Community Articles

School Days
Childhood Memories of Synwell 1941 - 1951 by Terry Gough

My school days began in September 1946 at the age of five. Along with my mother, and many of my friends with their parents, we were escorted down Synwell Lane, as far as Potters Pond, where we turned right to join the footpath that runs up to and through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin. We then crossed the road to the primary school on Culverhay called ‘The Blue Coat School’. Our first introduction to the academic world!

‘The Blue Coat’ was a small school, by today’s standards. Consisting of only two classrooms, about forty pupils, it had a staff of three teachers. Miss Jobbins, was the headmistress. She was a tall slim woman, kindly, but with a definite air of authority about her. Her greying auburn hair was parted in the middle, and plaited and coiled to form two buns of hair, one over each ear. Another teacher was Miss Hardy, a small woman compared to the headmistress. Her short wavy black hair was in a style typical of the nineteen forties - a style she always kept. The third teacher whose name I think was Miss Bonnelle, was the larger of the three. She more often than not wore a two piece suit and tied her ash blonde hair into a bun at the back of her head. All three of them were always kind to us children.

Synwell (Glenn Richards)

I spent three happy years at the Blue Coat. Some friendships that were formed there still exist to this day.

The first morning, of the start of our education, we were assembled in the larger of the two classrooms with our parents and introduced to the teachers. After the formal introductions we were told that our parents would be leaving us, and would return in the afternoon to take us home again. This statement shocked several of us. How would we cope without Mum? With the departure of our mothers and the feeling of total horror, several of us – including myself - started to cry unashamedly. These strange ladies, I don’t know them. Where is Mum? Why isn’t she here to look after me? The more I thought about it the more I wept.

Soon the tears of fear subsided. With our tear sodden handkerchiefs stuffed untidily in our pockets we were introduced to the routine of the school day. There was lots to do and discover, we soon forgot our Mums. There was water colour paints, paper and crayons and we could express ourselves as we wished. Soon there was a kaleidoscope of colour on numerous sheets of paper. About midday we stopped for lunch. After lunch we returned to our painting and crayoning. The results of our artistic talents were pinned to the classroom walls, for parents to see and admire. Well into the afternoon we were suddenly shocked to look up and see our Mums waiting for us at the classroom door. Soon we had put away our paints, paper, crayon and water and were on the way home. Looking forward to the next exciting day.

On hot summer days during term time we were sometimes taken by one of our teachers to a near by meadow for our afternoon lessons. This was usually in one of the many fields on either side of Adey’s Lane, a short distance from the school.

Synwell at Dusk
Synwell at Dusk (Mark Tolfree)

Shaded from the searing heat of the sun, under a large oak tree, and with the wooded slopes of Coombe Hill as a back drop these were perfect settings for a summer’s day at school.

In an adjacent field the cattle stood virtually motionless under the trees trying to avoid the direct heat of the afternoon sun – summers seemed longer and hotter then. The stillness was only disturbed by the occasional swish of a tail that tried unsuccessfully to keep the swarns of flies away.

In another field we could see farm workers, busy with the haymaking, their skin, bronzed as a result of their exposure to the sun and other elements throughout the year, now glistened with perspiration. Even the gentle breeze felt warm as it gently caressed the exposed parts of our bodies, would have brought little if any relief for the farm workers. In spite of the chatter from our outdoor class and the energetic sounds from the farm workers, as they toiled in the sun, the place still had a serene sense of tranquillity about it.

In those days most, if not all, of the mowing was done by horse drawn machinery. I would sometimes sit on the bank, at the bottom of Synwell playing field, and watch Farmer Gaston’s worker ploughing the fields with a pair of majestic brown and white Shire horses. These large but elegant looking horses were always beautifully turned out with their leathers and highly polished brasses glinting in the late autumn sunshine. With heads bowed and muscles taut they strained as the plough sliced through the rich brown earth. Blackbirds and Seagulls shrieked and cawed above as they followed the activity on the ground.

The turning of the hay to dry was also done by hand. Farm work at that time was far more labour intensified.

During that time of year, in those very warm conditions, a shimmering heat haze hung over the valley surrounding Coombe Hill.

Birds floated on the thermals of warm air that caressed the treetops that carpeted the hillsides, their song intermingled with the coo-ing of a wood pigeon and occasionally the distant call of a cuckoo. Butterflies and moths of varying sizes and colour flitted serenely among the multi-coloured wild flowers and lush vegetation that grew around the perimeter of the valley.

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