Sunday, 24 June 2012

Coming Full Circle – some Tetbury memories

I joined Love a Happy Ending before I realised their main book event, Summer Audience, was to be held at my old school – Sir William Romney’s School in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. It was as much a surprise to the group and its organiser , Linn B Halton,altonHalton as it was to me;  one of those amazing coincidences that can happen. Fact is stranger than fiction sometimes.

How wonderful it was to meet other authors previously only known virtually! Through blogging and Twitter and reading each other’s books, we have become quite a close-knit community but there is nothing quite like face-to-face meeting.
On the programme, I was down to talk about ‘Coming Full Circle’ but quickly sussed out that my childhood memories could be a cure for insomnia for most of the audience who had no close association with either the school or the place!
This is for those who can remember the 1950s and 60s, and for anyone who knows or is curious about the lovely town of Tetbury, now famous for being the home of our future king – for, of course, Prince Charles lives a couple of miles down the Bath Road, en route to world-class Westonbirt Arboretum, in the hamlet of Doughton. It is easy to drive past Highgrove without even realising it is there. Also, just saying, but the Princess Royal, formerly or also known as Princess Anne, lives close by at Gatcombe Park; and Princess Margaret  (our Queen’s late sister, of course) went to Westonbirt School.
I was lucky enough to be born in Tetbury, then Miriam Newton, and lived there until I left for university.
The school itself was in quite different premises when I was a pupil. The Ferns in Long Street, had the most wonderful grounds with three or four lawn tennis courts, and places to amble during break and at lunch-time. I remember clearly the gardener/caretaker, Reg Boulton. Looking back, what a delightful job he had!
Some of the pranks that took place may seem unbelievable today! Some pupils rather ingeniously, and under cover of darkness, managed to heave the heavy iron garden roller onto the ridge top of the pitched roof of the three storey stone building. I recall seeing it etched on the skyline as we all arrived at school in the morning, looked up and gasped. How did they do it? Who did it? Would it roll off? How would ‘they’ ever get it down?  There was another instance when a member of staff found his car on the back lawn minus its wheels. To redress the balance, I must stress that it was a fine school with high standards, academically, in sport and in music.
The rather imposing main entrance was for boys, while the very small door next to what was the Co-op, was for the girls! However, in other ways it was very forward thinking, with its Grammar, Secondary Modern introduced in 1952, and X streams in one establishment.  With lateral movement between these streams, it was I suppose, a forerunner  of Comprehensive education.

