Ditchling Road

The school during the Second World War

By Barbara Chapman (born 1927)

At Ditchling Road School I felt as if I spent most of my time going down the trenches, when the Air Raid sirens sounded, some of the teacher tried to carry on with our lessons. There was one occasion when bombs were dropped. I think it was because our school was near the railway station, or else the bombers were on their way back to Germany and wanted to unload their bombs. I remember pieces of bomb being found in the playground. Also the boys school next to ours was hit by an incendiary bomb one night which damaged the roof.

Fun in spite of the war
I enjoyed school, in spite of the war. I remember the P.E. teacher Miss Bland who wore her long hair in pigtails, I thought she was a good teacher. Miss Mansell, our music teacher, gave us our first introduction to classical music. She was always telling us to sing louder, so that the people sitting in the cafe in York Place could hear us. I was good at Maths and was getting on fairly well with learning French. I liked drama, especially Shakespeare, and took the part of Lady Macbeth in the school play.

Learning to make meals without meat
I was excellent at domestic science, although our attempts at cooking were limited due to the rationing. I even saved my egg so that I could use it in a cake, and then dropped it on the way to school so had to use powdered egg. We learned how to make meals without using meat and I frequently made vegetable hot pot for us at home. I know I always felt hungry, especially as I was still growing. I considered our diet to be very inadequate, in spite of what recent surveys have said. After the war they found I required extra vitamins. I had trouble with my teeth and gums due to lack of calcium.

From the QueenSpark Book 'Boxing Day Baby' by Barbara Chapman
Added to the site on 06-01-06 
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page

I spent 10 months at Ditchling Road School as a London evacuee immediately following the outbreak of war in 1939. In July 1940 we were moved away from the coast. My recollections from this period are found at www.grandpa-leslie.com/brothers.htm

By Leslie King b. 1933 (29/12/2006)

As I'm sure many of you probably know, Ditchling Road school is now called Downs Junior school. I left Downs in 2004, so not that long ago, I miss this school a lot. We often learnt about the war. Some classes used to go down into the air raid shelters, but the Ofsted inspectors said no when it was my years turn as it is unsafe.  We were all very disappointed as this also meant we couldn't do our end of year six play. Parts of it would have taken place down there to make it more life like. A few of the teachers went down there and took video fotage of it, then showed it to us wich was the next best thing. The main thing I can remember of it is a small child's bike - we believe a boy took it down there and couldn't bring it back, unfortunately we never got to do a play.

By Yasmin (31/12/2006)

I started school at Ditchling Road in 1941. I remember the shelters in the playgrounds and waiting for my mother to pick my brother Michael and I up from school after the all clear. Miss Bland was my teacher at Margaret Hardy Secondary School in York Place. I still have my exercise book from my first year and my sums book, they were cut in half in those days. I remember picking up the silver paper after the air raids. We lived in Richmond Road and suffered a bomb blast when Rosehill Terrace was bombed.

By Jennifer Goddard nee Norrell (16/01/2007)

Both myself and my father (and his siblings) went to Ditchling Road School, although it was The Downs by the time I went there! When I was an infant there, I recall laying down our mats in the (very drafty) hall for a sleep after lunch. Plus the dark granite stairway up to the Headmaster's office. I think Miss Turner was my first teacher. My mother was the lollipop lady around 1958/59 - the year I left. I remember also attending the 1st Brighton Girls Brigade meetings there and our subs were 2d but, if we paid with a "bun penny" which had Queen Victoria's head on, we only had to pay the 1d!

By Ruth Mitchell (nee Rickards) (17/08/2007)

I was a pupil there between 1964 -1970 and vividly recall the pervasive smell from the abattoir which was located across Ditchling Road! I am trying to find anyone that knew me or a fellow pupil who is also now residing in New Zealand, Neil Scorgie? I was in Miss Spalding's class when I left and have fond memories of my time there.

