This is the third part of Freda's story and it focuses on her School Days. The School she refers to is just around the corner from where I live and backs on to Victoria Park.
All of my children have attended this school. Big D's father also went to Priory school which, in the 70's ,was an all boys school. The school has in recent years been renamed St James Church School and extensively extended but the original school buildings where Freda was taught remain.
I do remember that I couldn’t get to school fast enough. I can just remember Mother taking me on the first day to our local school, Priory School (now Arch Bishop Cranmer).
I stood on the playground some time ago and it has changed quite a lot. Standing there, I realised that Priory School was my world and growing up, everything revolved around it. I found the spot where the railing used to be to separate the boy’s playground from the girls, although we were a mixed school. Boys always sat at one side of the classroom, girls the other.
I noticed that the hopscotch bed was painted in red and circles to jump in and out of were there. I stood near the spot where we had drawn in thick chalk hopscotch beds, a half circle was drawn at the top and inside the circle it said ‘These beds belong to Freda Dawe and Margaret Walbutton’ . No others dare use them and around the playground many such beds were drawn with other names in but it worked. To be able to get a shiny tile for a hopscotch, was really something. As I stood there that evening I was aware of times sliding the hopscotch to the appointed square and then hopping to it. Simple games, but in those days, very challenging.
One of the things I was not too fond of, was as beginners we were made to put down a little rush pad and then lay down to rest after the lunch break. I was always a fidget but dare not move as our teacher Miss Howlet would soon be looking down on you and harsh words would soon make you pretend to be sleeping.
Junior school was fun. Our Head Mistress was a Miss Wilson. I can still remember her fresh open face framed with curly hair, gentle and kind and always ready to take your hand.
The recreation ground, Victoria Park, was a useful sports ground with a ready made oval running track and grass. Sack races and lemonade made with lemon crystals and ginger biscuits, was quite a treat. Sports Days were always quite something. I’m afraid I never did well in sports but never shirked the challenge.
The senior school was great. The head master was Mr Fisher, a tall rugged man with a full round face with a deep cleft in it. I suspect he had had an abscess at some time.
Mr Fisher was a head master in a million. The seniors always referred to him as Dadda Fisher. If he found someone who had to be reprimanded he was very fair and hands were caned but never the girls, they were given words or essays at these times. He was called Father Fisher nevertheless he was highly respected. Every morning he took the assembly.
We all marched into the school hall with teacher Mrs Davis at the piano who always used the March of the Toreadors . Whenever I hear that piece of music I can still hear marching feet, as we used to form into lines ready to sing’ Brightly gleams our Banner’. Mr Fisher’s talk was always good, not too long, but always interesting. Someone was chosen to read from the Bible. They were told to read it with feeling. I still remember those words when ever the Bible reading is read in Church on a Sunday morning. We closed the Assembly with ‘Father, lead me day by day’ and marched out to our various classrooms once again to the ‘March of the Toreadors’.
Mrs Cunningham was my teacher in Standard 7. I think I owe such a lot to her teaching. She kept you on your toes. Before she called the register, she would say ‘Calm down girls, we will have five minutes mental arithmetic’. Not my best point, I always got the answer right but never quickly enough. I well remember Nora, who always got the answers quick as a flash. She had a mathematical mind. I have met her on several occasions now we are both older and she has told me the numbers game on Count Down is never a problem. And I understand she works the answers out as quickly as Carol Vorderman.
On some mornings Mrs Cunningham would change the format and would ask the class had we read anything special in the morning papers before coming to school. I am pleased to say I was much better at that and looked for interesting snippets in the press as well as political and worldly ones. I must say it did everyone good and kept us in touch with the news; a clever teacher was Mrs Cunningham.
Empire Day May 24th to be patriotic. My mother would make sure she grew red, white and blue flowers so that I could wear a button hole for Empire Day. We stood in the playground and the head boy would raise the union Jack and we all saluted and sang ‘I vow to thee my country’ and of course ‘Jerusalem’. This was followed by a pageant Mrs Cunningham wrote, one called Famous English women. I was chosen to be Mrs Pankhurst and carried a banner ‘Votes for Women.’ Wanting to do the part I studied the said Mrs Pankhurst and I vowed at the time if and when it was time to vote, I would always use it. I had quite a thing about Mrs Pankhurst and I can truly say in my adult life I always use my vote. Ah well I was an impressionable girl growing up. Well done Mrs Pankhurst.
