Margaret Barton: author

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here.  It’s been even longer since I’ve done any family history research.  Slowly though, I’m beginning again.

But this post will be about my early days of – ahem- publishing.

My earliest attempts at writing date from my days in Sandhutton.  My father had gone to London to look for work, since rural North Yorkshire wasn’t on the look-out for university educated Poles, and I had just started at the village school.

I was a shy, slightly earnest little thing at my London primary school.  By the time I was nine or so, my friend Rona and I were spending most of our free time writing and drawing for our very own magazine . I have no idea what its title,  PIBA, stood for.  Print run?  One copy.  Readership?  Two.  Us.

Disaster struck when Rona and family moved to Maidstone, leaving the editorial team stranded 60 miles apart.  No matter.  We continued our labours for one further edition, as this letter shows.  Who knows what shocking things I revealed in my own letter to Rona?

An editorial conference, 1950s style.

As my primary school days drew to a close, I decided that play writing was the thing.  The Haunted School  owes everything to the boarding school stories by the likes of Angela Brazil., and to heroes such as Jennings and Darbishire.  My teacher decided that this gripping yarn should be performed at the end of year prize giving, and my mother helped me write out multiple copies.  Photocopying was unknown, and not many people had typewriters at home.  Naturally I got the main part.

My mother seems to have helped me out when it came to making copies of this piece.
A no-expense spared, state-of-the-art programme for my final Prize Day at Ebley House School.

When I went to Grammar School, I continued to write. There was the odd competition.  Here’s proof that I got to the finals of a Daily Mirror (what?) competition in 1960, when I was 13.  I find my offering, when I read it now, to be stilted and dated.  A lively personal writing style was not encouraged.

I did quite well in the competitions I occasionally entered for The Young Elizabethan magazine, whose readership consisted of the now obsolete 1950s grammar school child.  Perhaps I should start buying up back copies on e-bay.

Then I pretty much stopped writing for pleasure.

I didn’t begin again until I started blogging about my life, first of all in France, then back in England.  Later still, I joined Ripon U3A Scribblers.  Our facilitator, the ever-resourceful and inspirational Sheila, wrings stories, memoirs, observations, poems, flash fiction ….. words of every kind from us.  We won’t be publishing our oeuvre.  But we do have fun.

 

Birds’ eggs for Easter

Once we moved to London, every year at Easter time I was given some rather unusual Easter eggs.

An oblong box contained about six different kinds of egg, five or six of each variety.  Each was carefully decorated to look exactly like the eggs of various different kinds of British bird.  There were thrush eggs, chaffinch eggs, blackbird eggs, and so on.  The front of the pack illustrated these birds, and on the back were nature notes.  I loved these sweets and would spend hours looking at them, and at the packaging.  I can’t remember if I ever ate them.

I’ve spent ages trawling all kinds of site, but not come up with any pictures of my special Easter memory.  I’m fairly sure they were made by Fullers, which was part of Lyons Corner House.

Occasionally, for a very special treat, we’d go to Lyons’ Corner House for afternoon tea. We’d be elegantly seated, and waitresses would serve sandwiches and fancy small cakes which formed no part of our every day meal routines.  It was a ‘posh’ occasion, just as my special eggs were rather ‘posh’, and to my innocent eyes, totally exquisite.

I can’t show you pictures of my eggs, nor the packaging.  Instead, I’m posting pictures of the birds’ eggs which provided the inspiration for my special Easter gift.  Does anybody recognise my special Fullers’ eggs?

The Robert Mayer Concerts

Readers of my other blog will know I recently went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Pushing on for sixty years ago, this was something I did more often than once a month.

Mrs. Waring, our music teacher at my grammar school, Grey Coat Hospital (of which more, much more, later) wanted her younger pupils to know a thing or two about classical music: and she knew a way to do it.

Every couple of weeks or so, on Saturday mornings, the thirty or so of us whose parents had handed over a subscription fee presented ourselves for the Robert Mayer Concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Royal Festival Hall in 2017: little changed from the way it looked back in the late 1950s and early 1960s

Actually, because I lived near her.  Mrs. Waring gave me a lift.  In a car like this one.

