Photos and articles about Brighton and Hove in the time of coronavirus. See our collection and add your own!

The 'Babies' Class

The cat sat on the mat

Miss Young was the teacher in the ‘Babies’ class and I remember the sand tray where you could play with various cups and make castles. The alphabet was round the walls, and I learned to read “The cat sat on the mat”. Miss Wigmore was a formidable lady in her green costume which is how I always remember her. She taught me how to knit a tea cosy. I can only remember being scared stiff of one teacher. I remember she made one boy, Tony Lyons, stand up on the tip-seat of his desk for the whole lesson. He cried because he was so scared and she sneered at him and pinned a notice on his chest which said “BABY” in large letters.

Humiliated by a teacher

This particular teacher always humiliated me at the beginning of term when we had to fill in the form about our parents, and what our father did for a living. I left it blank because I didn’t have a father, and she pointed me out to the class as having a mother who wasn’t married when she had me. It was true so what could I do about it? She told us about her holidays in Germany and she did think Hitler was wonderful but we have to remember that so did millions of Germans at that time, in the middle of a recession. Then war broke out and foreign travel was banned so I guess she had to make do with Margate.

A school romance?

I adored the excitement of Mr Urquhart’s lessons. He was always entertaining and had us enthralled. He told us they had some white long haired dogs and they’d had some sweaters made from the combings of their coats. Miss Cowtan was adorable and so was Mr Webb. I think they were in love but he had to go into the RAF I heard, so I’d love to know if their romance ended there. I was in his class in my last year and on the last day we went into the classroom only to find the room had been transformed. He had made his autograph by festooning the whole room as a spider’s web, hanging down over out heads. What excitement – I adored him – but we were never to see him again. What a gift.

How Hitler missed me

In September 1939 war was declared and the government decided to pay the fares of any children who had relatives in Canada and the States to be evacuated there. The medical took place at the school and my mother went with me; I lived in a foster-home at the time. The woman doctor examined me and told my mother that I had a faulty heart and America wouldn’t take me – so that was the end of that. My mother shouted at her and told her it was rubbish. In the event I would have been on the City of Benares ship which was sunk by a U-boat not far from New York. Many children lost their lives and only about five survived. Here I am 81 years old and still with the bad heart. It now contains bits of a pigs heart which has served me well for 4 years. America, what a mistake you made!

Downs Junior School; formerly Ditchling Road Council School
Wikipedia Commons: Photographer - Hassocks5489

Comments about this page

  • Goodness, Dorothy, what fascinating memories! I’m a great supporter of teachers, but they certainly used to get away with some stuff that wouldn’t be acceptable today. I was also a pupil at the Downs, as it had become by then, but I guess about 20 years later than you. In the above photo the Infants school was the four gables with the lower rooflines at the far end of the block, actually facing on to Ditchling Road. It’s now a separate newer site further down on the other side of Ditchling Road, of course.

    By Len Liechti (11/09/2011)
  • Sorry to hear the school doctor said the US wouldn’t let you in. It’s not as if the US is a particularly fit and healthy nation these days!! With you in the US, we probably wouldn’t be in the pickle we are in right now! I went to the Downs School – Infants and Primary. I left in 1961 after taking the much-hated 11+ exam, which I failed being older and from parentage on the wrong economic side of the tracks so to speak. I do remember a Mr. Webb. I wonder if he was the same one you remember? Thanks for the memories – great photo too. Ah, those grey skies. It’s how I remember the place as I walked from my house in Springfield Road and up Rugby Road. A friend of mine, Alan Bowyer lived right opposite the nearest corner wall in the picture – on Rugby Road.

    By Phil Allsopp (13/09/2011)
  • Mr.Webb was always picking on me and laughing. I had pig tails and my Aunt talked my mother into having them cut off (she was a hairdresser and I think she sold my hair!). She then gave me a perm -remember the machine with all the wires attached to the rollers? I turned up in class with what we would call nowadays an ‘afro’ – he sang a song popular at the time ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Bear’ and I cried. Went home to try and wash out the frizz and it was worse. Tried to pretend I was sick so I could stay away but in those days Syrup of Treacle and Senna Pod Tea was administered by my grandmother and off I went to school. Remember Miss Wydmark -sewing and cooking, Miss Bland and Mr.Dibbens -maths. Remember the ice slides diagonal across the playground in the winter. Cigarette cards against the wall and of course alleys (marbles). Tucking skirt into bloomers and doing handstands against the school walls. Conkers and five stones. Gosh we made our own fun in those days. Kids nowadays won’t have our memories.

    By Jennifer Goddard nee Norrell (07/10/2011)
  • My father Arthur Wickens apparently attended Ditchling Road Infants School between 1935 and 1936 although I could not trace his name from the school register at ESRO. He then transferred to Queens Park primary in June 1936 where he remained until July 1937. Does anyone remember his name? His father Alfred died young in 1932 and he was looked after by his mother Dorothy and subsequently aunts Lily and Edie Wickens who lived in Blaker Street.

    By John Wickens (25/05/2012)
  • Not sure if any of the readers are aware but there was/is a system of rooms and corridors for air raids under this school, and you can request to view them.

    By Jenny Shaw (nee Curd) (19/09/2017)
  • There were two entrances under the playground. Can remember sitting down there for hours until the ‘All Clear’ sounded. We had to take our gas masks to school and take them with us at all times, including in the shelters.

    By Jennifer Goddard (nee Norrell) (04/12/2017)

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