Memories of being at East Prawle School
[Taken from East Prawle Through the Ages by Kate Jennings]. See more information about the school’s history at https://eastprawlehistorysociety.co.uk/east-prawle-school.
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Pupils’ memories of attending East Prawle School
Ashley Ford, born in 1929:
During my time there the head mistress was Miss Wrigley who I think was a North Country lass. The second mistress was Miss Wotton, always referred to by locals and pupils as ‘Teacher Bessie’. She was Prawle born and bred and lived with her sister and a handicapped brother in the bottom cottage of the row opposite what used to be the Providence Inn. I doubt she was qualified in any modern sense but was a first class infants’ teacher. There were just the two of them and they drilled us well in the three Rs: in my time four of us got scholarships to Kingsbridge Grammar School and another to the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook. They did a good job. ‘Teacher Bessie’ also ran the Church Sunday School which was held in the school building.
The toilet facilities were primitive well into the forties. Buckets were the order of the day; particularly vile in the summer’s heat. Mains water and sewers arrived in the village with the RAF, I think in 1941, and it took several years to spread through the community as a whole. Mains electricity arrived 1951/2. As I recall the school provided no hand washing facilities of any sort, but I recognise now that we were all pretty grubby by today’s standards. The great benefit for those of us who survived has been a robust immune system!
My mother attended the school which she left in 1915, aged fourteen. For many years she was the caretaker there and I spent many an evening giving her a hand cleaning the place. In winter the coke fired ‘Tortoise’ stoves had to be lit every morning in time to warm the building for the 9am start. There were two stoves, one in each class room, which she would prepare the night before and light next morning around 7 am. I can still see them glowing red in very cold weather. During my years there a school doctor examined us annually and needy children were given free milk to counter malnutrition. My brother and I never qualified, much to my mother’s irritation. The school doctor did, however, find that I had flat feet and hammer toes and said ‘he’ll never get into the army with those feet’ to which my mother replied that would be no bad thing (both my parents lost brothers in the First World War trenches). Whatever her reservations regarding the military she enforced a long exercise regime which in due course allowed me to pass A1 into the army, for which I was very grateful. There was also the school dentist who in the course of time pulled several of my milk teeth. There was little real poverty in the village but I do remember one boy coming to school in a pair of ladies high heel shoes miles too big for him. Even at that early age I felt his misery and shame.
There were no canteen facilities, most children went home for lunch, those who couldn’t brought sandwiches, doorsteps with tomato, beetroot, onion, cucumber filling (only one item at a time), all basics from the garden and very occasionally a slice of cheese or corned beef. Mother, looking back a further twenty years, remembered children walking to school from Chivelstone and South Allington and outlying farms with nothing to eat at lunch time. They would often disappear and return with a turnip pulled from a nearby field. That was their lunch.
Alice Stone born in 1930:
Alice was in hospital between the age of two and three; from three to six she went to Treloar Hospital for Disabled Children in Hampshire and at eight went to East Prawle School for one year. Alice had to leave because war broke out, after which she had homework but never saw any teachers. When Alice was nearly thirteen she went to The Girls Heritage Craft School at Chailey Common in Sussex until aged sixteen.
Christopher Trinick born in 1934:
The girls and boys playgrounds are separate. There are outside toilets and also air raid shelters. There was a bell over the porch to tell the children when to come in. The walls are very thick and there are high ceilings and sills (to stop you from looking out). There were ‘Tortoise’ coke stoves with an oven above to heat pasties etc. that the children brought to school for their lunches in the days before school meals. (Meals were supplied from Kingsbridge from 1944 and cooked at Prawle School.)
Christopher also recalled Mrs Ford’s father (Ashley Ford’s grandfather, Philip Putt) remembered Prawle School being built.
Brenda Jeffery born in 1939:
I started Prawle school a couple of weeks before I was five and I stayed until I was 12. As my birthday was in September, I couldn’t leave in the summer as the others did, but had to stay until Christmas.
Prawle school had two classrooms, one for the beginners taught by Miss Bessie Wotton and the older ones in the other classroom taught by Mrs Nellie Tabb. We had the usual lessons the same as today. Sometimes we would go out for a nature walk finding flowers etc and finding out the names. Miss Wotton would take us for PT and we would walk down to the Assembly Room next to the Providence Inn, where we would wear our shirts and black knickers. We had to take out our hankies, blow our nose and tuck the hanky up our knicker leg and we were not allowed to use them again until the lesson was over.
