1948-52 GILLIAN PENNY NÉE BULL

I was in Fawcett from September 1948 to December 1952, when post-war conditions were still fairly tough. A number of food items were still rationed and we still needed clothing coupons, though this soon eased off. Miss Payne – Polly – was already well established as Housemistress, but Olive Winter as 2nd Housemistress started at the same time as me.

The House physically was two 3-story houses joined by a sloping covered bridge which gave it quite an unusual character. My first term was in the biggest dormitory (6 people) on the top floor of the secondary house, New House; Miss Winter also had her room in this part, and there was the House library, well stocked with books. It took some time for me to know the geography of the upper part of the main house, where Polly had her bedroom in amongst several smaller dormitories – not exactly luxurious accommodation for the Housemistresses. She had her sitting room on the ground floor near the front door, with a lot of blue in the decoration I seem to remember. Every night as we went to bed we would each go individually to wish her goodnight. Bed times were so early – 3.30 and 9.00 p.m. – so of course no one went to sleep and talked for ages; Polly would patrol round and catch us! In the mornings when everyone was in their place for breakfast we would all chorus “Good morning Miss Payne and Miss Winter.” A Table List was made up each week by the Head of House, for who each girl would sit next to; we moved on a place at each meal so that everyone had to take it in turn to sit next to the Housemistresses and engage them in conversation.

Two of the dormitories had pianos in them, for music practise, also the dining room and the main sitting room – “Big Sit”. I learnt the violin as well as the piano and sometimes had to practise in the laundry room off the big bathroom, not ideal.

Referring to the library again, certain books were coded with, I think, a B which meant that if you were aged under 15 you had to get permission to read them. “Green Dolphin Country” by Elizabeth Goudge fell into that category, I cannot think why! Then in “Little Sit”, for the 6th form seniors, there was another collection of books, much more “grown up”, and eagerly sought after. “Little Sit” was fun, much more relaxed; it had a gas fire where we used to toast marshmallows on knitting needles.

Knitting needles were much in evidence because we all had to make things for the Mission, progressing from babies’ vests which ended up a shade of grey to quite good sweaters etc. for older children by the time we were more senior. I was glad later that I had to learn to knit! The job of “Mission Rep”, which I never had, was quite tedious, chasing up people to finish their garments, and helping juniors over their mistakes.

I was Music Rep but that merely entailed playing the hymn and some calming music at House Prayers every evening and on Saturday mornings, or delegating the task to promising musicians. Once a year there was a House Music Competition, and I was once responsible for organising Fawcett’s entries; I remember the House song that year was “Linden Lea”, engraved on my memory to this day.

Both parts of the house had semi-basements; in the main house there were changing rooms – we all had outdoor and indoor shoes, and there was much shoe cleaning; there were wash basins where we would wash our hair. In the New House the trunks were stored, and there we would unpack or pack, carrying armfuls of clothes and belongings to and fro. Up above at roof level there was an iron fire-escape “bridge” which was exciting to cross when we had fire practises; then we would climb down ladders through trap doors in the various floors eventually reaching the basement and an outer door. Luckily we never had to do this for real!

There was a garden attached to the House but I don’t remember being out there much even in the summer time. One year 2 pairs of stilts appeared and we had fun learning to walk about on those. I suppose our time was pretty much occupied with prep and music practising, and jobs in the House, and in the summer playing tennis – we were near one lot of the school grass courts.

My memories of Fawcett are happy ones. I think Olive Winter did the best she could with meals, and anyway after several years of war-time food most of us would not have expected anything else. Hot Vienna loaves for breakfast twice a week were always much enjoyed, and sausages with rice and fried onions for lunch. Paste on fried bread – “potted cat” – was not so good. We had parties at the ends of terms especially Christmas time, when special food would magically appear. At one time when I was a junior there was a fashion for seeing how many slices of bread one could eat at tea-time – I don’t think we bothered about our weight at that stage, we were just hungry.

According to the Clothes List, for home clothes to wear in the evenings we could have 2 dresses or one skirt and 2 jerseys, but needless to say most people had more than that. I don’t remember them ever being washed during term time (we did not go home during the term), likewise our school skirts and cardigans. The other clothes all went to the laundry weekly; we each had a bag to collect them in, and all had to be checked in and out. Laundry duty was not a pleasure. At certain times Polly could become very particular: we had to empty our slop buckets from our wash stands in the dormitories and if we splashed water on the loo seats there was a great to-do. One morning the whole House had to process upstairs to look at the splashes someone had left – we could hardly contain ourselves from complete hysteria!

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