My father brought me from Antigua in the West Indies to Fawcett House in the spring term of 1937, one week late, with two cabin trunks, a suitcase, a hatbox and a music case. I entered a world of cold linoleum, shining brass, and a chiming clock on the dining room piano; the north facing dormitories were curtained in pink, the south facing ones in blue. I was in 3 North with Mary Ridgeway who came from Bermuda and Pearl Game my mentor who that first term struggled to keep me virtuous. There were two rules which I cannot remember and a hundred things that were “not done”.
Until I was ten years old I had lived with Nanny and been taught at home by my Mama on the P.N.E.U. system. In a microcosm of English life one had learned to bob to grown ups, honour the governor, revere the Union Jack and to read voraciously. After dinner parties I would lie in the moonlight listening to the crickets and the frogs, while the sounds of the piano and the songs drifted up from the drawing room and verandah; no radio even then. All this was no preparation for Miss Keer and her terrifying ropes, ribstalls, vaulting horse and box to come. But my new companions were very kind and funny; always loyal and ready to help. One sensed that hierarchy and realised that one was at the bottom of the pyramid; no bad thing either.
The bell rang for silence time, five minutes in the morning, fifteen at night. Sometimes we young ones went to E’s sitting room in our dressing gowns with Bibles and Bible Reading Fellowship notes, even in those days a Symbolist at heart I thought that a tree in the wind might stand for the Trinity, but she thought her bowl of hyacinths more suitable, so that was that. Sometimes on Friday night Ruth and I would help her make an altar from a card table down in the Library, put Edward Burne Jones’ “Light of the World” up and light two candles. This service was completely voluntary (I can see now based on Compline), but many came and we knelt or sat on the floor. We had careful preparation for Confirmation. Throughout the Spring Term talks by E. once a week, every fortnight a Catechism with “Teddy E-R in the Wilderness (to which her dog Autolycus came as well) and a final polishing from Canon Ferguson the Precentor. Confirmation at Pentecost was magical in the Cathedral; Ruth and I felt drenched with blessings although our white veils were askew.
Eva M. was one of the four Housemistresses who did not teach, so that Fawcett was home and a refuge when things went wrong at school, a place apart. About twenty of us used Big Sit for leisure and for prep; our initialled writing cases in a row on top of the lockers. Inevitably our belongings got lost then found and “Quis” or “Ego” rang round the room, over the heads of Monopoly players. We were encouraged to go over to school in pairs or three, no one was left out on her own. If a member of staff walked along down the Snicket we would pound along to catch her up and converse. Having only known England in winter weather, this Snicket in summer came like a miracle, the path full of the scent of lilac, laburnum and may.
Eva valued her staff, especially her cook Margaret who fed us so well. Flossie brushed our hair once a week. Later during an air raid when we were all on lilos in the cellar, the descending maids Flossie, Maggie and Elsie were caught by a power cut on the stairs. “Lighten our darkness we beseech Thee” came a voice – Elsie’s – appreciative giggles all round. Before the war began half terms meant char-a-banc expeditions. I remember a wonderful day of freedom in the New Forest in summer, and a spring visit, or was it autumn?, to Longleat where we were shown the beautiful private rooms and looked out onto the enormous parterre, which I thought hideous. Then we went to the boat house and rowed a heavy green boat on the lake.
When 1938 came Eva was the person asked by the Governors to take part of the School to Canada, but in fact a few parents made private arrangements while some girls left to go to day schools near their homes. Some of us spent whole days machining sandbags. Of these times when the outside world broke in, I remember us all sitting in E’s room, listening to Winston Churchill’s great speeches, they sent us to bed ready to defend England’s liberty with our lacrosse sticks to the last ditch. At this time as House Prefect I went with a friend down to the ancient Church of St. Thomas to hear Pastor Karl preach, a friend of Pastor Niemoller; the evening psalm was 137 “By the waters of Babylon”; an ancient lament for a new generation. It was most moving.
Throughout this time junior Housemistresses came and went, they were all much liked and fought their corner with Eva with varying degrees of diplomacy. At first Sallie King (classics), Miss Scott-Smith (classics) who left to become Head of Westonbirt. Miss Lupton (games) who married and Miss Barnett (mathematics) who married a Don at London University.
At the end of the year ’42, E. left. She unlike the Duke of Plaza-Toro, led her regiment from the front; matches were there to be won, rules to be obeyed. God to be feared; I never brought honour or distinction to her beloved House, but I am perpetually and deeply grateful to her for finding me a beautiful holiday home in Gloucestershire where I was wonderfully happy. I last saw her at Commem. in a wheelchair when she was eighty, eyes bright and as full of spiritual vigour as ever; full too of determination.
For two terms I was Polly’s first House Prefect and remember her well from the earliest days in Rose Villa where she taught us the General Thanksgiving so as to equip us for life in the Senior School. I loved the often violent O.T stories and the whole mysterious business of good and evil. right and wrong. When she had died Olive wrote to me “I always felt that the girls whom Marjorie taught at Godolphin were very fortunate and she devoted herself fully to all under her care in the House. I used to tease her and say that when she died Godolphin would be written on her heart, but it will not have been Godolphin but all the individual girls who had her love there and afterwards.” She was a person of great understanding; a friend and a contemporary, she trusted us and I loved her till she died; and beyond of course.