I started at the Downs School either in late 1953 or early 1954. What I do know is that the School Inspector had to knock at the door to ask why I wasn’t attending school, as I was past the age when you were supposed to start. I remember my first day in the Infant’s Class – it was frozen outside, there were icicles on the school porch but in the classroom there was a roaring coal fire in an open grate. The frozen milk bottles in their crates were put in front of the fire to thaw. We were given cod-liver oil – from a teaspoon, capsules weren’t invented then – and I seem to remember orange juice as well.
The teacher wrote the letters of the alphabet on the board, pronouncing them phonetically. As she put them up, I told everyone the “correct” way to say the letters. At the time I thought I was being helpful. The teacher appeared to take this very well, but the next morning when I arrived at school I found I had been bumped up into the next class. This was something of a shock and I spent the morning sobbing on the new teacher’s lap. This teacher was Miss Webb, a very nice, gentle young woman.
The next shock – school dinners
The next shock came a few weeks later, when I was happily getting my coat to go home for lunch as usual – and was told that from now on I was staying to school dinner. The headmistress had discovered that because my mother was on a widow’s pension, I was entitled to free school dinners. I didn’t really ‘do’ eating in those days, so those school meals were a personal torment. I was always the last one left in the canteen, with all the dinner ladies gathered round, persuading me to take another mouthful.
The girls’ playground
There was a mixed playground, and another one where only the girls were allowed. The girls’ playground would be lined with girls playing ‘jacks’ or ‘fivestones’ along one side, upside-down girls doing handstands would be along another wall and skipping girls in the middle. I was useless at all of these.
By the time of the photograph shown here, I was in Mr Taylor’s class, over in the annexe. Mr Taylor was lovely, or so I thought anyway. I was in the choir which he ran; there were some things I could do. We won an inter-school competition singing a song that I think was about Hiawatha. A short while afterwards, a man from the BBC I think it would have been the Home Service in those days, turned up out of the blue to record us for the radio. We were totally unprepared – and I think our conductor, Mr Taylor must have been nervous and somehow communicated this to us – so we sang really badly. The programme was never broadcast.
Names of classmates
I was convinced that, whilst still at school, I had written the names of all my classmates on the back of the photo. The good news is that, yes, I had written the names. The bad news is that it was done in retrospect in the mid 1990s! The record is therefore incomplete and probably inaccurate – if anyone has any corrections (including spellings) or additions to the list of names, please comment.
Back row: L-R :Leonard Liechti, John Young, David Kydd, Paul (or David?) Yates, (??), Christopher Mason, Michael Stringer, Mr Taylor.
Next row: L-R (Jennifer Saunders), Hazel French, Margaret Syrett, (Eva Johnson), Pat Smith, (??), (??), Jane Baker, (Madeline Voller).
Next row: L-R: Rosemary Payne, (??), Judith Beynon, (??), (Heather Kydd), (??), Honor Patching, (??), (??), Susan Penfold, Margaret Carpenter.
Front row: For some reason I don’t remember any of these boys’ names!
I am in the third row from the back, the fifth from the right – the one with the incredibly skinny knees! I was previously Honor Dixon but in 1956 my widowed mother remarried and my surname changed to Patching. Shortly before the photo was taken my hair had been cut and a well-meaning relative paid for me to have a perm. Before that I had long hair, always worn in two plaits.