The things that come to mind when I remember Godolphin, and Fawcett, are: September 1938 – Munich, no school but then digging trenches and us carrying sand bags for the first two weeks or so. As I recall, we never used those trenches when the war really came, but sat in the basement, at least once during 1939-40, in our dressing gowns. The Battle of Britain had not really got going, and I left in July 1940. Other things: “Mending” and “Mission work”, two evening events which I always actually enjoyed, because Eva read us such great books, thrillers, we couldn’t wait for the next instalment! And we did learn to use a sewing machine and make simple garments, a very useful skill which I still use on occasion to make curtains etc.: (Curtains not haute couture!). I also developed a taste for lentil puree for breakfast, with sausages. Very good. The food was pretty good, wasn’t it? But I really wasn’t crazy about boarding school, and couldn’t wait to leave, and get on with “real life”. That turned out to be the Army, medical school, internship in Canada where my brother was, then marriage and a few years in the North, on Janes Bay, back to Ottawa and private practice since 1960. One daughter doing a Ph.D. in neuropsychology and sleep medicine. Time to retire, but haven’t done it yet.
I came to Fawcett in the Autumn Term aged twelve in 1937. My youngest brother aged fourteen had died of Rheumatic Fever two months before, so going off to boarding school so soon after his death was quite a shock. There had been four Mills cousins before me, and also my sister Rosemary.
As I look back on my time in Fawcett I realise how lucky I was to have been sent there, as after the first year of settling in I was very happy and loved school. Eva although she was not motherly was a splendid Housemistress, at first I was very much in awe of her, but respected her, and as time went on I grew fond of her and kept in touch with her after I married right up to the end of her life. I remember she once came and had supper with my husband and I, and she told me to call her Eva. I found this a bit difficult at first!
There are so many memories that come back to mind, for example we had to have our temperatures taken for the first three weeks of term before breakfast, and on Saturdays we had our nails inspected, I don’t think Little Sit, the top most senior girls in the House, liked that much! Big Sit which the rest of the house used was quite a cosy room – we had a fire burning in the grate (no central heating) and there were two sofas, which as you grew a bit more senior you were able to sit on. I remember there was a picture on the wall with the names of all the House written on it in order of seniority and when you got into the school Choir, won your red girdle, got into school teams etc., letters were put after your name so by the time we left school you were bound to have some letters.
At weekends, we were never bored. There was Church of course on Sundays and after lunch we read our books and then went for a walk – then back to the House to write our home letters. After tea we all sat down to darn our brown lisle stockings and then make Mission garments whilst Eva read to us, which she did very well.
In Eva’s last term I was head of Big Sit and I thought we should give her and “Little Sit” a party – so I got my parents to send me some goodies to my day girl friends who passed them on to me; no doubt my friends did the same. We also put on a play called “Elegant Edward” which we did in the dining room and Dido was Burglar Bill, and she made her escape by the food lift in the room before the curtain fell. I think it was all quite a success.
When Polly came, she was quite different from Eva. Very gentle and quiet, but she also was a very good Housemistress and she kept in touch with us all long after we had left school. Both Eva and Polly really dedicated their lives to us and I shall always be very grateful to them both.
My memories of Fawcett and Miss Manning are happy. How carefree life seemed in those pre-war days. When school work was over there were the happy evenings, sometimes mending or Mission work sessions in `Big Sit’ made so pleasant, instead of being a bore, by Eva’s wonderful reading to us. I remember too how freezing cold it was dressing in the morning – no central heating in those days, we weren’t ‘nannied’ as they are now, were we -just helped by Flossie bringing cans of hot water to make washing less agonising.
These little bits are, I know, too late and not of importance. I fear I only knew Polly from teaching Divinity, having left Godolphin before she became Housemistress.
