The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.

Mrs Wallis

ALMOST SIXTY-THREE YEARS ON! - Reminiscences of Mrs.Wallis who taught generations of children at St. Mary's School.

Spotlight. October, November and December 1992

It was in late 1929 and very early 1930 that I paid my first visit to Clophill as a supply teacher. Mr. Russell was then head master. I cannot remember other staff. Mr.& Mrs. Russell lived at Northfield Farm after his retirement and I often saw them about in the village.

I can remember a few of the pupils of those very early days - Marion Odell (now Mrs. Watkins), Janet Tysome (now Mrs. Walton), Mick Tysome (Janet's brother). I believe he went into the army.

One thing I remember very clearly from that very first visit to the school is a visit from Miss Goodall who was one of the school managers - they were not called governors in those days. It was the custom for a manager to check the registers in the school at intervals. I don't know whether that custom still prevails. After the business of checking Miss Goodall gave a little talk and I remember her words clearly. "Now boys, you know that if you meet me in the street you must touch your caps and girls, you can bow". I have wondered sometimes how such advice would be received nowadays!

From 1930 - 1938 I was busy bringing up my two children, but after 1938 I received frequent requests from Bedford Education Department to go to Clophill school when any staffing emergency arose. Requests were sent to me by telegram. Telephones were not in general use and I would occasionally arrive home to find an urgent telegram pinned to my door - not always for Clophill but several other schools in the area. I travelled by bicycle in those days.

By the time I returned to teaching Mr. Arthur Holden had become headmaster, and over the following years I worked for many periods of varying duration with him. I have many happy memories of time spent at the old school and of children and staff I knew there.

Mr. Holden had one unusual but interesting hobby - Fair Isle knitting! On one occasion Mrs. Holden showed me quite a collection of his work - beautifully done!

In conversation with Marion I now learn that her mother, Mrs. Odell, formerly Miss Kate Elizabeth Gudgin, born in 1889, became a pupil teacher at Clophill School when she was 18. She had attended school in Bedford after passing the then equivalent of the eleven + examination. I think that in those days it meant cycling to Shefford Station and then travelling by train to Bedford.

That would have been during Mr. Cunnington's time as headmaster. I knew Mrs. Odell when she lived with her family opposite the school. Mr. Wally Gobey, still resident in Clophill and now over 98 would probably remember her as a young teacher.

In later times I taught Marion's two daughters, Marilyn and Jennifer. I wonder if Marilyn remembers her puzzlement over the diameter and circumference of a bicycle wheel and how we fetched a bicycle in from the playground to demonstrate!

Jennifer is now Mrs. Alan Porter, wife of Pc Porter (of recent cycling fame) whom I also remember clearly in his first days at school. His brother Ian was also a pupil. I still have a little plaster pussy- cat which Jennifer brought me one Christmas - she said, "My dad helped me make it". I suppose Jennifer was the about eight!

I believe Jack Burgoine and his brother were in Mr. Holden's department in my early days. I remember the 'big boys' going off to gardening lessons.

Those were the days when a visit to the pantomime "Mother Goose" in Luton was a great event and Mr. Holden organised such a visit. Remember there was no television in those days and a ride in a coach or car was a treat for many children. There was no fetching and carrying to and from school by car a there is now. Indeed I remember one little girl, Lucy Hall, who regularly walked to school from Brabury Lodge. She didn't know it but I thought of her as my little "Alice in wonderland" girl. She had long hair and was such an earnest little girl, I wonder what has happened to her and to many other children I knew at Clophill School over the years.

During all my visits to the school I found that the morning hymn and prayers were very important. These were followed each day by the scripture lesson. This must have been the regular routine for many years. I was talking recently to a friend of mine who was born in Clophill and attended school in the old building until she was 13. we are all the same age - eighty eight - so she left school in 191?. when I asked her what she remembered of her time at the school she mentioned only two things. One was the daily prayer and hymn session when the doors at the end of the big room were opened so that the whole school took part (she has remained a faithful church member all her life).

We were having great fun preparing for Christmas when Barry developed a bad cough and cold. He insisted on coming to school, so his mother arrived with Barry plus a bottle of cough mixture and asked if I would give it to him if necessary. I think I found time!

The other thing that has remained in her mind is the strict discipline of the then headmaster - Mr. Cunnington. He was apparently quite handy with the cane and if you were caught talking to your neighbour in lesson time your two heads were likely to be banged together! Strange discipline indeed to our modern way of thinking. But she did remember him as a fine singer!

There was one little boy in my time who evidently listened very intently to his religious teaching at the school. He talked to me very seriously one day and said, "I understand what the Holy Spirit is. It is the little voice inside you. It tells you when you are doing right or wrong".

One little lad who had evidently enjoyed his history lesson melted down some lead and made models which he brought to show me. I have never heard what his mother's reactions to his experiments was, but I do remember that the Rev. Jones, the then Rector of Clophill was quite interested!