By Martin Owens (25/08/2007)

I remember Ditchling Road School as being the sort of mid-point in the war years. I went there from Middle Street School with my very good friend Patrick Lettres in 1940. Patrick and I lived a stones throw from Brighton Station and we would walk down Trafalgar Street to St. Peters Church were we would board a trolley bus to take us to school. The trolley bus was always an event and we hoped that we would end up riding on all 49 of the trolley buses then in Brighton. They were numbered FUF 1 to FUF 49. We never did get to travel on all of them but always hoped we would get a ticket with a 7 on the end because it was supposed to be lucky. When we went home we often used to walk all the way and spend our penny fare on a nice sticky jam donut. School hours were 9am to 12pm and 2 pm to 4 pm.

Mr. Hunt was the Headmaster, and I remember Mr. George and another teacher who had a shaking hand which we all called "shell shock" as he had been in WW1. Of course in later years we now realised it was Parkinsons disease. There was a splendid wood- working area where I made a table lamp stand out of solid oak and got 9/10 for the final product.

Sports afternoons we used to go down to Preston Park where we played cricket of football. I remember Patrick had his own pair of football boots and we were quite envious.

Of course there was the inevitable visit to the air raid shelters carved out under the school playground and at this point I would like to correct an anomaly in the most excellent publication "Sheltered Lives" that depicted the school during the war years.

It was me, and NOT Patrick, who, when walking backwards fell down the air raid shelter. [page 8] Strangely there were no safe guards to ensure accidents of this sort didn't happen. Later on that same morning Mr. Hunt came into the classroom to enquire "Who was the boy who fell down into the air raid shelter?" Somewhat sheepishly I raised my hand and after enquiring if I was all right and did I wish to see a doctor, he seemed satisfied and left.

I remember the crash between two aircraft that happened when we were walking down to Preston Park to play football. Evereybody swore they saw 'swastikas' on the tail but in later years it was revealed they were in fact Beaufighters, the new nightfighter, and still on the secret list. Small pieces ended up in the park but a big chunk landed up near the old dust destructor. This aircraft was used very successfully and was equipped with the new 'radar'. Government handouts informed the general public that our success in the night skies was due to the fact that pilots ate a lot of carrots to improve their eyesight. A
story that was still believed until recently when a new report indicated that carrots did in fact improve your eyesight.

Looking back one never did realise what was fact and what was fiction. But in spite of everything we were healthy and we survived.

By John Wall (09/09/2007)

I remember the male teacher who supposedly had Parkinson Disease. I was under the impression that he had been gassed in the First World War. His name was Mr. Dibbens. When caught talking etc., during his maths class he would bend you over and hit the back of your legs with a plimsoll. He took a dislike to me and I rarely escaped this torture as he looked to single me out. I hated him and during my time when he taught me I certainly didnot do very well learning maths. He was my worst memory of my school days. He certainly could aim the chalk duster at you and bang heads together.

By Jennifer Goddard (nee Norrell) (22/09/2007)

I have a correction to my last entry and I must thank my good friend Pat Lettres for jogging my memory, The teacher with the shaking hand was Mr. George. The other teacher I remember was Mr. Lugg, a somewhat portly gentleman who smoked a pipe. One day he put his pipe out, or so he thought, and in the middle of a class smoke began to issue from his waistcoat pocket. His pipe was not out and his waistcoat had caught fire. We all had a jolly good laugh.

I have never heard of a Mr. Dibbins and I assume he was a teacher in the girls section of the school.

By John Wall (30/09/2007)

I remember the name Martin Owens as I believe I was in his class. I do recall Miss Spalding and I do recall the Headmaster Mr Morgan. I left the school in 1970 and although my mother still lives locally, I now reside in Lincolnshire.

By Roger Higginbottom (07/12/2007)

Thanks Roger for the reply, I remember you and in fact have a class photo from the 60s which I am sure you are in although I don't recall the Teacher. Another teacher you may remember was Mr Hinton who took games and Tony Foster who taught music. I was recently back in Brighton and was kindly given a tour of the school, remarkably little had changed.

