Monday, 16 May 2011

My Old School

I had just been looking for a picture of my old school chapel for something I was writing, but never finished. It brought back a wider range of memories, so I looked further.

I lived most of my life from age 5 or 6 to 18 (roughly 1958 to 1971) first at Russell Hill School in Purley, transferring after a couple of years when that closed and became a Roman Catholic school (1961?) to the Royal Russell School in Croydon. I just lived at home in the holidays - about 4 months a year.

There is a Pathe news clip about the school from the 1920s, linked here, with the opening picture below. I suspect the camera crew did not have the equipment that allowed them to film inside, which gives the whole depiction of the school a rather strange open air feel: no sitting in dull classrooms.


In case it disappears, the accompanying text - figure out the abbreviations for yourselves - about the school reads:


In 1926 or soon after, the boys and girls were separated into different schools, which the film predates.

Titles read: 'Warehousemen, Clerks and Drapers Schools, Russell Hill, Purley, Surrey. How the Textile Trade of Great Britain (comprising Wholesale and Retail Drapers, Tailors, Hosiers, etc.) cares for its orphans and war orphans. We have our own school hospital, where casual "out patients" are speedily attended to and more serious complaints have every care and attention.'

CS Nurse wraps bandage on boy's hand. *A wedding sequence follows that may be intended to show the fashion work of the clothing trade, together with a reminder of marital happy times - marriage and  children - whilst First World War memories of the mass extinction of a large slice of the male population, leaving many children fatherless, being fresh in people's minds.*

DS procession in park - older boys in military uniforms; younger in shorts & jackets - all marching in precise rows. MS short pan: Group of boys & men stand on porch clapping; a few others run up; some w/ cricket bats. Long lines of girls in pinafores do graceful stretching exercises outdoors; building in BG. Title frame re smart cadet corps boys in uniforms like British Army; doing drill; quickly changing places then marching round in a big square. Physical training: 2 instructors in uniforms and lots of boys (now just in shirts & trousers) running toward camera. They suddenly stop and quickly form 2 rows. They do exercises - spreading arms & doing slow squats. Next; field full of boys playing leapfrog. Games. Title frame re. rush for swimming bath. Bunch of young boys in shorts run really fast up to door in brick building; man walks through crowd to unlock door; they start to enter.

Title frame: 'Every woman ought to be able to cook and mend stockings! The boys have gardens of their own.' CU girl ca. age 12 stirring food in bowl. CU girl darning; sitting in flower garden. Boys working in garden at the orphanage. Girls in fairy-like costumes do Shakespeare - looks like 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - 2 older girls speaking while younger ones run round & dance. Theatre. DS cadets march. Girl Guides marching past camera. Girl Guides practice first aid; bandaging another's arm & making sling. Guides salute and drill in yard - pan left; row of girls; then 2 getting badges pinned on; others at left hold flags. Next; girls carry stretcher across field. Then girls do push-ups, lying over benches. Next; walking on low balance beams.

Shot w/ arch in wall in FG; group of girls & boys through it. Girls playing tennis; on grass. Indoor swimming pool; young boys enter in old-fashioned swimsuits; dive in from narrow side. They play; swim; dive; & do somersaults off edge. Girls in pinafores, straw hats; walk along path in grounds. School time: Boys drawing at desks outdoors; teacher assists pupils. Girls at table outdoors; making crafts. CU 2 girls stitching. Teachers pose. Mayor & others walk across yard. CU 2 boys planting tree. Crowd behind rope. Mayor etc. seated, more walking about. Boys at finish line of running race. Boys step up to get prizes from Mayor; give flowers to lady. Awards; honours. Kids play in sand. CU 6 young (teenage?)girls in swimming gear. Cute.

Even accounting for the focus on external activities, it all appears very militaristic. Although in a less toned down way, this continued. In my time, all boys were included in the Cadet Force, which was then aligned to 2 Para, with the commander being then the only non-professional soldier to be promoted to (Lt.) Colonel - Colonel Starkey. It continues today.

Apart from the comfortable looking army uniforms - we wore itchy Second World War woollen battledress, this is 2009 picture is very reminiscent of my own times, although the girls were lucky enough not to be forced to participate. I eventually made Lance-Corporal and was asked by Colonel Starkey - also the Art Teacher - not to participate any more. He got extra money and I didn't have to march up and down the parade ground. More current pictures are available on the school website.

This picture however, is probably from 1960-63. I'm on the right.

The Welfare State made charity schools of this nature redundant. Royal Russell virtually went bankrupt, but the introduction of fee-paying and non-boarding pupils in the last years of my internment led to the charity function disappearing soon after I left: it became a normal-style private school. A short history of the school is on their website.

The school has recently put a number of videos on You Tube, although embedding isn't enabled. It's marketing material, but I do remember some of the buildings and other bits and pieces. In fact, apart from the buildings and the colour, the Pathe film is more reminiscent of my time. What is most interesting, however, is the fundamental change in views over 90 years about what might be of interest in a school - there is virtually no linkage between the two sets of material.

We had Saturday evening dances, where we were allowed to wear our own clothes instead of school uniform. We had a single old fashioned record turntable attached to the main hall's non-hifi speaker system, but the room had to be bright enough for the supervising teachers to see everything and ensure that no hanky-panky (kissing) was going on. So it was almost completely dissimilar to the Royal Russell Model United Nations '07 Glow Rave.

One of the school's sports field is in the background below. We used to sunbathe near the trees on the right, but the maths teacher was on duty one day, who ordered the boys to a different field so that girls and boys wouldn't be together in nastily enticing beachwear. He was the first Polish person I knew - a really nice guy, actually. I remember from much earlier being in a group playing tennis racket guitars - possibly Cliff Richard's Living Doll (1959), so this video shows how music has changed, but not the wish to perform.

Winners of competitions were applauded, with perhaps an occasional cheer: rather different from current practice.

Royal Russell today, Bydgoszcz tomorrow. Is that alcohol?

A tribute to a Royal Russell based summer school in 2008, run by Churchill House School of English follows. There may well be some Polish participants in the video.

The summer school production of Heavy Potter********The Soap Opera. Part 1:

My mother told me that I got at better education at Royal Russell than I ever could have received where we lived, but she wouldn't have sent me if she didn't have to work full-time: today's state benefits didn't exist then. I'm grateful for the education, but counterbalancing this are various negative facets of my character that might well have been built up by the experience. I have no feelings of nostalgia about the old times, but it was fun to fill in some blanks in my memories of the past. Old school friends? They came from all over England, none near me, and I never again saw any of the people I lived with for 12 years again. Aah, sad, but it's only when I went to the school website recently that I started to wonder what had happened to just a handful of them. Alison Bain, I loved you, or at least your body.

So this post is just a pointer for myself in case I want to remember further in the future. It's a function of getting old, I guess.

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