During the time that I taught at St Margarets, Robin’s family in Bognor were in dire straits. Robin had bought a Lambretta and we used it to travel down there for as many weekends as we could. I was riding pillion and fifty miles is a long way on a scooter especially in rainy winter weather. It was obvious that his family were going under.
Stevenage New Town was only a few miles away if you had a teaching post there you were allocated a new house. Joan Culver, the art adviser, suggested that I should apply for the post of art teacher in the grammar school for girls that was being built. When I went for the interview I had to walk across planks on scaffolding to get to the room where the interview was being held. The head mistress was Miss Osborne, a somewhat serious strict Methodist. I got the job and was involved in the planning of the two new art rooms, the only drawback being that they were on the second floor.
Robin also got a job in the already established Heathcote secondary modern school. They already had an excellent art dept. I think it rankled with him that I was in a grammar school because his aim was to teach in further education.
Robin’s water colour of our new house
We were given a brand new house in Park View but it only had three bedrooms. The garden was just a rough piece of bare earth. At the end of the garden was a sunken alley and on the other side the mature trees of the park. Next to the house there was a small block of garages, my little Ford lived in one of them. Somehow we gathered the money to buy the furniture (without hire purchase) when I think of it now I don’t know how we managed it. Though we didn’t have much money we tried to get well designed pieces, we always went to Heals when we were in London. We bought an Ercol dining table and chairs, and a bright red studio sofa.
I still have a rather good looking small easy chair that we bought in Cambridge. Robin had a piano from Bognor that we squeezed into the very small dining room.
Below…Margaret in our kitchen. Through the window the garden and park.
His family moved in. It was a squash, we had a bedroom, Rosemary had a very small bedroom, and Vivian had to share a bedroom with his very old father not a good solution but it was all we could do. Dog Billy came too. Later on Billy and I got famous, he wasn’t well and I took him to the PDSA van which used to park up once a week. The photographers from the Daily Mirror photographers were doing a photo documentary about the PDSA and Billy and I appeared in a quarter page spread in the Mirror. What a shame I haven’t got the pic.
This was definitely not a very satisfactory way of starting the second year of our married life. I can’t say that it was easy making love when you knew that his family were only a thin walls distance away. I didn’t think of it that way at the time as I was in the middle of having to deal with a hopeless situation, it was only later when we got divorced that I realised that in those years I had given up my chance of a family and that it been hard work looking after them all. It was made even more difficult by Pop’s unhappiness. He used to sit with his head in his hands muttering ‘Poor old Pop’ and when we were at work he managed to get to the local shops to buy half bottles of whisky. I don’t remember him expressing any words of gratitude at all, only misery.
My job as a peripatetic art teacher. more schools. Therfield, Barley and Barkway.
Therfield village school was above Therfield Heath part of which is a downland nature reserve. I loved going to that school; the headmaster was near retiring age. The children loved him, after all he had taught their parents as well. He was warm and caring. I think the authorities thought he was old fashioned in comparison with some of the go getting schools, but can you put a price on bringing children up in a homely atmosphere where everyone was valued and the children were happy and relaxed. It was an ordinary village.
The beautiful and rare wild Pasque flower grew on the heath if you knew where to look. The fact that Therfield was at the top of the ridge (Icknield Way again) and that all roads sloped down to the valley proved very handy as the Suez war had just started (1956). Petrol was rationed and you had to try to economise; I used to free wheel from the top of the hills just to save a little bit more! I’ve still got some petrol coupons hidden away.
Ashwell. Ashwell village school was the exact opposite of Therfield. It was extremely well thought of by the authorities and by the HMI , and I hated going there. Ashwell was a village full of pretty and desirable cottages and houses being taken over by the middle class wealthy. They were ambitious for their children, not that there is anything wrong with that. I felt that I was being watched all the time and judged… I felt a tense sort of atmosphere. That’s the trouble with being peripatetic you have no say in the matter you have to go where you are sent.
Ashwell School as it is now.
Barkway. I had a problem of a different kind here, the headmistress was a bully and often hit the children. When I arrived in the car I could often hear her shouting. I used to wonder whether I should report her. I didn’t but maybe I should have done. Moral cowardice? I don’t know. Needless to say the children enjoyed the more laid back sessions that I took whilst she did her paperwork but they weren’t fully relaxed.
Below Barkway School.
I was pleased when I found this picture of the current Barkway children making art outside in the playground.
Barley Barley was much nicer, the headmistress was a Miss Lambert. David Cross (friend) grew up in the village, maybe he was taught by Miss Lambert. She was an expert at making corn dollies and knew all about their history which I found fascinating. I did an excellent glove puppet show there with children’s own script, we performed it for the parents, it was very enjoyable. Somewhere I have a photo of it, when I find it I will insert it. I have looked up the two schools and have discovered that Barley has been incorporated into the Barkway School.
Cottered. Another favourite of mine. Thursday afternoon was my time. The children were very eager and talented and made some lovely work. Years later when I was a lecturer in teacher training, one of my students was on teaching practice there. I went to the school to see one of her lessons and found the whole school deserted. I saw the caretaker. ‘Is it a holiday?’ I said ‘Oh no, they’re building bridges’ There was a small stream close to the school and there they all were. Plank bridges, rope bridges, suspension bridges, stepping stones. The head master had taken them all out for this practical lesson…quite brilliant, I don’t suppose they will forget that day! I don’t think you could do it today…health and safety would kick in.
Offley Offley was horrible, the children were unruly and rude, I really couldn’t control them and I began to dread Tuesday mornings. The head master was very critical and cold. There is a big hill leading to Offley village and as I was driving up it I used to think why am I driving towards this place when I could just turn around and go home. I think I did some reasonable work there but I really didn’t enjoy it. Creative work thrives in a happier relaxed atmosphere. You must be prepared to play. A lot depends on whether the school sees the value of the arts, if the head teacher thinks it’s a waste of time when you could be doing arithmatic, spelling, etc the ethos is not conducive.
PS. I was hugely heartened today 29th Sept 2018 to hear an interview on BBC 4 Radio. Head teachers from all over the country have been demonstrating in London against the cuts in education. The head that they were talking to was pointing out how disgusting it was that lots of schools can no longer afford the arts,