Barry Inskip was another pupil for a time. I believe that later on Barry and Raymond Sheppard were the instigators of Clophill Parish magazine (Spotlight) which I enjoy reading from time to time. I wonder if Barry remembers one Christmas at Clophill School when I was in charge of his class.

I knew so many children in Clophill during the years I was visiting it is impossible to mention them all!

When I called the register one morning I called "Robert Taylor". It was my first acquaintance with Robert and as there were quite a few members of the Taylor family I asked "are you Robert Nicholas?". "Yes", he replied, "I am Robert Nicholas and I know I am ridiculous". He was then about eight. I got to know Robert very well later on. He died tragically young.

There were the two Tufnell girls - Shirley and Stephanie. For some unknown reason I continually confused their names. At last in great exasperation Stephanie said "It's no use Mrs. Wallis. You will have to make labels for us to hang round our necks so that you call us by our right names". I wonder how many problems she has solved over the years. She was then about eight.

I went into the classroom one morning to find a small boy all on his own reading studiously with spectacles perched on his nose. As he had never worn glasses I was quite interested. Moreover they were the old-fashioned steel-rimmed type. Sympathetic questioning elicited the fact that they had belonged to a deceased grandparent - how long deceased I do not know. Possibly the grandparent always reached for his or her glasses before reading to the little lad and in his mind they were endowed with magical qualities which would help him with his reading!

Another small boy had a passion for toy cars and his greatest joy at five years old was to be allowed to take one home overnight.

During Mr Holden's time as Headmaster at the school the Clophill living became vacant. I well remember the arrival of the Rev. L. Bearman who also taught at the Boys' Modern School in Bedford. Mr & Mrs Bearman had three children, Michael, Hilary and Pauline. The grown-up Michael appeared regularly on television a few years back - I used to watch the programme - if I remember rightly it was to do with agriculture. I knew Michael well in the Infants department at Clophill School - also Hilary. One thing I remember about Hilary is that she always insisted on calling Mr & Mrs Holden by their Christian names. This of course was in the days before Christian names were used as freely as they are now.

Hilary used to tell me about a "tulip tree" which grew in the grounds of the Old Rectory - I believe quite an unusual tree to find in an ordinary garden. She would write pages of what we called "composition" but perhaps more correct would be today's term - creative writing.

Pauline had not reached school age but she was so anxious to attend that she would appear in the class if any opportunity occurred!

I remember the morning news arrived that Gordon Roberts and Brian Peat had passed the exam qualifying them for entry into the Boys Modern School in Bedford. I think that Brian only attended for a short time but Gordon became a schoolmaster and was for some years a popular master at his old school in Bedford. He was known affectionately as "Digger" Roberts - I presume from his initials D.I.G.R. Sadly Cordon died suddenly last year.

Other boys who attended Clophill School for a time were Kenneth and Alistair Maxwell - grandson I believe of Dr. Maxwell who worked for a time at the Ampthill surgery. They had just returned from abroad - Manila I think. Alistair gave me a graphic account of their passage through the Panama Canal. His description of how the canal locks worked was most interesting and I thought how much wiser than I he was at the age of ten!

I have memories of various families - the Ellis family and their distress when their father became a prisoner-of-war in the far east - the five Nichols girls - Pat, Mary, Margaret, Jennifer & Diane. I believe Diane went to America. Mary was left-handed - I wonder whether she remembers the problems for a left-hander using liquid ink with a scratchy pen-nib. The ink was mixed from crystals in water in a teapot like vessel and poured into inkwells set in the front right hand of the desks. Blotting paper was not always available. Sewing and knitting were problems for left-handers too!

Another large family were the Gibsons. I knew the younger members most. The last two contacts I had were with Rennie and John - Rennie in some capacity at Bedford General Hospital, South wing where I was a patient and John when he came to fix a handrail and grab rails on my stairs when I began to experience difficulty. I had taught them both at Clophill School when they were about ten years old. John little knows how many times I have called blessings on his head since he fixed those rails for me!

Members of staff I remember over the years were Mr. Russell, Mr. Holden, Miss Eyden, Miss Carr, Miss Meredith Maxwell, Mr. Bracey, Mr. Tony Belcher, Peter Blake (ex RAF), a lady who drove a Hillman Imp car (her name escapes me) and Miss Doris Palmer. Mrs Kent became Head Teacher after Mr. Holden retired. I arrived at the school one day to find that Miss Grace Money had been appointed to the staff. This was a pleasant surprise for me as years before Miss Money and I had been fellow pupils at the Cambridge and County School for Girls in Collier Rd, Cambridge. I was out of teaching during the early war years (1942 - 1945) but there was a period immediately after the war when Mrs Kent was ill and I was called in again. Two retired Headmasters were there too - Mr. John Young (former Head of Wooton School) and Mr. Alston Yorke (former Head of the "Sands" school at Ampthill). Mrs. Crosbie and Mrs. Freeman were two others who helped in a rather difficult period. (I last saw Mrs. Crosbie well over thirty years ago. She was giving her very young son a pick-a-back up the hill leading towards the woods at Sheringham). Mrs. Freeman's husband (Charles Freeman) was curator at the Luton Museum - he played Father Christmas for us one year at the school.