A Morris Mini-Minor, 1959 style.

It had a wire across the inside of the passenger door which had to be manipulated to open or close the door,  But I thought her mini, and my privileged position as receiver-of-a-lift were the height of sophistication.  Once there – and I don’t remember any problems in parking, or any thoughts of paying for same, slap bang in the centre of London – we milled round the foyer with other schoolchildren from all over the city and beyond, until it was time to find our seats.  It never occurred to us to mind that we were in full school uniform.  It never occurred to us to bring sweets or snacks, or the money to buy any.  The expedition itself was treat enough.

Robert Mayer was German born philanthropist who attended one of a series of  children’s concerts in New York in 1919.  He said the experience changed his life.  He determined that British children should have the same opportunity.  Using his wealth as a merchant of  industrial metals, he realised this dream by 1923.  These concerts had already been going for some 57 years by the time they became part of my Saturday routine, and they continued for many years after.

Was it still Adrian Boult who introduced those concerts? Or Sir Malcolm Sargent?  Sargent, I tend to think.  Whoever it was, he wore his scholarship lightly, and communicated his enthusiasm joyfully.  We were never patronised, and always enthralled.


William G Blair, New York Times, January 20th 1985, on the occasion of Sir Robert Mayer’s death, aged 105

We were thrilled to be part of a special audience in an auditorium which is still as good a place as any in London for fine acoustics.  A sense of occasion, good teaching, great music carried us through.

It was such a thrill to be part of the Festival Hall audience (geograph.org.uk)

I think our parents may have paid more than a shilling for our tickets, but not a great deal more.  We were all done and dusted in about an hour and a half, our minds refreshed and uplifted.  Thank you, Sir Robert Mayer..

‘May I have your autograph?’

Blanche Pickard in about 1903.
Blanche Pickard in about 1903.

Among my family treasures is an autograph book, dating from about 1903.  It has no signatures from the famous, or even local notables.  Instead, it’s a record of young people enjoying themselves at the turn of the 20th century.

The book belonged to my grandmother’s sister, Blanche.  In 1903 her father Arthur was a clothier’s salesman, and she was a tailoress, a machinist.  Most of their friends worked in the textile industry in some capacity.  They were ordinary working people, and not educated to a high level – though she and her sister were still at school at the ages of 12 and 14, according to the 1891 census.

Blanche and her friends had autograph books.  They sometimes amused themselves in their spare time by filling the pages of each others’ volumes.  Here’s hers.  I’ve left out all the pages that simply had improving quotations from the likes of Longfellow and Sir Walter Scott, but included all the illustrations.  The were probably copied from the pages of ‘Punch’ or similar.  I find them completely charming: a celebration of friendship that’s endured for over a century.  I bet you won’t find my own children’s and grandchildren’s Instagram accounts in the family archive this time next century.

Look out by the way for Jack Hall’s contributions.  In August 1903, Miss Blanche Pickard became Mrs. John Hall.

 

Click on any image to view it full size.

The great polio epidemic

This 1961 polio vaccine poster came along too late to help me (Wikimedia Commons)
This 1961 polio vaccine poster came along too late to help me (Wikimedia Commons)

I’d been happily established in Ebley House School for a couple of years when something  astonishing happened.  Shortly after term started, school was closed – just like that.

Ebley House, it seemed, was in quarantine.  A younger pupil had contracted poliomyelitis, and we were closed down to prevent the spread of infection.

Polio was greatly feared in the 1950s.  Although most people – certainly most children – who contracted it suffered no permanent effects, those who did suffered extreme and permanent paralysis.  There have been epidemics of the disease throughout history, but the 1940s and 50s saw several severe episodes worldwide, with sufferers in the western world whipped into newly built or extended isolation hospitals.

School closed for 10 days or so.  It reopened.  A month or so later I fell ill.  The doctor came.  He called an ambulance, and I was trundled away to Middlesex Isolation Hospital. He’d diagnosed poliomyelitis.  Ill as I was, I remember my disappointment that the ambulance bell (it was a tinny, jangly bell in those days) didn’t ring to clear a way through the traffic, and we stopped at every pedestrian crossing.

