Friday, 6 January 2012

Seal St. Lawrence

Seal St. Lawrence was my primary school, a tiny church of England school attached to the parish church. Both were built in 1865 by Horace Wilkinson to commemorate his daughter. The building itself looked like a large victorian house facing a tarmac playground. Opposite the school building was a world war two air raid shelter. I vaguely remember it being used for storage. Around the back of the building was a garden which we were expressly forbidden to enter. Across the road was some woodland and then the sports field. We were allowed to play in the woodland during the lunchtime break, it seemed huge to me as a small boy. I remember kicking large mounds of fallen leaves around and endless games of British Bulldog. The playing fields had a football pitch with a running track around it and there were some apparatus on the far side including a frame with ropes, that I never managed to climb to the top of.

There were two full time teachers, Mr Hornsby was the the head master and taught the juniors. He’d been a soldier in Burma in WWII and sometimes liked to reminisce about the Burmese. I especially remember him describing the burmese houses which were built on stilts without walls. This made them very cool in the heat apparently. He was a very warm and engaging man and as well as working hard on our tables and writing, we also had a lot of fun. He had a record player and used to play, ‘My old man, said follow the van’, which we’d sing along with with gusto.

Mrs Gilbert, a kind and motherly lady, taught the infants. I remember her being especially smiling and reassuring during my years at the school. At the time reading and writing was introduced using a very bizarre scheme called the Initial Teaching Alphabet; a 40 letter modified phonetic roman alphabet. My spelling has never recovered from it. Poor old Mrs Gilbert had to look up the correct spellings of the ITA words herself most of the time, and I always wondered what she really thought of it.

A dark haired lady, who’s name I forget used to help with the juniors occasionally, and I think, later on, a young and pretty trainee teacher also helped out.

There were only about 40 pupils in the entire school so each year only had a handful of students. My year featured Myself, Colin Lusher, Stephen and Michael Tate, who all lived a short walk from the school in Stone Street, July Morgan, Russell Sherbourne and for a time Nick Mann. Russell was my closest friend towards the end of my time there. His father worked at a school for disruptive children near Seal and I often was taken there to play. I remember his dad was very fond of repairing his Land Rover and I was very impressed with his ability to manually tune the engine. They immigrated to New Zealand a year or so after we finished at St Lawrence and I lost touch with him.

Myself, my brother Sim and the Morgan children, Sadie, Kate and Mathew would all be ferried every day from St Julians to the school in our ‘school bus’, usually by John Maskell, our chef and bar man. He liked to pull our legs and had an on-going story about bath used as trough in a field near to the school, that we believed for years he would wash in every morning after dropping us off.

The Church of England was of course a major influence at the school. The vicar, who’s name I forget was a regular visitor. Mr Hornsby was a strong christian and I remember him asking us to ignore the first few pages about evolution in our new science textbooks. We went for prayers and hymns at the church next door on a weekly basis. I remember it being freezing in winter. But I was also enchanted with the frequent festivals, I distincly remember the Harvest festival and the Chistmas play we put on. Mr Hornsby was very proud of his 1000 watt bulb that he used to light up the angel Gabrielle.

We would have a small glass bottle of milk every morning, which I really enjoyed. Lunch was served downstairs in the dining room by the dinner lady Mrs Ayling.

Periodically we would be assembled for a 'nature walk'. I think this was just an excuse for Mr Hornsby to indulge his favorite pastime of strolling in the countryside. There was never any school work associated with the nature walk, we would simply give up lessons for the day and spend the afternoon walking around the beautiful Kentish countryside with Mr Hornsby's dog running alongside. I remember visiting Knole a couple of times and even Ightham Mote.

I was the only pupil in my year to pass the eleven-plus exam, I gained a place at Tunbridge Wells Technical High School.

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