Miss Palmer and Mr. Yorke had met in previous years in Miss Palmer's time as a pupil-teacher. We didn't realise it was happening but romance blossomed at Clophill and Miss Palmer became Mr. Yorke's third wife. They lived in Ampthill where Mr. Yorke was a member of the Methodist church and, I believe, organist there for a number of years. Both died quite a few years ago.

The longest stint I remember doing at Clophill School was about 17 months. This was when Miss Eyden, who was in charge of the infants department, was called away and later left when her sister became seriously ill. Miss Eyden went to look after her sister and her brother. She was a dedicated teacher. Two of her pupils whom I have met fairly recently still speak of her affectionately.

One morning during that period a mother arrived carrying her small son for his first day at school. Both were in floods of tears. All persuasion failing I finally tucked the little boy under my arm, said goodbye to mum, and sat him in front of a cupboard full of all sorts of things. He soon became engrossed turning the cupboard out. That little boy later gained a place at university.

I have an abiding memory of that last day a Clophill with the infants. when I arrived on the last afternoon a small boy was standing in the doorway with a huge bunch of carnations which he had persuaded his mother to get for me as a parting gift. He never knew how much I appreciated them. I believe he still lives in the village - a great big grown-up man now. But I have not seen him for many years.

Miss Trewin then took over the infants department.

After this I taught the girls needlework, working on a part-time basis. I have happy memories of those needlework afternoons even if one of the caretakers did complain about the number of pins dropped on the floor during a cutting-out session. The first caretaker I remember was Mr Noah King who was helped by his wife. The next was Mr Bone whose two small sons were at the school.

I believe Mrs Brian Pressland works in the school kitchen. I remember her as a small girl at the school - Wendy Harris. I remember her husband Brian too and Wendy's brother Rodnay.

There was of course no school kitchen in my day and no school meals. If I and any other members of staff brought sandwiches for our lunch we were allowed to use the smallest classroom - later the Headmaster's room. One day when I happened to be there alone we had a very heavy thunderstorm. Water poured into the school under the doors and I was left sitting on the Headmaster's desk - marooned by the rising flood. But I had managed to rescue the school sewing machine - a very precious possession - and it sat on the desk with me! I finished my sandwiches and waited for the flood to go down - it wasn't too long. Mr Holden came in from the School House next door as soon as he could. I do not normally drink tea at all, but the cup of China tea he brought in that day was very welcome!

The school building itself I remember as a typical building of its era - tall rooms, cold and comfort-less with windows large but so high it was impossible to see out. Perhaps that prevented distraction.

But I do remember that on one occasion I allowed my infants and myself to be thoroughly distracted. We pushed our chairs and desks up to the windows and watched a meeting of hounds and huntsmen in the adjacent meadow - a beautiful country scene!

At this time the infants class room was a large room separated from the other rooms by a draughty passage which served as a cloakroom. Toilet facilities were away across the playground. Flush toilets were of course unknown. I think one clean roller towel a week for each department was the rule. They were certainly very soiled and not very hygienic by Friday!

In 1940 the village was invaded by evacuees - children being brought away from the dangers of air raids and being billeted with families. The school became crowded with strange children - some very unhappy. Their teachers and some parents came too. when the "Air Raid" warning sounded we were all herded into the infants room - staff and children. One of the teachers who had accompanied the children then played popular songs on the piano and we were all supposed to sing. I never felt less like singing. My husband and children were away in Bedford. I have never been able to work out the wisdom of herding us all together in the one room which was blacked out all the time. But I suppose the authorities had their reasons!

One of the evacuees called on me in later years - I was pleased to see her. Maybe she still keeps in touch with the people she stayed with. Her name was June. I have recently talked to my "Home Carer" who was a pupil at Clophill School in 1939. when I asked her if she remembered anything of her time at the school her spontaneous reply was "Yes, having to go across the playground to the toilets in the pouring rain and getting wet through on the journey there and back".

I think sometimes of the two little boys (grandsons of Mrs Kate Odell) who lived in the house next door to the school. They used to like to look over the wall and watch the schoolchildren playing - now grown up and far beyond my recognition.

There was another little boy who always managed to appear at the back of the group I was taking for reading - he was so anxious to read, as I have found so many children to be. I have not seen him for twenty years now but I hope he still enjoys reading!

There was another little boy, slightly older, who used to scramble over his mid-day meal and come to me complete with reading book for extra help. It was his own arrangement! I have quite lost sight of him over the years as is the case with many others.