The school had its 400th anniversary  in Sept 2010. As a teenager I had no idea it was so old. But in fact when Sir William Romney bequeathed  £13 per annum to pay a schoolmaster, it was but a small room in the church. The school had many ups and downs until the old Grammar School was re-opened in 1921 at The Ferns.
My father was Maths teacher and the staff were like family friends so, rather oddly for a child of that era, I knew of them by their first names, Reg Woodward, Ted Prince, Philip Linfoot (Puggy), Jack Forrest , Peter Rodway, John Harding, Wilson Barrett – these were all colourful characters. Amazing names too -  art teachers, Middleditch and Drinkwater. Maybe it is my vivid perception of them as a youngster – but I really do believe they were an exceptional bunch of people. The flamboyant music teacher, Mr Rodway would call round for elevenses – I knew the sound of his car – the crunch and skid of his wheels on the grit as he always tried and failed to do a complete circle to turn round at speed by our garden gate.
My father was , I suppose, eccentric, although to me his behaviour was perfectly normal.  He would go off and paint the bark of trees with treacle; he always claimed he caught a kissing couple who stuck to the tree! At dusk he would pop out ‘to see Ivy in Beverston’ and for a while I believed he had another woman there, until I heard him say he was going off to take a bash at some Ivy  – which is something he always did with his walking stick if he walked past a bush – to see what would fly out. He used to spend many hours setting insects on boards, on our dining room table and visited the Forest of Dean, Silk Wood, Westonbirt Arboretum, Inglestone and Daglingworth common at night with a mercury vapour lamp and large white sheet.
Didn’t every Dad do this? Well, maybe not. Yes, you’ve guessed he was an entomologist, a collector of moths and butterflies.
Many memories are connected with music: My mother sang in a few choirs and taught singing at my junior school and I recall going to hear her as a soloist in Gloucester Cathedral.  So proud, I could not really believe that was my Mum, who was usually busy crimping gooseberry pies or polishing the brass. My sister Denise, 10 years older than me, was the organist in Beverston church; I was taught the piano by Miss Munday (Kathleen) in London Road, sister of Fred Munday of ‘Munday and Morris’ then the ironmongers in Long Street and local amateur thespian;  I remember picking my way back home across Courtfield, dodging the cowpats; magical memories of carol singing with a group from school – teenage lads who played the clarinet and trombone -  Chavenage House, now a hotel, (late correction not a hotel) where we were invited in for a mince pie! Sir William Romney’s school put on many first class concerts. As a child I was taken to chamber concerts at Westonbirt School, and this was regarded as a rare treat! Looking back they were incredibly stuffy, but they did get some famous names there.
Every street, every alley has a memory for me – of people and of things that happened.  Those wonderful names of the ‘posh people’ – Kitcat, Lowsley-Williams, Major Pope.  The great St Mary’s Church where I was married in 1970; summer fetes in Barton Abbotts. I remember the railway station pre-Beeching, when there were steam trains, and the cattle market where there were cattle and sheep in pens;  the Chipping where the Mop fair came round in the summer. Last week I took my grown-up family around some of these old haunts and later, when in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, bought a sunny watercolour of the historic Chipping Steps. (It was heaving with rain outside!)
Many of us 6th formers would gather at the Post Office early on a dark, snowy morning to deliver Christmas post.  The vet lived in a house at the foot of Gumstool Hill, my dentist was at the top, and the maternity hospital where I was born was somewhere between.  John Harding, the woodwork and metalwork teacher, who was a craftsman supremo, lived in a large house at the top of Fox Hill in Silver Street  and was always busy renovating or building furniture, making old clocks tick or beating copper into shiny bowls. How clearly I remember the waiting-room in the doctor’s surgery close by! My school friend, who came along to the Summer Audience event, lived in a house on the Green.
In  Long Street, The Close is now a restaurant and hotel.  When it was a private house where the Goschen family lived, I would go and play with the little girl there called Mary and I particularly remember that she had a toy caravan where we could while away hours in endless pretend games. Her garden was where you now find the library, many houses and the fire station. The grounds were extensive and beautiful, like those of the old school and I remember what a shock it was when I first saw that the Sir William Romney’s  school  gardens had also become a built up area.
Under the age of five,  going shopping with my Mum was an almost daily routine– dropping in Gilletts the grocers, Philips the bakers, the butchers, the greengrocers, MacFisheries, Webbs the wool shop and Houghton and Neville, the chemist.  Shopping was also a social occasion and I remember writing a story at my first school, Courtfield – Miss Chat talking to Mrs Gossip! What interesting reading that must have been for my teacher, based on me innocently listening in to the chats my mother had en route …
I guess, people my age bathe  in the memory of the freedoms we had  as children and teenagers! My first school was a single-room wooden building run by the wonderful Miss Rymer, where Hampton Street meets Chavenage lane, opposite the ‘Rec’. Like the village school in Miss Read books. Two teachers – open plan – two classes – stove in the middle to heat it. After just a few days, I would take myself to school – crossing the road was not a problem in those days. But that first day was traumatic – no gentle easing in, no experience of playgroup or nursery.
Being able to run free, off to Hermit’s Cave in Bluebell wood, down Chavenage Lane, riding a bike around the lanes to nearby villages – Cherington, Shipton Moyne, Didmarton to see my other friend who also came to Summer Audience, all the way from Scotland - was very much part of growing up in Tetbury. However, there were many wet Sundays, school holidays, and as a teenager I bitterly resented that the last bus back from anywhere was about 6.30 in the evening! I was a great reader of books. I looked after the curate’s son’s rabbit while they were away on holiday and they brought me back The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. How I loved that book – it figures quite a lot in No Gypsies Served.
Influences that made me want to write? I was quite a shy child and enjoyed, not only reading but writing stories and essays. I would tell people when I was about seven that I planned to be an ‘authoress’! The first article I had in print was in the first issue of The Tetburian, a new school magazine, when I was 13 years old. Excellent teachers and – more than anything, that sense of community that I think led me to set my books in an English village. Appley Green is large village, not a small town like Tetbury, and it straddles the boundary of Surrey and Hampshire, but it has that strong feeling of belonging to a community, full of connections and associations. I have already decided that my next book in the Appley Green series will include something of Tetbury  and I cannot wait to start work on it.
To go back is, for me, very emotional, as you can imagine. After university and being married, my husband and I moved around quite a bit, I had a very varied career and three children. Always I tried to have a job that involved writing in some way but launched my first novel, Gypsies Stop tHere, the very day after I retired.
I hope some Tetburians see this and comment.  I would love to hear from you!

PS By the way, the day before the event, I had to take my beloved almost 14 year-old English Setter to the vet for the final farewell. Anyone who loves dogs will know how tough this is to do. I could not speak about it on the Saturday, for fear of breaking down in tears!