We had little bottles of milk each day, but there was a law you only had them up to a certain age. School dinners were brought out from Kingsbridge each day. Mrs Pat Farleigh, then known as Putt, came and served out the lunch; each Christmas she would give every child a present. I have still got mine, a blue hanky sachet. I will always treasure it, I only told Pat, a few weeks before she died, I still used it.
Richard Partridge born in 1941:
I started at Prawle School aged 4 ½. Mrs Nellie Tabb taught the older children and Miss Bessie Wotton taught the younger children. At about 11am, we were all given a small bottle of milk to drink. I went home for a mid-day meal. After I left, a kitchen was built on the side of the school, to enable meals to be cooked on the premises. Mrs Peggy Presley was in charge of the cooking.
A fire was lit in the middle of one of the rooms, with a chimney going up through the roof. The older boys would fetch coal from the shed and would stoke the fire to keep it going. I think Mrs Ella Ford would clean the school and light the fire before we went to school. The fire was a similar model to the ones used at the RAF Camp.
Elaine Trant born in 1950:
We had two class rooms, the Small room and the Big room, with two teachers, Miss Langridge (younger ones ) and Mrs Tabb (older children) from 9am till 4pm. Meals were delivered from South Pool, until the kitchen was built, in about 1958. Occasionally, during the summer, if the weather was nice, we would have lessons outside in the playground. Once or twice we all walked down to Horsley for a swimming lesson.
Heating was a tall round iron stove, with metal railing guard. To start with boys and girls had separate play grounds, but while I was there the corrugated metal sheets were removed, and we all mixed together. Gill remembered the ice cream van stopping outside, once a week.
Sarah Trinick born in 1964:
Sarah did not go to Prawle School, but was one of the first pupils to start at the new Stokenham Primary.
From 1945 for seven years, Pat Farleigh, the postmistress, ran the school dinners during her lunch hour from the post office. Her father was the ‘correspondent’ for the school and so if there was a problem with staff, Pat helped out. The food was sent out from Kingsbridge in large containers.
Pat told me:
I had to dish up and wash up. I was supposed to do two hours a day from 12 to 2. We had to put oil cloths on every desk and I had to wipe them off and put them on top of the piano. And all the cutlery was horrible – you had to clean it every day, all the containers. I washed the dishes in an ordinary bath, a roundy bath with handles. There were 39 children and they had milk then, free milk, and they were supposed to wash the mugs, but they’d leave them all for me to wash, as well as all the dishes.
Getting to School
For most people getting to Prawle School was a relatively simple case of walking. Journeys to Kingsbridge School were a little different.
Margaret Mitchelmore told me that as a child, her mother used to walk Margaret and her brother, Bill, over from Lannacombe every Sunday to stay with her grandparents at No 1 Sea View. They went to the village school from Monday to Friday and walked back to Lannacombe again for the weekend.
Ashley Ford about the journey to Kingsbridge Grammar:
It was a hell of a journey to get to school at Kingsbridge. First, we cycled to East Portlemouth, where we left our bicycles at the farm below Rickham Farm. We then walked down the steps to the ferry, crossed on the ferry to the Salcombe side, walked up to the bus station near the Salcombe Parish Church; bus to Kingsbridge, where we stayed all day, until it was time to repeat the journey home again. We went in all weathers and our wet clothes were dried out in the boiler room. If it was very rough the ferry man would point to us to go towards South Pool – Ditch End – the ferry man could run down the river in the swell but couldn’t come straight across. It would be dark but we had lights – we were as hard as nails.
Sarah Trinick remembered her father, Christopher Trinick, telling her how he travelled to school at Kingsbridge, about three years after Ashley, in almost exactly the same way. Whether he had a bike or had to walk Sarah wasn’t sure.
Richard told me, to get to school in Kingsbridge, Johnny Green used to ride his pony, Trigger, up from Prawle Point to Uncle Jack’s at Locks Farm, where he left the pony. He went to school in Kingsbridge on the school charabanc, came home and rode Trigger back again. In winter Trigger was kept in one of the Nissen huts at Prawle Point.