Ditchling Road School

Photo:The author, sporting his Rupert Club badge

The author, sporting his Rupert Club badge

Photo taken by Jerome in Western Road: from the private collection of Kenneth Why

Fond memories of the 1930s

By Kenneth Why

I was admitted to the school in 1933 at the age of 5 and enjoyed it. Miss Haffenden was in charge but the dominating teacher was Miss Wigmore, who took on all comers to the extent when my Mother visited her to make a complaint she replied,  “You would not expect me to visit you on a Monday morning to tell you how to do your washing, so leave the teaching to me!” My Mother never forgot and her son became a teacher!  

Miss Porter made an impression
The next teacher who made an impression on me was Miss Porter, a mature lady, grey hair tied back in a bun, and long flowing silk dress. Her speciality was copper plate handwriting, and I dare say my love and practice of calligraphy grew out of this. Incidentally I still have my school reports of this period; I suppose they should belong in someone’s official archives now?  

Miss Renno’s flowing dresses
Later on it was off to Miss Louise Renno in the Junior Mixed Department. She too wore long flowing dresses and spent her time in a cute little study up the staircase, opposite the side-entrance to the school. She regularly had each one of us read to her, so we were known to her as well as to the other teachers. She had a shelf on which was a collection of wooden carvings brought back each year from the Austrian Tyrol, where she spent her holidays. Did she, I wonder, have relatives there or was it an annual tryst such as I have known others keep? 

Teacher’s vocational sacrifice
If they loved teaching, ladies had to sacrifice marriage in those days, in order to fulfill one’s vocation – what a stupid waste! Staff names which roll into my mind were Miss Richardson, Miss Cowton, Miss Kenward, Mr.Patchin, Mr. Urquhart (we mutually disliked one another, I can’t think why). But I acknowledge he made the most extraordinary puppet theatre and created the characters to populate it. He it was who introduced me to Pinocchio. 

My great hero ‘Dick' Webb
I suppose the great hero was ‘Dick’ Web of IVA who few in Brighton from my generation have ever forgotten. My favourite lesson was music when he would sit down at the piano and we would sing Gilbert & Sullivan songs such as, “ By a tree in a meadow a little bird sat, Singing willow-tit-willow-tit-willow, and then the next line at which we all giggled , “And I said to him dickie bird why do you sit, singing willow-tit-willow –tit willow?” We remained friends whilst I still lived near Brighton in the 60s and 70s. 

As seen on the ‘Antiques Road Show’
Miss Richardson, a friend of my father, taught me the Flamborough Sword Dance at the end of which, if all had gone according to plan, one of the dancers held aloft a lattice work of wooden swords which the dance had woven in its course. She was also an excellent needle woman, and when I went to Patcham Secondary as a pupil teacher there she was to welcome me in the staff room. My final glimpse of her was on the ‘Antiques Road Show’ when my wife thought I had gone mad as I was jumping up and shouting “There’s Agnes Richardson!”  

School party at Christmas
Christmas was always good for a school party with Mr. Box, the local philanthropist, climbing into the Hall by way of one of the ground floor windows, complete with Santa Claus outfit and sack. It was in that Hall where we performed our plays; my memory is of being a Chinese gentleman with a plait which hung down at the back in a piece called “Willow Pattern Plate”.  

Visiting speakers
Mr. Challis, of Brighton Schoolboy Boxing also used to pay us a visit from time to time. I remember the visits too of a Scot, named Mr. Watters, who advised on our Physical Education. I gather he once got a very rough reception at PrestonRoadSchool – someone else may know the full story, but it was ruled by a tyrant in those days. Eventually those idyllic years of creating raffia place mats, weaving woollen rugs, lino cuts and water colours had to end.

This page was added on 11/11/2009.
Comments about this page

It is interesting to see yet another mentiion of a Mr Box. A more detailed note about the two generous brothers is at Queens Park Infants School - "A Day at Mr Box's at Hassocks".

By Dennis Parrett (12/11/2009)

Kenneth, thank you. What a lovely cameo piece on a child's experiences at school. This site will bear testament to so much schooling history in Brighton. It will be a living testament to people like the 'Box Brothers' who gave so much joy to generations of Brighton children, and the teachers, loved and not so loved, that made us much of what we are. I love it all.

