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Childhood in Tunstall 

by Thelma Peggy Jackson (nee Dean)

I was born at 91 Kitchener Road, Strood, Nr. Chatham, Kent. On the 17 December 1927.

Parents– George William Aubrey Dean and Winifred Grace (nee Wraight)

We moved to Sittingbourne around 1929/30 to 15 Ruins Barn Road (previously known as Woodstock Road). I have one brother –Gerald Patrick born 25 January 1926 at Romola Road, London.

I was educated at Tunstall Church of England School from the age of 5yrs to 14yrs. This was a small village school at that time, comprising of two classrooms, one for the infants and the other for the older pupils. Adjoining the classrooms was a small cloakroom with some rows of pegs to hang our coats on and also a row of small hand basins. On the right of the building looking at it from the front, was the home of the headmistress. The left hand side was let out possibly to the caretaker at one time. At the time of my attendance there were two playgrounds, one for the boys and the other for the girls. In the girls playground there was a big shed where we could keep our bicycles. The toilets were housed well away from the main building and on a rainy day it was a case of rushing across the forecourt hoping not to get wet. In the summer if it was very warm we would sit out on the front lawn doing our sewing, the boys would also be doing some kind of craft and probably learning how to knit. I can still remember the heady scent of trees and whenever I catch this scent now it takes me back to my school days. If we went down a path at the side of the school we were in the cherry orchards and sometimes we would take our work there and sit under the trees in the shade. Other days we might go for a nature walk through the orchards. I don’t know if memory enhances those far off days, but our summers always seemed to be hot and the days endless.

Opposite the school was the Village Hall, here we would do P.E. and on one lesson a week, country dancing – boys as well. The hall also housed the village library, if you could call it such as all it comprised of was one cupboard with shelves housing the adult books, and another with the junior section. I can remember that when I was in the top class I was allowed to help issue and stamp the books on library day, which I believe was on a Monday. Every so often the library van use to come round and a few of us would go into it and help select a new lot. I seem to recollect that on top of one of the cupboards was a model of the village church under glass.

It was in this hall that we held concerts. Being a very shy child I have a few painful recollections of these! I can recall dressing up as a fairy for one concert (I have a photo), my dress being made of crepe paper and tinsel. Being rather good at country dancing I was usually drawn into this. We also did Scandinavian dancing for some unknown reason, which, however, I did enjoy. I did not mind the dancing but wasn’t so keen on getting involved in acting.

It was at this school that I had my very first piano lessons, given by the infant teacher who at that time was Miss List. I believe it cost 6d a lesson. Gerald, my brother, also had his first lessons here, but by a Miss Bateman.

Tunstall School was very small so obviously did not have a great number of pupils. As I have said before, it was comprised of two school rooms. The infants, made up of ages from, as far ass I can remember, 5yrs to 9yrs. In the room were a number of low wooden tables put together in groups to form various classes. Sometimes the class, or perhaps it would be better to say age group, only comprised of 4 or 5 pupils. Although all housed in the one room they were all at various stages of learning but all taught by the one infant teacher. Each morning was started off with prayers and hymns, the days lessons finishing with an evening hymn. I can remember the low tables we sat at and the tiny curved backed infant chairs. Some of the tables had squares carved on them in rows and we used a type of bean for counting on the squares. There was a glass fronted cupboard on one of the walls in which we put our china mugs for our midday drink if we staged for dinner. Later on in my school days I believe we must have acquired a Horlicks making jug. I seem to remember plunging a gadget up and down to mix the Horlicks and make it frothy. We could also buy little tubes of Horlick Tablets.

For the majority of my schooling here the Head Mistress was called Miss Holness. She lived in the school house with Miss Holmes who was a welfare nurse. I can remember Miss Holmes regularly going through our hair for head lice, using two knitting needles.

Both of them were quite good at drawing and I have little sketches in an old autograph book done by them.

For some years my brother attended this school but left when he was around twelve,to go to the Council School in Canterbury Road. He did not get on too well with Miss Holness and was always getting told off. He and a friend played truant one day and hid in the orchards. I seem to remember Miss Holness and my father having quite as set too with her about Gerald and this is why they took him away from Tunstall School. I do know that ever afterwards she would throw it up at me when I did anything wrong

Being a traditional school we celebrated May Day with Maypole Dancing displays. These were usually held in the field behind the old vicarage, or sometimes in one of the playgrounds. One thing I did always enjoy was any form of dancing, whilst shy over most things, I wasn’t with this. We would walk down to the vicarage field to play rounders. Netball was played in the school playgrounds.

