Ruth Harper, (Pupil) 1950s

St. Kenelm's C.E. Primary School, Romsley
Centenary Celebrations
1915 – 2015

Memories of Mrs Ruth Harper - Pupil 1956 to 1962

 

I started at St. Kenelm's in 1956 at the age of four and a half, when my father came to Romsley as Rector of the parish. Our teacher in the infants' class, who was also the head of the school by that time, was a Miss Gray. She followed on from Mr Dudley and Mrs Southall. Miss Gray and her partner Miss Davies (more of her later) lived at first in one of the little cottages to the left of The Sun – alongside what is now Fairy Hollow. Miss Gray was on the small side with a short haircut and always wearing a grey suit. The eleven year old boys probably towered over her but she managed to rule that school with a rod of iron.

I imagine that the children in this first class would have ranged between five and seven years old. My best friend at the time was Gavin Newton, son of the local doctor. He could be a bit of a monkey at times and I followed on blindly, not having the wit to think up indiscretions of my own. One day Miss Gray walked in with six brand new wooden plasticine boards. Basically in those days Art & Craft lessons consisted of either drawing, painting (if you were lucky) or making models out of mucky brown plasticine. ("Children, do try to keep the colours separate as they will turn into such a nasty colour if you roll them together!!!")

The boards which we had used up to this moment were made of cork (or were they asbestos? I am 63 years old as I write this so they were probably cork) and of course, we had all had a go at picking the edges away so they were in something of a sorry state by the time I joined the class of around 25 children in 1956. Imagine our delight at the introduction of six brand new wooden boards. As the doctor's son and rector's daughter there was no question in our minds that Gavin and I would surely be singled out for the honour of using two of the boards that very afternoon. Imagine our horror when OUR new boards were given to twins, Alison and Bronwen Howard, sitting opposite us at the table. Gavin and I at the age of five were mortified at the injustice and Gavin determined to rectify the situation at the earliest possible moment.

As soon as Miss Gray left the room, (as headteachers will; doubtless on urgent school business), Gavin grabbed the two boards from the twins, who complained but to no avail, and placed them in front of us whilst shoving the two cork boards back across the table. Just in the nick of time! Miss Gray returned and it took her less than a second, or so it seemed, to assess the situation, return the boards to the rightful users and order Gavin and myself to different corners of the room to stand ignominiously for the remainder of the lesson staring at the blank wall with faces (mine at least) scarlet from sheer embarrassment. The fact that I remember the occasion so vividly after nearly 60 years fully indicates the horror that being told off was to a five year old mouse of a girl, who could not even summon up the nerve to say "boo to a goose"! (As a result of this incident I trembled my way through school/college for the remainder of my educative years, I am sure!)

The middle classroom of the three was for Lower Juniors (7 & 8 year olds) and very sadly I have few memories of that class. We had a particularly young and lovely teacher named Mrs Caldwell, whom I adored. Isn't it sad that all the memories I have of my school days revolve around punishment, fear, school dinners (more later) and the horrors that was PE in the 50s. The kindness and breath of fresh air that was Mrs Caldwell has just faded into a dim memory. Sadly it was ever thus.

Lastly we moved into the top class, Upper Juniors, 9, 10 and 11 year olds. Preparation for the dreaded 11Plus under the eagle eye of Miss Davies, the other half of the Gray/Davies partnership and a half to fill even the toughest 10 year old with dread. She wasn't much taller than Miss Gray, had a very short straight hair cut, wore tweed, and nothing but tweed, skirts and jackets and could throw a Rounders' ball further than most first class bowlers (or so it appeared to a 10 year old!) Our only consolation was the game she made her own and called Long Ball...undoubtedly long since banned for its sheer cruelty. Needless to say we loved it (it got us out of the classroom and onto the unevenly cut field, part of which now is used as the school field but in those days was separated from the school playground by a hedge). The idea of the game was to hit the ball as in Rounders but instead of running round in a circle you tried to run down the length of the field to the bottom by the hedge and if you made it in one piece you gained a point for your team. I imagine you could run back if you were really brave (or stupid) but I doubt very much if many of us attempted to once we reached the sanctuary of the hedge. Miss Davies was Back Stop (Wicket Keeper if you like) and if you missed the ball (which I always did – try hitting a small round object flung at you at great speed with a piece of wood not much wider than a twig and you will sympathise)....if you missed it, you then had to run for your life down the field waiting for the thud of the ball in the middle of your back as Miss Davies flung it after you with all her might. She never missed. We loved every minute and I think, when I look at my fellow classmates today, we all survived pretty well to tell the tale.