As I have said maths were never my strong subject but I always did well in history and geography, maps and historical writing still appeal to me these days.
The school was always used for any Elections. My father being a staunch Liberal, would give a yellow rosette pinned proudly on my gymslip. Many of us would stand outside the school gates on Election day and sing ‘Vote,vote,vote for Mr Simpson’ the liberal candidate. I can’t remember if our efforts made him an MP. Mrs Cunningham wanted us to know how a General Election worked, and decided to have an Election in school. Candidates were chosen (not me I’m afraid) but I was chosen as the agent for one of the candidates, Vida Stance. I’m sad to say I can’t remember the subject for our election but nevertheless I had to arrange all the hustings and spent the most of my playtimes getting girls to come. I must say Vida was a great candidate, her speeches were well written and at least easy to understand.
As the agent, I had to see to the posters. Art is not my thing but I was lucky in finding among my friends one who came up trumps. As you no doubt realise, television was not invented in those days but nevertheless I did manage to get the two Candidates for a ‘head to head’.
The boys were for Vida who was quite an attractive girl so the boys took a shine to her, no matter whose side she spoke for. The election was a great success and it taught us such a lot in those days and I might add Elections have always been special to me.
I liked compositions and was always pleased when I was called upon to read what I had written and it was through that that I decided to write a play !! Mrs Cunningham read it and thought we ought to produce it. I was over the moon. It was not a great effort, as I remember, it was about a boarding school and a theft, nevertheless the girls formed a committee and decided to also arrange some other acts and charge 2 pence for entry and for it to take place after school at 4 o’clock. To add variety we did some monologues, solo piano playing and singing. A girl called Edna said she wanted to be Burlington Bertie.
A lot of us were doubtful but on the day she turned up with a top hat and a stick and Burlington Bertie was a great success and the tune could be heard throughout the school was always quite something.
What are you going to do with the money we were asked. After consultation we decided on a new First Aid Box and Margaret and I were duly sent to Boots to purchase one . It was put in the First Aid place. There was a twist to the story. I was given a book to take to Mr Fisher. There was a veranda that went along one side and it was a blowy day. The veranda door was open and slammed just as I put my right hand out to save it. My hand went right through the pane of glass and blood gushed out freely. The first aid box (the new one), was fetched and every bandage in the box was used on my wrist and it was over to East Reach Hospital . The new First Aid box was empty! The cut was very severe and I still have the scar to prove it. Who said school days were dull days?
Poetry was one of Mrs Cunningham’s fortes and she always liked to support the local drama festival.
Margaret Wallbutton and myself were chosen to be the ones to represent the school at the festival. There was a special poem that was a must, and one chosen for yourself and I remember Mrs Cunningham giving me a book called the ‘Ring of Words’ to choose my poem from. I kept that book for as long as I could to read the poem written down. I chose for my choice John Masefield’s ‘I must go down the sea again to the lonely sea and the sky’. The one that was allocated was Walter De La Mare’s ‘Is there anybody there, said the traveller knocking at he moonlit door’. We practised this poem over and over,
Mrs Cunningham making sure we put the right emphasis on the various lines. I remember the points I got the very first festival was 85 which I thought was quite good. Needless to say Margaret got 87 and all the festivals we were entered in, Margaret always beat me by one or two points. I put it down to my Somerset accent and toned down over the years, but folk, even in my later years, can always hear the Somerset twang, but that’s just me; the dialect never leaves you.
I think back on those years and it left me always liking drama and I have since taken part in many plays and monologues. Ah well, it takes all sorts!