By Martin Owens (19/01/2008)

Thanks for the reply Martin. I do remember Mr Hinton as he was the games teacher who used to smoke a pipe. Indeed his front teeth were worn away by years of pipe smoking. Also we had an exchange teacher, from America, who taught us in the third year. Her name I believe was Minnie Rostein who resided from Oregon. I can also remember the enormous playground with all the climbing frames and not a Health and Safety Nazi around for miles.

By Roger Higginbottom (21/01/2008)

Mrs Rotstein ...I remember the awful culture shock whereby 'candy' was deemed a reward and, if memory serves me well, it was in the second year and her given name was Penelope?  Almost like a character from the Simpsons.  The third year was spent at the 'annexe' over the road and Miss Hake was the teacher?  Rather than clog up the web site you could contact me at fecrse@xtra.co.nz.  It would be good to keep in touch.

By Martin Owens (28/01/2008)

Hi, my granddad Donald William West was born in 1934 and he was evacuated to Ditchling, Brighton during the war. He is now terminally ill and we are just looking for people he may have been evacuated with, if any one knows this man please could you get in touch. Thank you for your time.

By Vickie Harris (08/02/2008)

Another teacher at Ditchling Road Senior Boys School ( Re Mr Walls Comments) was a Mr Adennaur, the spelling could be wrong. I attended the school  1938 till March 41, I also remember also Mr urqurtt the wood teacher. My memories mostly are of watching the German Bomber formations from the entrance to the shelters when we should have been inside , I think us boys enjojed the excitement of the fighting up above. Cyril Pelham, New Zealand.

By Cyril Pelham (08/04/2008)

I go to Ditchling Road School but it is now called Downs Junior School as there is a separate school now for the infants. I really enjoy it there and the teachers are great!

By Christina (21/04/2008)

No one seems to remember Mr.Dibbens my maths teacher who was the bain of my early schooling at Ditchling Road Primary School. In 1941 Miss Haffenden was the teacher for the 5 year olds. My Aunt was a hairdresser and gave me a perm which was a bit too curly and Mr.Webb made fun of me in front of the whole class. 'Fuzzy Wuzzy was a Bear' was the song popular in 1945 and he sung it to me in the classroom and the children laughed. I remember crying and not wanting to go to school the next day. How different it would be today. Miss Wymark was the cooking teacher (rice puddings balanced on the handlebars on the way home). Endless lessons in the air raid shelters waiting for the 'all clear'.

By Jennifer Goddard nee Norrell (04/05/2008)

I used to go to Downs School during 1950's.  I remember Mr Dibbens (or was it Dobson?) - the children used to call him 'Dobbin'.  Didn't he also teach R.E?

By John Pope (26/05/2008)

I lived in Shaftesbury Place and in 1923 at the age of 5, I went to Ditchling Road Infants School. In 1928 I went up to the Senior School until 1932. At the age of 14 I went out to work. I played for the school football team in my last two years. We played Saturday mornings and Mr Fennimore took us to play other Brighton & Hove teams. I can also remember the following masters: Mr. Metcalf (the Headmaster), Mr. George, Mr. Addenaur, Mr. Medcalf, Mr. Ellis, Mr. Lugg and Mr. Virgo. I left Brighton in 1960 and now live in Southend-on-Sea.

By Reg Wright (14/08/2008)

I had Mr. Dibbens as a teacher in my last year of primary school, at the Downs. We thought he had been brain damaged during the war, as he used to shake so much, but now come to think of it he probably did have Parkinsons. My friend Shirley and I used to call him "Dib-Dob", but thank goodness he was never mean to either of us, although we were always very fearful of him. The year must haven been about 1957 or 58. Also Miss Bland was my science teacher at Margaret Hardy School. When I was about 14, she must have been too old at that stage to teach PE, and she was our science teacher. I have a lot of fond memories of the Downs School, and have written a much longer letter on the computer which I will relay on this forum one day.

