My Experience of Education in the Church School, Trumpington

Margot Andrews
July 2010

I was born in July 1929 and started school in 1934 and have these recollections of my time at the Church School in Trumpington. My family was living at 32 Bishop’s Road during these years.

For more information about education and schools in Trumpington, see the introduction to education.

Infant Class

Learning to read, mainly phonetically; a quiet class, gentle and serious.
Numeracy, learning to count and record numbers.
Stories and poems: “When we were very young”, “Now we are six”.
Images: delphiniums, blue; geraniums, red.
“But I do like a little bit of honey on my bread” (A.A. Milne, The King’s Breakfast )
“They are Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice”
“The king was in his counting house, counting out his money, the queen was in her parlour eating bread and honey” ( Sing a Song of Sixpence )
Exercises: out of doors in the playground; running, hopping, walking, stretching; I do not remember much dancing. Miss Lister played the piano but I think that was later.
Stories: Jungle Book

The rocking horse by the north wall was a fascination. We were not big enough for a ride but the “big” girls, such as Audrey Marfleet, came to enjoy it during rainy playtimes. It was a large traditional horse and looked good in the rather brown-cream room with high windows.

Everyone went home for lunch, 1 hour, maybe 1½ hour, with almost everyone walking. Mothers met the 5 year olds in the charge of older siblings.

Heating was by metal stoves burning coke. Senior boys filled the buckets in the playground and did the stoking. On cold playtimes, we gathered around the fire. I noticed that Mr Robinson was frequently standing with his back to the fire!

Miss Lister’s class

Most could read; reading around the class; books in sequence 1-2-3; individuals moved from book to book.

Tables chanted and mental arithmetic, with individuals challenged to answer “7 times 6?”. We did not necessarily know all the tables when we left her group. Discipline on the weak side: if the class was noisy in a challenging way, Mr Robinson would peer through the partition glass. The signal for his intrusion and reprimands would be that Miss Lister’s shouts for order could be heard through the partition.

On the whole, she was most at ease with the girls, who appreciated her domestic skills. Girls learned to knit and embroider and some boys did woodwork in the afternoon. This happened most afternoons before playtime, when there was a pleasant atmosphere with girls chatting and getting to know one another better, including ones with whom you did not walk to school.

You queued for Miss Lister’s attention; she rarely came to your desk, which was the old double-seated bench kind.

I walked to school with Jean Monaghan, having called for her, with a group of about 10 of us amassing on the way.

Sometimes a whole group of children would be late for afternoon school. The sweets bought at Mrs Richardson’s shop at the end of Bishop’s Road were shared out (dolly mixtures, lemon sherberts, sherbert dabs, liquorish, acid drops and toffees). We had to roll over a bar instead of a gate on the way back to school, then the last part of the journey was spent deciding on a group excuse as to why we were late. Mr Robinson lined us up and was sometimes cross but often amused by the inventiveness of our excuses.

Mr Robinson’s class (two years)

Mr Robinson was a true educationalist. Skills mattered but he had a fundamental understanding of what education should be about and of the needs of children and how they might eventually fit into society. Thinking back, the ideals of the scout movement were a key: “Pure in thought, word and deed”.

As a Church of England school, there were prayers every morning after taking the register, with all 70 children together. These were followed by a talk about life, such as “Wash down to the waist with cold water every morning”, temperance, sport, the use of libraries, exploring the countryside, keeping pets, etc. This was mainly one way, although children’s comments were respected. The vicar, Rev. Wright, also came to talk to the school, for ½ hour once a week.

Exercise, stories, history and geography were fitted in, with history taught by “boards full” where Mr Robinson wrote outline dates and happenings on the blackboard and we copied the facts into our books. This was in the best handwriting, of course, copperplate hand with rather spiky steel nibs, ink in inkwells, kept full by the senior boys.

“Old man Bolton – Burn him black – Bury him with – His wig pressed on” was a chant we used to remember the Lancashire industrial towns (Oldham, Bolton, Blackburn, Bury, Wigan and Preston). We learned all the coastal towns around the British Isles in the same way.