My parents would have been aware that if things hadn't gone well for me, I'd have perhaps continued breathing courtesy of an 'iron lung' like this (image courtesy of Boston Children's Hospital Archive)
My parents would have been aware that if things hadn’t gone well for me, I’d have perhaps continued breathing courtesy of an ‘iron lung’ like this (image courtesy of Boston Children’s Hospital Archive)

I remained for a month in an individual though large cell, glass-walled from bed height upwards:  I, and the patients in adjoining cells could always be seen from the nurses’ station.  They, the orderlies and the doctors became my daily companions.

A 1950s nurse (Joyce Steel: Brierley Village website)
A 1950s nurse (Joyce Steel: Brierley Village website)

At the weekends and occasionally during the week I saw my parents sheathed in hospital-issue white coats.  They were forbidden to touch me, or to take away any of the drawings  I made, or the stories I wrote. for them as presents,  All the books and games they brought for me while I was there were retained to be burnt when I left.

It must have been a tough time for them.  The hospital was miles away and the journey there demanded travelling on a succession of tube trains and buses, as well as a hike within the hospital grounds.  Keeping me in books and comics can’t have been cheap. And they had to put up with a public health officer coming to our flat, masked in protective clothing, to fumigate it.

This spray gun was used to kill flies.  The idea was the same when it came to polio microbes (Wikimedia Commons)
This spray gun was used to kill flies. The idea was the same when it came to polio microbes (Wikimedia Commons)

I can only remember one part of my treatment.  On my first day, I was given a lumbar puncture, when a needle is inserted into the spinal column for diagnostic purposes.  I’ve never known such pain, before or since.  In fact I passed out.  I’ve just read about the procedure, and it seems not to be a painful one – at least not now.  But I have such clear – and horrible – memories of it.

It was a funny old month, but I don’t remember being unhappy on the whole.  The nurses and orderlies fussed over me because I was the only child on the ward. I read incessantly, drew, wrote stories,  gorged on normally-forbidden comics and puzzle books, and towards the end, was allowed to get up and practice walking (back then, hospital meant lying in bed, all day and every day).

My favourite comic  - 'Girl'
My favourite comic – ‘Girl’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Then one day I was discharged.   I couldn’t go back to school, not for the whole of the rest of the term.

Every day, I was put in the care of an elderly neighbour, and we’d potter off to St. James’ Park to feed the ducks, or I’d help her round the house.  I’d assure her vehemently that I was going to be a nurse when I grew up.  Reading this will provoke hollow laughter from anyone who’s suffered my attentions whilst they’re off colour.  I’m useless.  No bedside manner, little sympathy – completely hopeless.

St. James' Park, with Buckingham Palace behind. (Image from www.britannica.com)
St. James’ Park, with Buckingham Palace behind. (Image from http://www.britannica.com)

And do you know what the worst thing about the whole episode was?  School wasn’t closed, not even for a day when I became ill.  Now how unfair was that?

And the other bad thing was that shortly after that, my mother contracted polio too.  Like me, she made a full recovery.

‘Make do and mend’


I’ve woefully neglected this blog lately.  Partly from lack of time, partly because when my old computer died, it took a lot of material with it.  It’s all retrievable, but it’ll take time.

But the excesses of Christmas have got me thinking about my childhood, as part of the post war ‘make do and mend’ generation.

Even without rationing being a day-to-day part of my early years, we’d have been a thrifty family.  My mother was a clergyman’s daughter,. and priests were notoriously underpaid until quite recently.  They also tended to live in large vicarages which were fine buildings, but hard to maintain and harder to heat.  ‘Making do and mending’ was a core part of her life from her earliest days.

My father was a notoriously poor provider and I can’t remember a time when my parents got on well.  She did the housekeeping and bill-paying on her income alone.  She was a teacher, but until 1961, female teachers were paid less than their male counterparts.  Admittedly, there was  almost no job available to her that would have paid her on the same scale as a male colleague, but the assumption was that it was men who brought home the bacon. (As a little aside, my mother once failed to get a teaching post, because she referred to it during her interview as ‘a job’.  Her interviewer regarded her frostily.  ‘Miss Barton, teaching is not a job.  It is a profession, a calling’.)