These writings are not always in the correct order of the year of it happening, but as I recall various incidents etc. In my day at the village school from a very early age we girls were taught sewing and knitting (the boys also could knit if they wished). When in the upper call I remember making a hessian apron and learning to do very neat hemming around the bottom. In those days the majority of our sewing was done by hand. I must have progressed very well as I made a dress for Miss Holness, this time actually using a hand sewing machine. From my school days I have always maintained my love of sewing. As part of this school period was during the war years we only had a limited supply of materials, probably the reason for the hessian aprons. Dress material was either blue or pink flowered cotton print.

There was no waste in those days and every possible space in our writing books was used. I enjoyed the days we did art and remember winning a prize for doing a design for a stencil. My prize was a book called ‘Guide Gilly’ which I still have. I also won a fountain pen for colouring pictures in a book, a competition which I have vague recollections of being run by the Oxo Company. Also, my writing being much neater then, I won a propelling pencil in a national writing competition. At this stage of my youth I quite enjoyed school and maintained quite a high standard of work. I was very rarely absent from school. At sometime during this period I started further piano lessons with a Mrs Hillen in Connaught Road and later on when she ceased giving piano lessons I went to Joan Caree who lived near Woodstock park. I took a few exams during this period.

When I was 12 yrs old and still at Tunstall School the war started – September 1939.We had a small brick shelter build in the boy’s playground which we went into during air-raids. At one period of the war our schooling was curtailed slightly and we were divided into different groups and attended half days. This was because of the blitz when many hours of sleep were lost. Also so that there were never a lot of children together at one time in case of a direct hit by bombs,this lessened the risk of lots of children being killed. We always took a bar of chocolate, or something of that nature with us when we had cause to go into the shelter. This was in case we had to spend a long time there, so we had something for a snack.

During the war period and for a while afterwards, sweets became scarce so they were rationed and we had so many sweet coupons each month. Occasionally we would queue up in Woolworths for what we called ration chocolate for which we did not have to give coupons.I recall that it was very thick and hard, but quite nice. Sometimes we also managed to get ‘ration biscuits’ (biscuits also required coupons) Again these were thick and square,not a lot of taste to them, but edible. Always reminded me of outsize dog biscuits!


The photo above is from 1933, supplied by teacher Miss MList, who taught at the school from 1933 until 1937. This is the top class,aged 8 to 14.The headteacher, Miss Bat up, is in the back row on the right. From the left in the back row is John Neale, then ?, then Peter spice and Geoffrey Fordham. Middle row:?, Betty Spice, ?, ?, Grace Mitchell, ?Mitchell, ?, ? Mitchell, and ?. Front row are: Raymond Mills, ?, ?, Peggy Dean,?, ?, Gerald Dean, and ?

It’s funny what different things I remember from my days at Tunstall School now thatI am writing this. The room the pupils moved into when they reached a certain age (possibly 10yrs old) was in the front of the building. At each end of the room there was an open fire with a guard in front. In the winter we would huddle round these to keep warm. On one wall at the side there was a glass-fronted cupboard which housed a collection of books for us to read. Either side of the fire place atone end were more Cupboards,one contained various writing books, paper, blotting paper etc, materials for sewing. I am not sure what was in the ones on the other side of the fireplace, possibly text books, but I know that the bottom one was filled with a selection of things which we could use on a Friday afternoon in what we called our optional lesson. One thing I particularly remember is something like binoculars, whereby at one end postcards were slotted, then you held the other end to your eyes and looked through. The pictures were enlarged and it felt as though you were actually in them.

As I said before, I am just writing things down as I remember them. It is difficult for me to recall what we actually did for art. I do know that I wished we still had those lovely boxes of paints we used then. Just a small range of colours, probably the primary ones, but the colours were so pure and sharp,used straight from the box with little or no water. The colours went on with no paper showing through. My main recollection is of making designs using cardboard milk tops which were round and had a push out piece in the middle for putting a straw through to drink the milk. Sometimes we would cut them in halves or quarters for different designs.

Another memory is of bottling fruit which us older girls, helped by Mss Holness, did over in the Village Hall where there was an oven in the kitchen. Children used to walk to school, which was quite safe then as very few people had cars. I can remember walking to school on cold frosty days, stopping at the pond opposite the cottages appropriately called ‘Pond Cottages’, standing on the edge of the water trying to break the ice which covered the pond. One day it was thinner than I thought and my feet went through it, fortunately the pond was only shallow at the edge.Further on we passed the Coffin Pond. This was half walled and (to us children), shaped like as coffin. I believe that to this day it is still know as the coffin pond. The walk to school took us through the churchyard. Just inside the gates there was a large tree with a divided trunk which had a little dip in the middle. My friend and I called this our secret fairy tree for leaving notes. I am note sure if we every did leave any.

Opposite the school, before the present houses were built, we older pupils had an allotment during the war years. During the winter months the school could be very cold and as I have described earlier, each room had an open fire. Because in those days most homes were poorly heated I don’t suppose we noticed the coldness as much as today's children would.

Memories | Childhood | Tunstall | School
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