By Sandra Foster (nee Hagon) (30/08/2008)

I started at the Downs School in 1949 until 1955. I remember the teachers, Miss Young, Mr Newton, Mr Taylor, Mr Emmons was our Head Master and a very kindly man.

By Patricia (Fox as was) (07/02/2009)
I went to The Downs School from 1955 to 1961. Miss Steer was the Head Mistress of the Infants' School (I apparently referred to her as the Head Mystery, as my mother would later tell me). Miss Webb, I believe was one of the teachers I had. Mr Hinton - of the pipe and sports jacket, taught my class (2A) over at the Annex just opposite the Jewish Cemetery, He had his favorites, two of whom were Susan Young and Gwendolyn Keats who would make tea at break time. Mr Dibbens (known in my year as "Flob a Dob") was a twitchy maniac who would launch into tirades and violence at the least provocation. We thought he was a WWII Veteran and had been a prisoner of war under the Japanese - along with a Mr Phillips (who did apparently endure captivity under the Japanese) whom we never saw much of but who taught drama from time to time. We thought that Mr Dibbens' outbursts and frothing at the mouth had to do with the time he spent under the thumb of the Knights of Bushido in the Far East. My last year, during which the iniquitous 11-Plus exam landed on our desks, was taught by Miss Cox. She was a tough teacher and for a few years after I'd left the Downs I went to see her in the summers for tea as she had retired. She was a real peach. Mr Morgan was Headmaster and a fiend for arithmetic and times tables. I swear that the Head Master portrayed in John Boorman's 'Hope and Glory' was based in part on Mr. Morgan - also a Welshman.
By Phil Allsopp (07/07/2009)

I was at the Down's School from 1953 to 1958. On my first day, winter 1953, there were huge icicles hanging on the school porch. In the infants' class, there was a real fire roaring in the fireplace, with the milk bottle crates put in front of it to thaw because they were frozen solid. I think we were given cod liver oil and lovely sweet orange juice as well as milk - am I remembering this right? Once I remember it bucketing down with rain so hard that we not only stayed under cover in the big playground shelter at break time but actually stood on the bench seat at the back because the rain was flooding the shelter. Does anyone remember the school choir, under Mr Taylor, winning an inter-school competition of some kind, with a song that might have been about Hiawatha? We were going to be in the radio afterwards, but when the radio team turned up unexpectedly to record, we were so unprepared we made a a complete mess of it and it was never broadcast.

By Honor (27/09/2009)

I just came across this page whilst surfing the web. My years at Ditchling Road primary from approximately 1947 to 1953 were probably the best years of my life except for one female teacher and one male teacher who took P.E.   I was in the A class right through. Now retired in Oz,but still got my memories.

By David Taylor (26/12/2009)

I started at Ditchling Rd School in August 1929, the teacher in the first grade was a Miss Andrews. She had her work cut out with 40+ children, ages varying from 4yrs 2 months to 4 yrs 9 months. The older children were given reading instruction, the younger, of which I was one, were not. I was frustrated because I was eager to read and write and was considered disruptive, I therefore left Ditchling Rd for Lewes Rd school early in 1931, where I was given more advanced instruction. My older brother Ron and my sister Elsie continued at Ditchling Road but, very sadly, Elsie died in March 1930 at the age of 10.

By tony burlelton (29/01/2010)

Does anyone remember when the original school railings were taken down. Was this part of the war effort?

By Jasmin Ward (31/01/2010)

We moved from Sayers Common to Viaduct Rd in 1942 and remember my sister walking me, age seven, up Ditchling Rd to my new school - what a large building (our old school had two classrooms and teachers about 35 kids from 4 to 11). My most vivid recall are the slides in winter down the length of the playground, cards and marbles against the cookery building wall. Miss Renno(?) was the headmistres who, over some time, read Jungle Book to us. Went onto Fawcett in 1960.