I was brought up with the following skills:

Darning:.  I’m still not good at sewing, but I’m a dab hand at darning gaping holes in socks.  Though actually I don’t do it any more. Even stockings got darned in those days (tights still didn’t exist)

Here are some of the contents of my sewing box. I rarely use any of these things (stocking darning thread, anyone?) but I couldn't get rid of any of it.
Here are some of the contents of my sewing box. I rarely use any of these things (stocking darning thread, anyone?) but I couldn’t get rid of any of it.

Turning sheets ‘sides to middle’: when sheets wear thin in the middle, they’re split in half and rejoined with the edges towards the centre.  I used to help with the cutting and tacking.

Preparing cheap cuts of meat: the meats  we bought during my childhood were tougher, often bony cuts requiring long slow cooking – breast of lamb; oxtail; pigs’ heads to be transformed into brawn; skirt of beef – all helped to go further by the addition of lots of root vegetables to the pot.

Cheap cuts of pork (image from Farms not factories)
Cheap cuts of pork (image from Farms not Factories)

Hand-making clothes: my mother made most of my clothes, though she wasn’t a natural.  I used to help her, but I was even less gifted, and preferred choosing the cloth, and Butterick or Simplicity patterns, and pinning the pattern pieces to the cloth.  I lost interest after that.

Some of the instructions from a Butterick's pattern. I remember the occasional despair in interpreting these.
Some of the instructions from a Butterick’s pattern. I remember the occasional despair in interpreting these.

Taking shoes to be mended: shoes had to last.  As there was a tiny cobbler’s shop near our house, I was usually the one that would take our shoes to be soled and heeled.  With growing feet, I was the only one to get new footwear fairly regularly.  And it was taken for granted that shoes would be polished every single day.  I still do clean and shine my shoes – fairly often.

Baking: it was inconceivable that we would ever buy biscuits or cakes, though that was more to do with our preference for good food.  Shop cakes and biscuits were pretty dire in those days.  Some of my earliest memories involve cake mixing – always by hand, never with a fork or spoon – with the delicious pay-back at the end of ‘licking the bowl out’.  Why do we ever cook cakes?  That raw mixture clinging to the sides of the bowl is so much more appetising.

Saving anything that might have a future use:

  • That includes string – to be carefully unknotted, wound tightly and stored.
  • Gift wrapping paper: presents had to be carefully unwrapped, and the paper it came in smoothed out and ironed later.  I still do this.  It drives my daughter mad.
  • Saving tiny portions of food left over from a meal.  I still do this too.  My son-in-law used to say that it was so I could have a clear out a few days later and throw the stuff out then.  He might have had a point.  Except that …..

The soup pot: usually those left overs formed the basis of a soup.  Now, as then, there’s usually soup on the go in this house.  Usually it’s based on those vegetables lurking in the crisper that really need to be used up, or something else that’s too small to make a meal in its own right. Normally known as ‘old boot soup’.

Though I’m no longer as thrifty as my upbringing demanded, ‘make do and mend’ is a core part of me still.  As I think it should be.

Introducing Henery Rosse … er, Rousse … er, Rewse … er, Rouse.

The beginning of our family ... for the time being.
The beginning of our family … for the time being.

Henery Rosse is my ninth great-grandfather on the Barton side.  He was born in 1579, and he married my ninth great-grandmother Jane Hargrave in Stratford St. Mary, Suffolk, in 1592.  Here’s a picture of the lovely parish church where the marriage took place.

Stratford St. Mary Parish Church (geograph.org.uk)
Stratford St. Mary Parish Church (geograph.org.uk)

The original wooden church is mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086, but the building where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were wed was constructed in the 12th Century, improved and extended in the 15th, and is substantially the  same now as it was then.  It makes my head zing to think that I could so easily stand before the altar in this building and see pretty much what they saw, more than four centuries ago.

