's private library and in a couple of local estate agents' offices. I then joined the Marconi Company as a secretarial temp and moved into computing. After a few years of writing software (sadly not very well) I did a succession of temp jobs including a stint in their standards dept before temporarily going back into pathology. I worked as an assistant in a hospital microbiology lab and though I thoroughly enjoyed it and demonstrated enough of a flair that I was offered sponsorship to get full qualifications, it simply didn't pay enough (especially with marital breakdown looming).
I returned to software in the form of software quality assurance in a defence engineering company (that used to be part of the Marconi Company). After we'd lived more-or-less separate lives for a long while, my partner finally moved in with his mistress whom he'd been seeing for several years (I knew about his affair and chose to ignore it). A few years later I decided I was getting stale in the software side and needed a new challenge so I switched to hardware quality assurance. Engineering is a good place for geeks.
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