By Jeremy Homeward (13/11/2009)

Greetings Kenneth Why from Stella Green through the regreen site. I was fascinated to read your account “Fond memories of the 1930s” and can clearly recall the teachers mentioned in your article. I suspect I was a little ahead of you because at age five I probably entered Ditchling Road School in 1931, and am amazed that your parents passed on your school reports. Mine are long gone. My first teacher was Miss Martin, and I can clearly remember her holding my hand to take me into the classroom, and looking down at me saying “don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you.” Seems silly now to think that she would even put the idea into my head. I did keep in touch with some of my friends from Ditchling Road when we went our separate ways after eleven years old, and still keep in touch with my best girl friend from those days. I also wonder what careers folk like Kenneth Penfold and Horace Harris followed. I also remember Dickie Webb, and believe that he was also a personal friend of my cousin, Reg Hook, and his father, John Hook. Thanks for the memories.

By Robert (Bob) Green (17/12/2009)

The Messrs Box were still offering school visits to their country home near Hassocks in 1957. I recall our first year juniors' visit on a beautiful sunny day that summer, and my slipping down the bank of their pond and getting my shoes soaked through. Great to see mention of the Messrs Box - I've been looking for info on them for years.

By Len Liechti (29/12/2009)

This page evoked memories for me as I'm now in my 80s. As an Infant I remember Miss Haffenden. As a Junior I remember Misses, Renno, Richardsen, Cowtan, and Mr Urchart. As a Senior, briefly before going to Intermediate Boys, I remember Messrs Hunt and Metcalf. Does anyone remember Merrie England visits at the Dome with school?

By Desmond Divall (19/09/2010)

Oh how the memory is jogged by these comments! Miss Renno lived in Beaconsfield Villas. Miss Cowton used to take us swimming at North Road Baths - never taught anyone to swim, she remained well out of the water. Miss Clifford was another one - she hated me, once she broke a ruler on my hand and had the audacity to ask my mother to pay for it at a parents' evening. That was the Junior School and then with trepidation we moved into the Senior Boys' School. Mr Lugg was my first teacher there, he was of a rather rotund figure and I am afraid we used to call him Slug - very cheeky we thought. Mr Paterson was the Woodwork teacher and I have, to this day, a table lamp made under his supervision, I liked him. Mr Urquart was not impressed with me really and I was always ready to keep out of the way when he was around. Now Mr Fennymore was a real teacher (I am sure it was spelt that way but someone said his name was spelt Fenemore). However he was great and years later when I was in R.A.F uniform he saw me in Baker Street and looked at me and said "You're young Lockwood. How are you?" And that was the calibre of that man - he knew us all and respected us as we did him.

By Garry Lockwood (11/01/2011)

How wonderful to be taken back to those schooldays. I remember Des Divall. I lived at 5 Hollingbury Road opposite Mrs Divall. I can't believe so many of us are still alive! I remember the war years when they dug up all the playgrounds and put zig-zag trenches beneath them then filled them back in again leaving only two entrances. I spent much of my time in the trenches and found it pretty boring. There wasn't much to do except wait for the all clear to sound and it was so cold and uncomfortable sitting on those wooden seats. I started in the Infants in 1935 and left to go to Varndean in 1941.

By Dorothy Hobbs (nee Stevens) (12/02/2011)

I don't remember an incendiary bomb falling on the school but it was probably covered in sand from the numerous red buckets situated around the place. They seemed only to be dropped to cause fires and could easily be extinguished apparently though I never had cause to do so. But I do remember the bomb which dropped on the dust destructor. We were over in Florence Road Church Hall doing our exercises when the bomb fell. We all rushed to dive under a wooden table - about 30 of us - as the ceiling and bits of glass flew around. We weren't injured despite this and were soon sent home. As we left the hall the wardens were hurrying us home and when one of them asked us where we lived he said that's where the bomb fell! However when we arrived home everyone was standing out in the street since the whole street had lost its windows! In our house the downstairs windows had been blown outwards and the upstairs in, all over the bedroom. How lucky that my foster mum - known affectionately as "Nanny Norman" - had been sitting lookng out of the front room window. She said she had seen the plane and the bomb it had dropped. She said she watched the bomb seem to glide slowly down the road, and then all the windows were sucked out. Our beloved chimney in the dust yard was still in tact and nobody was injured as far as we knew. I used to go over to the dust yard early in the evening to play and to watch the black rats as big as cats scattering around to find food. They weren't interested in us and never came near so we had no need to fear them.

By Dorothy Hobbs (nee Stevens) (13/02/2011)

Desmond - if you remember me would you email me? - would love to chat over old times. I'm 81 now.
[Editor: Dorothy - would you like us to pass your email address on to Desmond?]

By Dorothy Hobbs (Stevens) (17/08/2011)

Anyone can have my email address if they want. Des Divall - Do contact me please. I remember you so well - Think you were a bit older than I. I have so enjoyed reading all the memories of others and the different memories they have of each teacher. Was nice to hear more of Mr Webb - one of the nicest men you could meet.

By Dorothy A Hobbs (Called Alma Stevens in the infants) (11/09/2011)

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