I guess they were illiterate.  This would explain why each generation of this family in the 16th and 17th centuries, and even siblings from the same generation had their names spelt in so many ways.  Rosse, Rousse, Rewse, Rouse.

Just in case you don't know where it is - here's Suffolk.
Just in case you don’t know where it is – here’s Suffolk.

When I finally get to Suffolk, I hope to uncover a little more about this branch of the family.  For generations and generations, the Barton antecedents lived in Suffolk, mainly in Layham, but also in Polestead and Stratford.  Once the census kicked in, in 1840, disclosing family occupation, it’s clear that the men were, without exception, agricultural labourers.  It was probably always so.  I also know that Henery’s grandson John died a pauper.  In the main though, as far as I know, they had fairly decent life-spans.  Pauper John died when he was 78

The communities my ancestors called home.
The communities my ancestors called home.

Next year, we plan a Suffolk holiday.  I plan to besiege the churches where family members were baptised, married and buried, and take up temporary residence at Suffolk Record Office, in Ipswich, where many church records are now stored, to find out as much as I can.  I’m impressed by how much has been available to me through Ancestry.  How much more involving to see the actual records of my ancestors’ significant life events.

By the way, something exiting has recently happened.  My grandfather’s brother’s great-granddaughter (that’s second cousin once removed, apparently) recently got in touch via Ancestry.  She had quite a lot to tell me about my grandfather, and had records I hadn’t seen.  We plan to keep in touch and share information.  So glad she made contact.

This is how family relationships work, apparently.
This is how family relationships work, apparently.

The Ripon tallow chandler

I’m back.  It’s been a while.  But this post isn’t about a parent, a granny or an uncle.  I’ve been finding our about my great-grandmother’s sister’s husband, the unfortunately named Thomas Cuss.

He took my eye because – guess what?  He and his family came from Ripon, and I had a happy time this morning looking out for all four of the addresses he had in town during his lifetime.  All the houses he and his family lived in were within a couple of minutes’ walk of one another: Low Skellgate, High Skellgate, Somerset Row and Finkle Street.  Although each one of ‘their’ streets looks much the same as it would have done back in the 19th century, every single house they lived in has been replaced – in one case by Ripon’s central Post Office.

Here's Ripon Post Office, built in 1894 at 1, Finkle Street. The Cuss family were still living in the building that used to be on the site in 1891. (Photograph © Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence)
Here’s Ripon Post Office, built in 1894 at 1 Finkle Street as the Mechanics’ Institute. The Cuss family were still living in the building that used to be on the site in 1891. (Photograph © Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence)

His father Robert was a boot-maker, then a cordwainer, but Thomas stuck at his chosen trade all his working life.  He was a tallow chandler. – a candle maker.  By the 1871 census, when he was 21, he was a journeyman tallow chandler.  That means he had completed his apprenticeship, but was still working for somebody else.  1881, 1891, 1901, 1911…. in each of these censuses he was working in the same trade, though by 1911 he was a widower, living in Leeds, with eight of his by now adult children.

Tallow chandler at work. Date and source unknown.
Tallow chandler at work. Date and source unknown.

Tallow candles were pretty mucky sorts of things.  They were made from rendered animal fat. Smoky, stinky, they gave out progressively less light as they burnt down.  Beeswax candles cost twice as much, but lasted …. twice as long.  I’m slightly puzzled by Thomas Cuss’ continued ability to practice his trade.  By the later 19th century there were better alternatives available – spermaceti wax made from whale oil, and cheap, reliable and odourless paraffin wax.  I wonder if he started using these new -fangled ingredients instead?

Tallow chandler shown in Tabart's Book of Trades, Volume 2, 1806
Tallow chandler shown in Tabart’s Book of Trades, Volume 2, 1806

I can’t find a record of his having had a shop, but he surely must have done..  In an 1837 trade directory for Ripon, for instance, there were no fewer than three tallow chandlers in town.  This directory, by the way, is a fascinating one.  In a town of under 6,000 people, there were 39 inns and taverns as well as 19 beer houses, 30 boot and shoemakers, 13 drapers, 10 milliners … and so on..