School trips were quite an event. I think the farthest we went was Glastonbury. Climbing up to the Tor seemed an adventure and of course the Abbey ruins were very special. I remember touching the broken arches, just the feel of it was quite something to me and even now I can only gaze in wonder at those glorious arches all built by manual labour, no cranes or mechanical devises in those days. We were taken once to the Sewage Works which was only a few minutes away from school. Mr Arnold was the man in charge. His daughter Cissy was a friend of mine. He would explain in every detail how the sewage department worked and always finished his tour by drinking a glass of water from tanks that had been treated, to prove how clean the water had become.
Compared to the trips, school arranges in these modern days, it doesn’t seem much but to us it was an outing that got us out of school.
The school library was one of my favourite places. The van would come from our public library and bring an assortment of books and we were allowed to borrow them. All this encourages you to join the public Library and it cost 1 penny per year. The system was quite strange, you entered the library but saw no books. You had to look in a catalogue book for the number of the book you required. On a very large board, if the book you had chosen was in red, the book was out. However if it was in blue, it was in and was duly issued.
It was a peculiar way to get a book. I can only think it was a way of protecting the books from being stolen. I have always liked books and spent a lot of time just looking and taking time to sort one out. I just like the feel of them.
Our Head Master, Mr Fisher, always encouraged us to read. He set me a project in my last year at school to study boats through the ages. I started with the coracle and read numerous books about boats. Although I liked History I didn’t find this particular project very exciting but Mr Fisher thought it was OK.
July 1932 it was time to leave school. All I knew was that I didn’t want to leave but 14 was the age you left and so be it. I only know I cried and cried saying goodbye to Mrs Cunningham and Mr Fisher and my Mother, bless her, understood my feelings. I know my contemporaries thought I was a softy as most of them were quite happy to leave.
As I wasn’t 14 until the end of August I wasn’t allowed to go to work. My Aunt and Uncle who always had a holiday with us took me back with them to spend the August month with them. In these days it would be a ‘gap’ month. I had over the years spent quite a few holidays in London and my cousin John would take me to well known places.
My Uncle and Aunt lived in North London in a flat in Manchester Mansions in Surryset Road. Running along the top of the road was Hornsey Rise which led out to the top of Archway Road.I got to know the area very well especially when I made friends with other girls in the
flats. Ethel Gilbert was a bit special and we would walk to Waterloo Park at the top of the Archway Road. Just outside the gate was a big Catholic Church, St Joseph Retreat.
It was immense inside and we would creep into the church wide eyed, tiptoeing down the aisle and look in amazement at the highly ornate alter and being scared when we saw a nun coming out of the confessional box. We started giggling and felt a tap on our backs; a nun with a long stick was the culprit. We soon got out of the church.
On a Saturday I would catch the number 14 bus outside a pub called The Favourite and it would take me to Tottenham Court Road. The stop was the Dominion Picture House or Theatre. From there I would walk to Bedford Square where my cousin’s office was and wait for him to leave work. Then we would have a snack somewhere and go off to some exciting visit. When I think back to how confident I was, to do this little journey was amazing. Today, parents would be afraid to let a young girl experience such a trip. I think the young folk miss out a lot of learning to be independent.
In those times, John took me to the Kensington Museum, The Tower of London, the Zoo, the Palace, all of which gave me much pleasure and the memories are still with me.
My Uncle worked for Sir John Benson whose premises were in New Bond Street. In his time he had cleaned and polished many of the royal tiaras and was locked in a basement room when such jewels were being handled. Sometimes I would take the bus again and get off in Oxford Street and make my way to New Bond Street and wait outside the Benson shop. I was always fascinated by the rooms above the shop as it was the Elizabeth Arden beautician shop and whilst waiting for uncle I would see many ladies come and go. I only saw one famous one whose name I have forgotten.
Uncle was a tall man and had been quite handsome in his day but still looked very distinguished in his homberg hat. I would take his hand and we would take the bus, I believe it was to Clerkenwell, anyway it was the centre of the diamond business. Uncle would have hundreds of pounds worth of diamonds in his pocket to deliver. I never knew this at the time. Many years after I was told this, the object being, no one suspected a gentleman with a little girl holding onto his hand would be carrying such precious stones.
I wonder if the ploy would work today.
Looking back those times spent in London was quite an education and no doubt stood me in good stead in my adult years.
The first two parts of Freda's story can be found here:
The Early Days and