I am joint secretary of our local O.G.A. group and we meet other contemporaries, some from Fawcett, quite regularly. It is good to keep up with folk where we all have those times in common and to reminisce. Tomorrow in fact. I’m going over to Patricia Rycroft (Kitto, St. Margaret’s, both in my form) for lunch, where I think Joan Young (Innes) and Deirdre Hall (Elmes) will be. Elizabeth loved seeing you and Ruth last summer and showed me photographs of you all. I think Daphne Goddard, too, was there?
Memories of sleeping on lilos on the floor of the boiler room, breathing in all those surely all but lethal anthracite fumes. Was there an air-raid alert, or was it merely “air-raid practise”?
“Mish” work. Always knickers, but so enjoyable to be read aloud to.
Eva, superb and regal sweeping into the dining room in a royal blue or purple long dress.
Sweets – in that cupboard to the left of the front door – and toasting marshmallows spiked on knitting needles at the gas (I think) fire in the sitting room (or was it common room?).
Manners – how well we were trained – never to ask for anything at meals (though, when desperate, one could always get by with “would you mind asking me if I would like some butter (or Jam or bread).” Second helpings of only one course – and what if one had already burned one’s boats by accepting another slice of roast lamb!
And then walking to school along the Snicket. Always “come with”, never “Sorry, I’m going with so and so.”
Filled hot (well, warm) water bottles in the basket on the landing for us to collect on the way to bed, and Rose taking me to the dentist in Salisbury – and the day the school took over the entire cinema in the town so that we all, in a huge crocodile and wearing our `Boards’, could see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. My sons, now in their forties, think this hysterically funny and find it difficult to understand what a very special treat it was.
Thinking of Godolphin always brings back happy memories, with a sense of safety and security – despite the war years – under the strict eye of Eva. Her fairness and sense of humour appeared many times with her dealings with us. I can hear her saying even now, after I had rushed downstairs two at a time, “Go to the top of the stairs and walk down slowly.” And how she made books “live”, while reading to us during Mission work and darning. One of her sayings was “If you cannot eat your food, you can go to bed instead.” On one occasion, Ruth did so and retired to bed. Some of us smuggled up some food to her dormitory – when to our horror Eva walked in, stern, but with a twinkle in her eye and no more was said! Polly, I remember as a quiet, dear person, with an ever ready ear to one’s problems. I feel our memories and loyalty to Godolphin, and especially Fawcett, have given us a sense of unity so that even now we like to meet and talk about our happy school days.
2oz of butter put in one’s own personal dish to last the week. Being a prefect in the prefects’ sit (or was it “Little Sit”?) and eating 12 slices of bread for tea on a Sunday. Putting salt and pepper on bread because there was nothing else. The great excitement of sitting on the steps – Polly always joining in if she was there – and clapping when the victorious teams had to run down the drive to the front door. Mrs. Smith (Deputy Housemistress for a short time) greeting us all with “Alleleuja” on Easter Sunday when we had to stay at school for Easter one year – we were all open-mouthed!
The embarrassing and ghastly fact that we had 2 jumpers and one corduroy dress to last the whole term. For “developing” girls before the age of even “Odor-o-no” this was the most ghastly situation. One was all too aware that one “stank” and there was nothing that one could do. (Why oh why didn’t one’s Housemistress suggest that the jumpers could be washed?) My parents never visited except during the summer term so I couldn’t ask them.
Saving up the peel from the oranges, that as children we were allowed on our rations, and sending them to my parents to make marmalade. Polly reading to us as we sat in her study on the floor knitting missionary garments or darning our stockings.
Whoever was it – and you will remember Jill – who was half French and as a dormitory prefect, in the dormitory over the bridge, taught us the Marseillaise after lights out? In our dormitories we all had our own individual wash stands and in the winter the water invariably froze over in the cold water jugs and one’s flannel was frozen into a solid square by the morning.
When I arrived at Fawcett in the Spring term of 1947, England was struggling with the post World War II years. Looking back on it, I realize that Fawcett had probably not changed its plumbing or its way of doing the washing up since the end of the first World War! Though I suppose there were more maids in those days. The most antiquated arrangement of all was that of wash stands and slop pails, which were an unpleasant surprise for all of us when we first arrived at school.