In the 1950s when I started at St. Kenelm's there were no toilet facilities in the main building. These were housed in a damp, smelly and wonderful shed in the back playground. The aim was to convince your teacher (no mean feat if you knew Miss Gray and Miss Davies) that you could not possibly wait until playtime. The last thing they needed was a puddle on the floor of an already overcrowded classroom so usually it worked. Sadly they were too wise to allow your best friend to have a similar problem but if you were very lucky a child from the other two classes may have had a similar need just at the same time. Even better if it was a boy!

Oh joy! What fun we had – throwing insults, toilet rolls (the hard crinkly stuff) or bars of soap over the low partition between the boys' and girls' sections or standing precariously on the toilet pan (no lids, of course) to try to peer over the top at your mischief making pal. Fun that is until the arrival of Miss Davies! I leave the rest to your imagination.

The two entrances into the school building at the time were round the back of the school and I think they were separate for boys and girls, but they may have been for infants and juniors. The main play area was also at the back. We came into the school grounds by the same pedestrian gate as now but the boundary fence pretty much followed the line of the path and so there was only a narrow play area on the top side of the school. What is now the school field was a proper farmer's field separated from the school by a hedge or fence. We were allowed on occasions to go in there for PE, mainly the wonderful Long Ball described earlier Because there was no extension when I started school, the building, of course, ended at the present far hall wall and so, if my memory serves me correctly, we were able to play on a small tarmacked area at that end of this building and then after that came the main school field which went all the way down to the same boundary fence as now; no secret garden and no Forest School's wood (for those of you who know what I am talking about). Just a rather uneven grassed area which seemed endless when you were five years old and told to run to the bottom and back.

As the building at the time was so small we didn't have meals served in the school but had to make the journey down to the Mission Room each lunch time – rain, snow, hail, wind or shine. I hated those meals and dreaded each walk down the road as I was sure it was going to be Syrup Sponge Pudding again!! My one abiding memory concerns best friend, Gavin, again. He felt pretty much as I did about the meals and we both agreed that the absolute worst things we could be served were dates and lumpy rice pudding. Dire when they were produced singly but unbelievably awful when combined. On the lunchtime in question the worst had happened and we got both.

Gavin raised his hand and when Miss Davies finally approached to see what the problem was he explained that he just couldn't eat dates and if he did he would be sick. This didn't go down at all well (just like the dates) and Miss Davies insisted that everything had to be consumed. This was the late 1950s after all – not too long after the end of World War 2. Gavin took one bite of the date and was promptly sick all over his plate, the table, himself and his chair...maybe even Miss Davies! At this point she quickly announced that if anyone else didn't like dates, then they could be left on the side of the plate. I am eternally grateful to Gavin for saving me from a "fate worse than death!"

In the early 1960s it was obvious that the school building was far too small to accommodate all the influx of children from the young families who would shortly be moving into the new estate. And so an extension was added comprising one downstairs' classroom, a headteacher's office, internal toilets, store cupboard, maybe a small staffroom and tiny secretary's office (I left just as it was completed, hence my vagueness) and two upstairs' classrooms.

But very soon this too was found to be inadequate in size for the increasing numbers of children needing places. Remember in those days, as now, it was still a primary school with children staying until they were 11 years old.

So around 1966 a second extension was quickly added on the far end of the first – two more classrooms, one up, one down, a staffroom and some extra toilets. At around this stage I imagine that they also extended the all-purpose corridor running alongside the three original classrooms at the rear of the school and also dispensed with the rear entrances once and for all. And sadly also the outside toilets (well, sad for those of us who enjoyed the smelly adventure!). I imagine too that it was around this point that the school acquired back the use of the large field as part of its grounds.

Soon after I left St. Kenelm's so too did Miss Gray and Miss Davies. The new headteacher was Mr Ben Ruddick, whom many of you reading these memories may remember......and if you don't remember him, you may well recall the smell of his pipe wafting around the school building.

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