Stories included Last of the Mohicans , Oliver Twist , David Copperfield and Settlers in Canada . Mr Robinson read very well and often dramatically. I suppose the novels were abridged versions but we thought them super, especially at the end of a long summer’s afternoon.

There were some grumbles, mainly when Mr Robinson thought we were not doing our best. He was very patient when there were real problems and would admit when he did not know an answer. He would say “Bring the dictionary” to any of Jack Overhill, Peter Ryder, John Wolfenden or John Chapman and the dictionary would be brought from the cupboard at the back of the room.

Out of doors and exercise

As soon as the sun shone, Mr Robinson clapped his hands and announced “Garden grounds” or “PE in the playground”. We played team games and sport in the playground, with girls blue and green, boys red and yellow. We also had rounders and sports events in the park of Trumpington Hall.

Sometimes we had a walk to Byron’s Pool, collecting wild flowers, leaves or seeds from trees. The results were identified on a display on the nature table.

Indoor exercises were called “curtains”. At a certain point on cold rainy days, when there was a hint of restlessness, Mr Robinson would call for curtains. A heap of dark red fabric would be unrolled and some left in a pile. We would line up and a series of forward rolls would begin, bottoms in the air, one after another. Then more testing experiments took place, when we took it in turns to stand on our heads and turn cartwheels. Jack Overhill (junior) was expert at walking on his hands. We might take a stride or two, but no one could equal him. I still assert he could walk the length of Maris Lane on his hands.

Ball games against the wall, conkers and marbles all had their season, but acrobatics on the curtains continued week in, week out, we never tired of conquering a new skill. Some found these activities a bit difficult, but I do not remember that Mr Robinson ever ridiculed them or made them feel inadequate. He wanted us all to excel.

Jack Overhill (senior) was invited to teach us to swim at the south part of Grantchester Meadows: upstream, 14 yards certificate, then 50 yards when you could swim as far as the hedge. This was in school time and much enjoyed. It was essential to practice with the family after school and at weekends. Jack Overhill (junior) wrote a diary (an edited verison of which was published in 2010) and several books about Cambridge and Trumpington, the originals of which are held in the Cambridgeshire Collection. He used to swim in the open air pool on Jesus Green every New Year’s Day.

Byron’s Pool was for really good swimmers: deep! Paddlers and bathers climbed down the tree roots into the water and made the island their focus. Student teachers came to the school from Homerton College and almost as soon as they arrived their class proceeded to Byron’s Pool. Miss Gotobed from the Fens was a favourite: she lodged along Shelford Road, so we walked home with her.

Garden pleasures

The garden grounds were a joy. I could not grow much in mine as it was dominated by a huge delphinium but I could weed it and take away stones. I had not planted my delphinium, but its true blue is still my favourite in my garden, wherever I move. We all knew that John Chapman’s garden was the best, where he grew some of the vegetables that Mr and Mrs Robinson enjoyed.

Flint walls surrounded the school and a white gate in the playground opened into our gardens. We played team games facing the wall with the gate to the right and I still picture that gate when asked to go to the right.

I am forever grateful to Mr Robinson, Miss Burgess and Miss Lister. All three were near retiring but you never felt they were marking time. We felt we were being well taught; every day was a fresh and happy challenge to us all.

Miss Burgess was the infant teacher, Miss Lister taught 6-7 year olds and Mr Robinson taught 7-10 year olds.

The school was on Grantchester Road, where Church Lane and Maris Lane meet.

The headmaster, Mr Robinson, lived in the School House, to the east of the school.

There were three classrooms, with Infants to the north, Seniors in the middle and Miss Lister’s class to the south.

The former Church School (later the Church Hall, then a nursery) from Grantchester Road. Photo: Andrew Roberts, August 2008.
The former Church School (later the Church Hall, then a nursery) from Grantchester Road. Photo: Andrew Roberts, August 2008.

The former Church School (later the Church Hall, then a nursery) from Grantchester Road. Photo: Andrew Roberts, August 2008.