Polly (Miss Payne) had been Housemistress for some years when I arrived. As with all youth, I remember thinking she must be extremely old. It was a great surprise to find out at one point that her parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Polly was a saint, but she pushed religion on us a great deal. I can remember a lot of prayers. My mother challenged her on what might be described as her high church inclinations soon after I arrived, and I believe we were allowed to go to the Cathedral rather than St. Martin’s more frequently after that. Polly was also ill, or unwell, quite a lot. I remember once she had a bad throat which she described as Multi Polly Streptococci. I also remember my grandfather charming Polly when he came to take me out. She let me go out at least once at some usually unauthorized time. We used to go to Polly’s comfortable sitting room on Sunday evenings and do our knitting for the Mission (I believe the school is still contributing to this cause in Peckham). She would read to us while we knitted and it was a rather companionable time. Outside Polly’s room was a very gloomy photograph of Henry Fawcett, a blind postmaster as far as I can remember. Fawcett was named after him.
I can remember several of the dorms, 3 South, 4 North, 5 South and Top 6 which was in the adjoining building, connected by an interior bridge on the first floor. It was considered an advantage to be in Top 6, because this dorm was off by itself and there was less supervision. The assistant Housemistress, Mrs. Smith, whom we unkindly called the Hag, had her room on the ground floor of that building. Olive Winter succeeded her, I think in the beginning of 1948, and was there for the rest of my time. She and Polly became close friends, which was, I know, a pleasure for both of them.
They worked together until they retired and then shared a house in Wilton until Polly died. I am still in touch with Olive, who I remember as a shy, soft spoken lady. In the shameless way that the young make fun of anyone older, I can remember how we laughed when Olive asked the girls at breakfast to pass the marmalADE, with emphasis on the last syllable. We all thought this was exceptionally funny.
I can remember some awful food, but that was probably mainly because of the general food shortage. I remember lumpy custard, quince jam with all the coarse seeds in it, and what we called toenail tart, made with cornflakes and syrup – quite a favourite. I also remember the rotation for doing the washing up; mountains of dishes in the basement, not an enviable task.
I also remember our sweets after lunch, perhaps they were still rationed when I first went to Fawcett. We would line up and Polly or Winter would hand us our individual tins from a cupboard on the left of the front door. We would sit for I believe half an hour and read, the younger ones in Big Sit, which was larger and much sunnier, and the older girls in Little Sit which was smaller and more exclusive, but colder. We did our prep in these rooms in the evenings.
All in all, I have fond memories of Fawcett, and I was pleased to be the head of the House in my last year. Especially after Polly had earlier told my grandmother, in slightly doubtful tones, that she thought it was just possible I might turn out to be a nice person! Fawcett was I think the furthest away of any of the houses from the main school, and we liked this feeling of being more separate. We always had a feeling that Methuen and Hamilton and perhaps School House were more “successful” than we were – certainly in terms of House matches won and lost. But we were for the most part happy and secure, and Polly worked very hard to create a warm atmosphere in which we could mature and grow up. Every time I hear the hymn “Morning has broken” I think of us learning the tune, singing it at our morning prayers, and then going off on a bus on one of our half term outings. There was no thought of going home for half term in those days.
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!
Fire practises were termly, I think. It was the only time that we were officially allowed out onto the ladders outside the windows. The important thing to remember was to put on our navy knickers before alighting down the ladder. The reason given was that the fire men would not be able to see anything interesting as we descended. We got up to one bell and had to wash at our wash stands in cold water. In the winter time it would be necessary to unbend your stiff flannel before it could be of any use, and sometimes crack the ice as well. The next bell was 15 minutes later when you really had to get out of bed if you had refused to jump before, then the next two bells where 5 minutes apart when we could have our Quiet Time. I wonder if that is still encouraged today? It set a good pattern for many of us in our later years.
