MEMORIES OF CAEDMON HOUSE SCHOOL 1945 – 51
(Carol Ventura, nee Marchand - with apologies for misrememberings)
Editor's note: Caedmon House School was in Pall Mall near Leighton Avenue. The building is now a private house.
My mother and I lived in Flat 16, St. Clements’ Court, my father, a Hurricane pilot, having been shot down and killed in the Battle of Britain over Sittingbourne.
My first actual memory of Caedmon House is being taken through the gate by my mother and screaming that I didn’t want to stay. I was about four years old. I was given to Miss (Alice) Morris, who I remember as always being so very kind to me. I also remember being taken to see Miss Helen (Morris), in her wheelchair, who I thought had the most beautiful face I had ever seen.
Miss Wilkins, who seemed to me to be a very, very large lady, began my love of English literature when I was so very small and to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. I can remember reading ‘Hereward the Wake’, sitting on a very small bouncy chair in a classroom with, I think, French windows which faced towards the Hall. Miss Wilkins also made me eat semolina. It came either with jam or in its chocolate version. To this day, I simply cannot abide milk puddings!
We used to have Morning Prayers in the Hall and I remember we used to have the same hymns on the same day each week. I am unable to sing hymn 398 without being immediately transported back to the Hall, dressed in my grey blazer with, I am pretty sure, purple piping. I think we used to have lavender coloured dresses in the Summer Term.
I do remember the lukewarm milk in small milk bottles with cardboard tops which we were made to drink – in the Summer it was quite disgusting as it had been sitting in the sun until given to us to drink. It put me off milk for years, until I was having our first baby! We then had to make woollen fluffy balls with the cardboard milk bottle tops. I never did discover why. We were also encouraged to collect silver paper and make it into silver balls as large as we could. Again, I am unable to remember why. I imagine it was possibly needed somewhere, with rationing still being in operation.
I think I was probably pretty insufferable as Miss Morris seemed always to be ‘looking after’ me, and I was often winning prizes for reading and writing – I still have these books. For some reason I was also given a weaver bird’s nest for what, I have no idea, but about which I was very proud, only to be terribly sad when my mother immediately threw it away when I got home.
I used to walk home to St. Clement’s Court by myself each day and play in the Library Gardens. I remember being very envious of Wendy Scott who, I seem to remember, had a doll’s pram, and I believe her parents had a car which, in those days was totally wonderful. I think the Scotts lived opposite St. Clement’s Court.
Oh dear, yes, Sports Days in the Hall. I have always dreaded these and still dislike intensely anything at all to do with sports (the legacy of Mrs. Emmit, perchance, but more probably due to there being no competitive genes in my make up!), though the exceptions were riding and scuba diving in my younger days. I am afraid I utterly shamed my mother, a sports fanatic until the day she died, on one of these dreaded occasions at Caedmon House during the egg-and-spoon race, and about which she never tired of reminding me, and anyone else who would listen. I can remember it so clearly, someone wanted to overtake me and I, surely as one would, politely stepped aside and let those who wanted to, overtake. Now, why wouldn’t I? I must have ‘had the hairbrush’ when I got home on that occasion for the incident was never, ever, to be forgotten and is still as clear to me as if it had happened yesterday!
Regarding Leigh itself, there was a man who used to frighten me considerably, bearing in mind it was the 1940s. He used to wear an old long brown coat together with some sort of headgear. He used to shuffle along, past the Library and the Church. I remember my mother telling me ‘he had been buried alive’. To a child of my age, I imagined he had died but had been buried, while still alive, in St. Clement’s Churchyard, and had somehow been ‘dug up’ again – a thought which both terrified and perplexed me, at that age. It was only while researching my Great-uncle who was killed at the Battle of Messines in 1917, and reading ‘Birdsong’, that I realised this poor man might have been one of the claykickers (tunnellers) in the First World War, the tunnel collapsing and burying him, and he being dragged out. His brown clothing could have been his WW1 Army greatcoat.
Then, of course, it maybe that something had happened to him in WW2. I was very small and he did look so very old. I do so wish I knew who he was. He has haunted me for years and I do wish I could tell him how sorry I was, and still am. I see him so often in my mind’s eye.
Many are the cockles and winkles I used to consume when going down to Old Town Leigh. We used to sit in sheds, rather like squashed up railway carriages which, I seem to remember, were painted green – but in the 1940s, most things in my mind seemed to have been painted green. It must have been the easiest colour to obtain at that time. I passed the 11+ and went to Southend High School, which I hated, for a year, after which I was sent, as a boarder, to St. Monica’s School, Clacton-on-Sea, which I loved.
These are only remembrances, looking back over nearly 70 years. I am sure there are many things I have misremembered and I know there is so much I have forgotten.
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