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.