21 comments:

  1. My father was the Vicar. I remember getting lifts to my own first school, a genuine dame school somewhere outside Tetbury, in Mr Rodway's sports car (he played the organ in church, and used to demonstrate that Liszt sounded quite like a space ship taking off). Rain on talc windows and Mr Rodway brrming the back wheels, and me four years old. The first entry in my fishing book tells the thrilling tale of my catching the goldfish out of the pond behind the Close on instructions from the Goschens (bait, squished bread. Hook, size 12).

    Sam Ll

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  2. This is wonderful stuff! I remember playing with you and having tea at the vicarage! Another time, another world. So good to hear from you, Sam. Your father's photo is on the opening page of The Tetburian magazine I mention - he was Chairman of the School Governors.

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  3. That must have been a wow moment, to find yourself in your old school! What lovely - almost Laurie Lee like - memories. Life was so much more slow and rural then, in rural Gloucestershire. Despite living only half an hour up the road from Tetbury now, my old school was in Bromley, Kent. Much more suburban than Tetbury, though I'm sure our school days were lived at a very similar time.
    (I was due to go to a school reunion in 2011. Almost at the last minute I discovered that it wasn't MY year! I'd thought none of the names looked familiar!)

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  4. Ah, bittersweet memories of childhood. Not boring at all, Miriam. Well done on giving a lovely, inspirational talk, particularly having lost your little friend. Many people will realise how devastated you must have been, but still you went ahead rather than let people down. Be proud of you, Miriam. That was a considerate, tough and brave thing to do! :) xx

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  5. Fascinating, it evoked memories of an earlier time. Definitely not boring.

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  6. I think it might've been a bit much - even a shortened version - for a talk. Old memories may not have had any relevance for some of the people at Summer Audience; so I thought it best to cut most of it out. At least here you can skim through it! Thank you so much for your nice comments.

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  7. Some wonderful memories Miriam, it must have been very emotional for you in many respects. I think most people would be fascinated by the story of 'going full circle' because it mirrors life for so many these days. Few stay where they are born, but going back is always a treat! However, your speech on the day went down beautifully - you are a natural!

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  8. In an email, my former French teacher commented, giving us some more nostalgia:

    'A meeting in Tetbury of people interested in story endings, especially of the happy kind!
    For me, Tetbury isn't an ending but rather a beginning. My first full-time teaching post was at Sir William Romney's School, a post which would normally have been considered an end-of-career post. In 1960,Tetbury had yet to achieve its "regal" status. The post of principal teacher of French was proving difficult to fill, and so it was that at the age of 23 I found myself in an end-of-career post and not much older than my sixth form pupils.
    After four years I moved on - first back to university and then on to Africa.
    I know that some of my pupils have been able to put to good use the French learnt at Sir William Romney's School. With hindsight, however, I realise that I ought to have been able to do more.
    Tetbury was the beginning. The end will doubtless be elsewhere but, when nostalgic, I re-read the poem "Adlestrop" (Tetbury used to have a railway station) and remember the view of Tetbury church from the Bath Road.'
    Wilson B

    I hope by 'end of career' Mr Barrett does not mean 'dead-end' but rather a post of mature responsibilities!

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  9. Hi, You won't remember me because I was much younger than you and sixth formers never really notice the young 'uns. I do have very fond memories of your father. He was my maths teacher.... or moths teacher... depending on whether we could divert him away from algebra to talk lepidoptera... which we managed quite often. He was enthusiastic about both subjects and that enthusiasm rubbed off onto me. I came round your house to see his moths and butterflies and the jar he killed them in before impaling them with pins. Fascinating stuff for a young kid who was interested in maths and biology.
    If I remember rightly he was also a very good tennis player. Boys weren't allowed to play tennis until 6th form and I picked up the game as soon as I could get onto a court. I had managed to persuade the owner of the folly in Chavenage Lane to allow me to play on their court so by the time I was allowed to play on the lawns at the school I had developed a fast serve and a wicked drop shot. I still have the Slazenger racket. I took it into school to show my students (I'm a science/physics teacher.... now retired) when we were discussing materials. The couldn't believe how heavy it was compared to the new "big head" rackets.
    Another memory I have is a conversation I overheard during a mock election in the school. I had joined the Labour Party at a very young age and was aware that many teachers were socialists. Puggy was a Labour councillor I think, and when Goosey Ganderton came to the school I think he was a socialist.... but I was shocked to hear the snatch of conversation between your dad and another teacher.... they were Conservatives!!! At least that was what it sounded like.... and him such a nice man too. I couldn't believe it. The Labour candidate romped home (was it Malcolm Bodley?) I suspect this was 1966, which was an election year but it just could have been 1964.
    I went to the 400 year celebration at SWR School. My brother was a maths teacher there at the time but he has recently retired. I was a little disappointed at the turnout but I met a few people I knew from school and ended up having a pint or two with a couple of them.My sister works at the school as a learning support worker.
    Just before Christmas I took a car load of sixth formers from my inner city school up to my old haunts including the "big church" where I sang in the choir, and the old school. It all came flooding back... 1G, 3A the Cedar of Lebanon still majestic and the sixth form. And of course, the headmaster's study. All changed but vivid in my memory and I think the students were genuinely interested in my anecdotes.
    Well that's enough of that. Well done on your blog... As I said, you won't remember me but I remember you. I hope you are as well as I am. Floriat Tetburia