The family seems to have made a living in a whole variety of ways.  Thomas’ mother Jane worked as a laundress even though she had six children.  Thomas’ brothers included a brush maker’s assistant and a rope maker, one of his sons was a watch maker, and another a stationer’s assistant.

Thomas and my great-great aunt Sarah (Mason) had 12 children together, though the last two, Thomas and Charles, died the year they were born.  Sarah herself died relatively young.  She was born in 1855, and although still living in 1901, by the time of the 1911 census Thomas was a widower.

I don’t know why Thomas moved to Leeds with some of his children early in the 1900s. Harold Terrace at the time would have been a crowded community full of rows of terraced housing thrown up for working people.  Number 76 is a four bedroomed property.  But look at it.  You can see it’s scarcely spacious.  Yet Thomas lived here with four daughters who were dressmakers, two who were waitresses in a cafe, one who worked in a bootshop, as well as a son who was a shop assistant.

76 Harold Terrace, Hyde Park, Leeds.
76 Harold Terrace, Hyde Park, Leeds.

And after that, they disappear from view, though I know Thomas died in 1917 when he was 67.  It’s another five years until the 1921 census is to be published.  I’ll probably have to wait till then.

Where next?

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by this family history malarkey.  I may have set myself too undefined a task

I’ve renewed my membership of ‘Ancestry’ for a little while longer, but in truth, I think it hasn’t got a lot more to offer me.  I’ve traced the main branches of the family (on my mother’s side that is) way back into the 18th century.  I know who they are, where they come from, and what they did for a living.  I can build on that.  I have it in mind to go to Layham in Suffolk, where my grandfather’s family had lived for at least 150 years – almost certainly longer.

St. Andrew's Church, Layham. I'm sure I'll find many Bartons buried there.
St. Andrew’s Church, Layham. I’m sure I’ll find many Bartons buried there.

I need to explore what’s left of those parts of the City Of London where my grandfather’s family lived.

All Hallows by the Tower: almost certainly where the family worshipped when they lived at Great Tower Street. This church has a history well worth telling too.
All Hallows by the Tower: almost certainly where the family worshipped when they lived at Great Tower Street. This church has a history well worth telling too.

Nearer to home, I can go and explore Green Hammerton, a village about half way between us and York.  This is where my great-great grandfather on my great-grandmother’s side , Thomas Mason, and his father before him, and possibly his father before that were blacksmiths.  I’ve discovered that last time the house in the village called The Smithy changed hands, it was worth nearly £700,000. The Masons may have been fine blacksmiths, but they would never have expected their home to become priced so far beyond the reach of the average working family.  I think a trip to Green Hammerton is called for.  It’s odd though, they were all buried in the churchyard at Whixley, the rather larger village next door….  A minor mystery to solve.

Here's Thomas Mason, early on in his career, a journeyman blacksmith. I'd like to uncover his story.
Here’s Thomas Mason, early on in his career, a journeyman blacksmith. I’d like to uncover his story.

Then there are various addresses in Bradford and Batley where my great grandfather’s side of the family came from.  I’d like to explore those.

But then what?  I could stumble round the churchyard in Pateley Bridge, to find the tombs of members of the Hannam family were buried in the 1700s (the great-grandfather of the wife of my first cousin 5 times removed – that sort of thing).  But really.  Is there any point? Once you get before 1840 or so, it’s unusual to find the jobs or professions of any of my ancestors, or a worthwhile address.  So while I have more than 740 people on  my family tree now, I’m unlikely to find any facts of real interest about most of them.

It IS quite thrilling to follow a trail back and back, and get to 1400 … 1300 … 1200 .. and even beyond that.  But realistically, I know that a single error in the trail will veer me off in a false direction.  I’m rarely going to know whether these individuals are rich men, poor men, beggarmen or thieves, so these long-dead individuals remain about as interesting as a bald list of names and dates in a history text book.

So I’m going to keep it simple.  I’m going to focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, on those parts of the family history where I can uncover proper stories.  I’m going to go into more details of my own and my parents lives.  I’ve got a good skeleton here on which details of the wider family can be built up.  And if anyone else in the family fancies taking the job on …. jolly good luck.  I’d like to give you a hand too.

