Days of slates, carrot for ‘seconds’ and masks

ANNE MARSDEN recalls her time as a pupil at the Sutherland House School in Burgh from 1942 to 1945 in what is believed to be the Old Rectory in Wood Lane.

It was wartime and Sutherland House School was situated in Yarmouth. I do not know the year, but Miss Constance Gledhill moved her private school for young boys up to eight years old and girls of all ages from Yarmouth to the safety of Burgh.

The girls, even though it was war time, all had to wear a uniform which could be bought at a shop called Greens in Norwich. The uniform was a brown tunic, the hem had to be just above the knee, white blouses and white short socks.

The majority of the children came from farming or professional families. There was no public transport so those who lived near and were old enough walked or cycled to school. Others came by car. I lived at Oulton near Aylsham and went to school with the Harrold children who lived at Wood Farm. We went by taxi when parents could not manage to do the “run”.

In Aylsham there was a garage owned by the Watt brothers. Jimmy and Leo. Ena, sister of Jimmy and Leo, had her own taxi so any of the three could take us to school. Jimmy was the most fun as he made us laugh.

One day I (was about six then), when Mrs Harrold was bringing us home from school, the back door of the car was not shut properly. Patsy my friend called out “the back door is open”. Mrs Harrold said “do not touch it,” but Christine Harrold, who was about four, opened the door.

In those days, car doors opened the opposite way from now and the rush of air blew the door right open and Christine, still hanging on to the door, went with it. She then flew in the air across the road and landed on a patch of grass in the middle of a division between two roads. She was picked up brushed down and we continued on our way home.

The school was small, and the infant class had about seven or eight children. There were two infant teachers Miss Bowers and Miss Seago.

Miss Gledhill was the headteacher who took assembly and Religious Instruction, though I do not think it was called that. She told us bible stories and related them to everyday living. We had a great respect for her and recognised even at that early age that she was a caring person.

Our teachers were very kind. Miss Seago taught games and PE, nature, and sums. We each had our own abacus to learn tens or place value.

At this age four to six, PE was mainly doing star jumps, playing with hoops and learning to catch a ball.

Miss Bowers taught reading and writing. She also read us stories one I remember was about Mary Plain, an hilarious bear who got into all kind of muddles.

Our reading books were called Old Lob, it was a book about a farmer and all his animals, so suitable for country children. There were 85 words to learn in the introductory book.
Amazingly there were pictures in black and yellow print in the book. It was rare to have a book with pictures in war time. I loved the books and soon learned to read. Miss Bowers drew more pictures of the animals on the blackboard and made the stories live for the children.

For drawing we had slates as paper was very scarce. Rubbing out was very much frowned upon so if the teacher was not looking, we could use a sleeve or hankie. Fingers left tell-tale smudges.
In spite of the paper shortage, we did have a paper writing book and a sum book, again no rubbers. If you tried to rub out with your finger a hole appeared in the paper as it was poor quality. I think we had to provide our own pencil if we lost the one provided.

We sat at desks which had lift up lids for our pencil, the two books and slate and reading book.

Hankies had to be shown first thing before assembly every morning.

As regards rewards and punishments, a bad mark was given to anyone without a hankie. Ten bad marks equaled a black mark. Anyone who got a black mark had to walk down the room to the front at assembly and stick the black mark on to the class Marks Board. That person was shamed in front of the whole school.

Equally. Rewards were good marks which consisted of a red paper circle stick on a board when ten good marks had been given; again given in assembly in front of the whole school. All these marks went to whichever house you were in which was Raleigh or Drake. Peer pressure as well as self-reward or failure.

The toilets for the school were in an outhouse and consisted of a boy’s toilet with urinal running on to the land at the back and one bucket toilet, and girls’ toilets had buckets. All were emptied at night. The toilet seat was wood with holes over the buckets and it was very cold and draughty in the winter so one hung on as long as possible. The toilet emptier came round at night with the “honey cart” as it was called.

We brought our own lunch to school which in most cases consisted of jam or thinly cut spam sandwiches. There were no treats or sweets as it was war time and so much food was rationed. The only fruit was from gardens at home or a raw carrot for “seconds”.

After dinner we had to rest on a thin mat on the floor for what seemed like hours. Then it was playtime.

The school was in Wood Lane burgh and was either the old vicarage or near it. In the garden there was no real playground, just a small wood (maybe in retrospect a few trees). A bar was strung across two trees where the children could do tumbles. Of course, the younger ones rarely had a turn because the older girls or any of the boys monopolised it. There were also two swings tied to the trees.

I went to school in 1942 and the war was in full flow. We were told of a wicked man called Hitler who wanted to own our country, so we had to fight him.

Airplanes flew overheard and they were very frightening as they flew so low barely skimming the trees. We soon learned the sound of the friendly spitfire. In the classroom when we heard a plane we had to go under our desks and put our gas masks on. They were big and clumsy and so difficult with heavy rubber bands on it which had to go on our heads. Once on it was really difficult to breath so it was hard to understand how they could save us. My mask was black and red and was Micky Mouse with big black ears.

If the wind was in the right direction, we could hear the sirens from Aylsham, it was so very frightening.

Then came the day when we heard the war had ended and we were all given a small paper Union Jack on a thin wooden stick to wave. Everyone was so happy, and we knew this was a very special day. The teachers and the big girls were all laughing and hugging each other. We waved our flags in the car on the way home.

In spite of the war, I was very happy at Sutherland House School, and Miss Gledhill was a wonderful head teacher who truly cared for her pupils.

Sutherland House School relocated to Cromer after the Second World War when it became an all-girls boarding and day school. It closed in 1995 after 120 years of educating youngsters.

Does anyone remember Miss Critoph?

One Comment on “Days of slates, carrot for ‘seconds’ and masks”

  1. The uniform was bought at Greens in Norwich a shop on the Haymarket. Not Greens in Aylsham.
    Greens in Norwich was a ‘smart’ shop. It was great fun to go there as there was a full sized rocking horse for the children. Parents were not allowed to purchase the uniform from any other shops.

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