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    1. This is fascinating, to me at least, and thank you so much - I wish I could work out who you are!! I am trying very hard, you've left so many clues ...

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    2. A very interesting blog thank you. I'm afraid I can't guess who you are either although there are lots of clues. I played in the tennis team with boys but didn't remember that they couldn't play tennis until 6th form.I was Head Girl and Miriam was my best friend.
      Floriat Tetburia indeed!

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    3. Another clue...I was expelled from school for not wearing a school tie. I'd lost it in the changing room after playing in the first X1 football team in Fairford. The head teacher had me back, after a visit from our Dad, and I went on to be elected head boy!

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  10. Oh Mim, such nostalgia evoked in discovering your blog whilst searching the web for information on John 'Fred' Harding.
    Yes, I am a Tetburian, born in the same building as yourself and many others.
    Your sister was my form teacher at St. Mary's Primary School, and of course your father was my math teacher at Sir William Romney's. We were in the sixth form together, although you in the upper and me the lower.
    You have evoked memories of Wilson 'Franky' Barrett throwing the blackboard rubber at pupils that annoyed him, Gandy Ganderton, the geography teacher hitting offending pupils with the long cardboard tube the maps were rolled in(would either be allowed nowadays?. I also recall Gandy issuing a directive that if a pupil wore any part of school uniform, they had to wear all of it, including the hated cap which most boys lost or destroyed after the first year. The backlash came quickly as we unpicked the thread holding badges to blazers and substituted the school tie for something more fashionable.
    Mr Babbage the later headmaster patrolling the Fern corridors in full gown and acquiring his nickname 'Batman'.
    So many memories of Tetbury. My parents live there still and celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary three years ago. I am a frequent visitor and you will be pleased to know the Hermits Cave, Bluebell Wood, Donkey and Bluebell Lane remain as they were when kids roamed free.

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    1. This is all quite tantalising, Terry C! I feel I really should recognise you, but - well it was a long time ago, wasn't it? I'll see if my old friends, Hilary and Janice can help me out.
      I am very glad to know about Hermits Cave etc - great memories. Thank you so much.

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    2. Oh that my memory was as sharp as it used to be! I should know who you are. I have peered at your photo but that didn't help. I became a teacher and taught for 13 years at St Mary's primary school.I have lived and taught in NE Scotland for many years and am now retired but visit Tetbury several times a year.

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  11. I think your dad was just wonderful, Miriam. Definitely inspirational. I can see he is remembered fondly. Wonderful post! :) xx

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  12. Hello - Peter Rodway was my father! Absolutely wonderful to read these comments.

    Spaceship organ noises and being silly in cars are happy childhood memories I can identify with! Dad died in 1981 when I was aged seven. I'm not sure what the exact period you're describing is, but my Mum, Sue Savage, was a pupil at Sir William Romney's in the late 50's/early 60's. My four elder half brothers also attended the school.

    My Grandma, Kath Savage, lived on Silver Street. I believe that she nursed at Tetbury Hospital for a time.

    If anyone has any further memories of my father I would be very happy to read them. I have some SWR newspaper clippings too - they may be of interest?

    Ben Rodway.

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    1. I was a friend of your mothers

      Elizabeth (Libby) Carter
      Email. jeangabin4ever@gmail.com
      Please ask her to get in touch

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    2. Elizabeth, Thank you so much for getting in touch here. Sadly my mother passed away 25 years ago. You must be considerably younger than she was. Best wishes Miriam

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  13. I stumbled across this blog quite by chance and it immediately invoked many childhood memories of Tetbury and many more that I remember my father and grandmother telling me. I was also born in Tetbury, but not in the hospital, and was a child of the 70's but the names still resonate... I remember my father telling me of Ted Prince!

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  14. I have just been re-reading all these lovely comments since writing my follow-up post. I revisited Tetbury a few weeks ago. I wish I could work out who the very real Anonymous people are and I am so sorry I do not recognise you as I perhaps should!

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