Claro House was where Thomas Mason spent his retirement, with his son's family. This postcard though dates from 1935, long after they had left. It's a nice link between his days and our own though.
Claro House was where Thomas Mason spent his retirement, with his son’s family. This postcard though dates from 1935, long after they had left. It’s a nice link between his days and our own though.

Another year, another school

A few posts ago, I told you about my first London school.  It became pretty obvious to my parents that it simply would not do.  But still … I was a Bulge Baby.  There was still enormous pressure on school places.  My mother had found a good job teaching classics at Mayfield School, Putney, so really needed a place for me in a Putney school, so we could travel to and from school together.

There were no places.

Finally, they found somewhere.  It wasn’t a state primary,  though, but a tiny, old-fashioned private school, Ebley House School.  Even for the time, its fees were modest..

Ebley House School: terms and conditions.
Ebley House School: terms and conditions.

It was a funny old place, run from a church hall, because its original premises had been bombed during the war..  The head, Miss Egleton seemed a rather frail old lady, with wispy hair gathered into a skimpy bun.  The only other teacher I remember was Mrs. Coate-Bond, whom  my mother thought rather racy, as she read the left-leaning Manchester Guardian.

The ‘babies’ or kindergarten class, were in the vestry, and the rest of us were divided into two groups, Lower Transition and Upper Transition, and worked at opposite ends of the hall.  Once I passed the 11+ and got to grammar school, I realised what an old-fashioned seat of learning it was compared with the lively places my new friends had been to.  I remember some of the lessons:

Copy book:

Copy book (Fountain Pen Network)
Copy book (Fountain Pen Network)

We copied line after line of this stuff, with scratchy steel dip-pens which at the least provocation spattered unwashable ink onto our books and over our cardigans.

PE:   We didn’t change out of our ordinary clothes, but stood just as in this picture here, doing star jumps, running on the spot and similar.  No games pitches, therefore no outdoor games.

These are young women. They are in America. In the 1930s. But this is a perfect image of our PE classes.
These are young women. They are in America. In the 1930s. But this is a perfect image of our PE classes.

Monday mornings after break were worst.  The boys went off to …. hang on, I have no idea what the boys did.  The girls did embroidery.  Tray cloths.  Every single week.  We gossiped instead, of course.  It took weeks and weeks to complete a cloth.  At the end of every class, we’d line up and show what we’d done that week.  It was always a total exaggeration.  The only times we were compelled to put a bit of effort in was on those rare occasions when we had to start a new cloth off, and we really couldn’t pull a fast one about our achievements. Like every girl in the school, I loathed Monday mornings.  It put me off sewing for life.

1950s traycloth. Our achievements weren't as polished as this (Etsy)
1950s traycloth. Our achievements weren’t as polished as this (Etsy)

Most of the other lessons were reasonably conventional for the time.  I enjoyed English, spelling, maths, singing, and scripture (though I wondered for years why a good man like Jesus would promise to make his disciples ‘vicious of men’).  At play time, my earnest little friends and I wrote, illustrated and put together magazines with an extremely limited readership ( just us, I think).  In my final term, I wrote a dashing tale in which boarding school chums (modelled closely on the girls in Angela Brazil‘s school stories) got the better of a dastardly burglar.  It was performed at the school prize-giving.

In the  morning, I travelled to Putney with my mother, and at the end of the school day, walked over to Mayfield to return home with her.  When I was eight, though, she got another job teaching Classics at Fulham County School.  By then we were living in Victoria.  So every day I walked to the station, crossing two busy main roads.  I caught the Tube, the District Line to East Putney, sometimes  changing at Earl’s Court.

My train journey on the London tube. Read from bottom to top.
My train journey on the London tube. Read from bottom to top.

Then there were two more busy main roads to navigate.  I was a nervous little thing, but it never occurred to me to be nervous of this journey, which is not one the average eight year old  would do alone these days, I think.

It wasn’t a stunningly exciting education.  But I was happy enough.  Apart from the time when I missed almost a whole term because I was in Isolation Hospital.  But that’s another story.