A throwback to the end of the previous century
Even in 1951, when I joined the school at the age of just 4, St Michael’s in Knoyle Road was a throwback to the end of the previous century! With just 60 pupils (all boys) aged between 4 and 10, the Headmistress was Miss Dorothy H Willis, already well advanced in years by that stage (no, not just my youthful imagination).
Her supporting staff included Miss Keywood, a spinster lady who lived in Harrington Road and who taught me to read, and Miss Anderson, who lived in Preston Village and chiefly taught Art and Nature. There were no man teachers apart from Mr Hodge who came in to take games, and Miss Keywood and Miss Anderson both wore hats when teaching!
Lunches cost 1/6d a day!
The uniform was grey and light blue (grey shorts and jumper, grey socks topped with blue rings, and a grey cap with a blue and grey badge). The school was initially held at the Knoyle Hall (St John’s Church), with junior classes held in the main hall (downstairs) and various other rooms used for the more senior forms (numbered from Form 4 – the infants – to Form 1). Miss Willis had an office on the First Floor, outside which stood her piano – the large upstairs room was used for morning assembly and for lunch. Looking back on the accounts sent to my father, lunches cost 1/6d a day: for such delicacies as rock salmon and chocolate blancmange!
Lessons were very formal, but largely enjoyable. We learned to read from the Beacon Readers series, and by the time we were seven, we were learning French (from books called “Madame Souris” and “Madame Lapin”) and Latin (Hillard and Botting). In the top form we were allowed to use dip pens for writing our Latin exercises and for writing out the poems (from Palgrave’s “Golden Treasury”) that we had to learn each weekend – (“Sir Galahad” – My good blade carves the casques of men..)! My favourite lesson was handicrafts, with Miss Ramsden (from Worthing) who taught us to make raffia mats, woven sewing kits and other items suitable for doting (female) relatives!
Moved premises in 1954
After lunch each day everyone went down to the big hall and lay down on grey blankets for a supervised rest. The Crowhurst Hall (behind the Knoyle Hall) was used for “exercises” (PE, that is), and we went by the 15B bus to Patcham Place for football and cricket practice. Some lucky boy got the salmon pink penny halfpenny bus tickets to keep each time! The school moved to a large house at the bottom of Harrington Road in about 1954, and by the mid-1960’s had gone, amalgamated with another private school based in Preston Park Avenue.
Remembering old boys
In such a small school, it is remarkable that two boys of my era, John Bowis (once an MP, now a Tory MEP) and Keith Best (once an MP, now Chief Executive of the Immigration Advisory Service) achieved some fame. Other boys I remember include David Griffiths, Darryl Taylor, John Tarling, Andrew Mallin-Jones, Michael Willis, Richard Savage, Roger de Courcy, Roger Knight, John Kennard, Roger Horlock and Peter Beard. I last saw Miss Willis in about 1962, when she must have been at least 80 years old, supervising boys onto homeward-bound buses at Harrington Road bus stop. By that time I had gone on to Brighton College, but I always treasured my happy memories of the unusual small school which set me off on the track to academic achievement.