Blanket shaking had to be done once termly. I wonder if they told us about bed bugs, I know we all thought the operation was a total waste of time. My friend Davina was a real rebel and we were thrilled when a mysterious flying loo roll came hurtling out of the first floor toilet window, and caught Miss Winter sharply on the back of her head. It was a good thing it was near the end of term.
Polly always had a little tray of a squeezed orange to which she added a small jug of water, I was so envious of her luxury food and would have so loved to have some too. We were not allowed to ask for anything for ourselves at the table. So if you wanted the salt it was the form to say “would YOU like some salt?” and you hoped your neighbour would take the hint. There was a special rhythm which Miss Winter asked for the marmalade which used to make us all giggle. It sounded like da-di-da with the emphasis on the lade. French table with Mademoiselle O’Connor was always a challenge for me, especially if you got the chair beside her. We all wondered what was the cause of the scar in the middle of her forehead. The rumour was that it was a bullet wound from some exciting encounter in her youth.
Sunday evenings would be a pleasant time. Polly would read us chapters of books which were suitably vetted and of sound moral code. We used to do our mending, usually of the dreaded lisle stockings, or knitted our termly Mission garment. These garments were sent up to the poor and needy in Peckham, London. I sometimes wonder how many of them got to their destination. The weird shapes and dropped stitches must have looked a sad sight. I used to take my grubby half side of a matinee jacket back at half term, where my grandmother would put in 12 hours of devoted service, and then return with the job mysteriously near completion. Stocking inspections were the dread of our lives. Not only were they meant to be mended with no holes or ladders, but you were also meant to have 6 pairs. As I got bolder I used to have a cunning way of placing the inspected stocking behind me and bring it back for a second recycled tour a few minutes later. I felt very guilty for being dishonest but desperate measures were called for. Polly had a special stool onto which you had to sit, at her feet when you had done something wrong. She had a commanding position over you, and the session would usually include the words “what would your Mother and Father think about this?” It seemed the only way to bring the session to an end was by weeping bitterly, which would bring the interview to a close. However one continued to live under a cloud of disapproval for weeks afterwards. I think it would have been better to have had a beating and get it sorted and convicted and then forgotten.
Miss Winter had a small dog called Mickey, a Yorkshire terrier. I think. Whenever she came into the Common room this little rat would follow her. The lino was quite difficult for the poor thing to get a quick start when she was leaving. The big aim for us all was to shut the door with Mickey our side after she had left. We would gather round him and give him quite a difficult time. Knitting needles were useful weapons of torture, no wonder he was so nervous. On one occasion my friend Davina came rushing into the Common room and dived under the table. “Don’t tell them I’m here.” she gasped, just as the door opened. “Has anyone seen Davina?” asked Miss Winter. A hand on my ankle pulled me in two directions. “I saw her this morning” I said truthfully. Mickey had meanwhile sniffed out the trembling child under the table. Would he spill the beans? On reflection Mickey wasn’t such a bad dog after all. We were quite nice to him after that.
In the winter term, my hot water bottle unfortunately burst one night. It totally soaked the mattress and bedding. Fearing that it would look as if I had wet myself I resolved to stick it out and not tell anyone. I remember the weeks of discomfort as I lay with my legs either side of the damp patch. I then remember Polly having me into her sitting room.
“Do you know anything about a large watermark which we found on a mattress cover at the end of term?” “We have asked the whole House if they know anything about it, you are the last one we are asking” and later, “Janice we know it must be something to do with you because there is a water stain on the lino underneath your bed.” At last I was cornered. I had to admit it was me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” asked Polly. I think the story shows how terrified I was of her wrath, and how often I lied, hoping to not get caught.
Another time we had a House outing to Wilton House. We were privileged to be taken through the private apartments. As we walked through the dining room, we passed a large bowl of strawberries on the sideboard. The temptation was too much for me, and I helped myself to one of them. Of course I was spotted by some honest prefect and it was back to the discipline of Polly’s penance stool.