By Ron Knight (04/04/2010)

Does anyone remember Miss Porter from the Infants (always dressed in black) or maths teacher Mr Urquart?

By Maurice Brice (12/10/2010)

The wrought iron gates and fences were removed from schools and houses about 1942. I lived in Richmond Road at the time and was quite upset to come home from school and find the heavy gates on our rented house had been removed. I used to love to swing on them. They even removed the hinges. Some lovely very old gates from manor houses etc., all went for the war effort.

By Jennifer Goddard nee Norrell (29/03/2012)

Having only just discovered this lovely nostalgic page about Ditchling Road School I have been able to read many memories of other former 'kids' who attended there around the years that I was there, infants & junior until 1947; I will be 80 in June 2013 and still have many happy memories of those years although they were war times. I have lived since 1970 in Western Australia but have been back to Brighton many times since (and even had a look around the school a few years ago when there was some building work being carried out there.) I would love to hear from anyone who may feel like contacting me. Email is  jaykayess33@hotmail.com

By John Starley (22/02/2013)

I also started at the Downs School in 1949 until 1955. I remember the teachers, Miss Young, Mr Newton, Mr Taylor, Miss Knight her pet subject was the Tudors, Mr Boniface (had the stamp club), Mr Emmons the Head Master - I believe his daughter also went to the same school. I remember also Pat Fox who was in the same year as ourselves. who added a comment in 07/02/2009. Great times!

By Joe (22/02/2013)

Over the years since being at The Downs/ Ditchling Road School, all the class photos I had have been lost I have found many earlier ones and later photos on this amazing site. Has anyone got class photos around the 1949 to 1955? For some reason none seem to appear, I would love to see them.

By Joe (23/02/2013)

I was at the school until 1943 when I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to Varndean. The teachers in the last two years were Miss Kennard and Miss Cowton. Even at that age I was keen on the girls and remember Margaret Fenemore, Norah Barrow, Pat Lambkin, Ann Hugget and Sylvia Stallard. Boys in the class included Tony Crapnell, Brian Davey, Michael Harmes, Peter Williams and John Jasper.
On the way home (Springfield Road) one day an air raid started up and I ran up the steps of the nearest house to seek shelter. I was admitted by two Margaret Rutherford types who ushered me (together with cat) to a place of safety under the stairs until the all clear sounded!

By Chris Strick (09/07/2014)

I was at Ditchling Road School from approx 1941 and then to Margaret Hardy Secondary School.  I wonder if anyone remembers me? My nickname was Bunny.

By Valerie Lees (nee Pentecost) (11/10/2014)

I was interested to see the post from Chris Strick. I was in his class and went on with him until we were 18yrs. Others in the class which he did not mention were (I think) Marion Hill, Ralph Wadey, Peter Divall and Jean Fennimor. I think our last teacher was Miss Kenward. An earlier post mentioned Miss Porter (always dressed in black). I recall that her classroom had the times tables (1 - 12) written on the blackboard round the room. Every morning first thing we had to recite one or more of the tables. I seem to remember that at some point we had to share the school with another school which had been evacuated, and we then had reduced hours. We had some extra sessions which I think took place in the  hall in Stanford Avenue Methodist Church. As others have mentioned, during air raids we spent time in the underground air raid shelters dug into the playground. I still recall the smell of damp concrete down there. Happily there were no bombs dropped nearby at the time, although in 1943 I remember walking past the aftermath of the bombs which hit the clinic and the buildings near the Astoria on my way home.

By Tony Crapnell (22/11/2014)

Thank you, Tony, for reminding me of Jean Fennemore. She sat behind me in one class and when the teacher mentioned the Bay of Biscay she leant forward and whispered "the Bay of Biscuits" in my ear. I burst out laughing and got the ruler on the knuckles. It will always be the Bay of Biscuits to me and I forgive you, Jean.

By Chris Strick (06/02/2016)

If you're already a registered user of this site, please login using the form on the left-hand side of this page.