1976 - 1983 - Chelmsford County High School
By the time I reached Grammar School (Chelmsford County High School), I was seriously nerdy with poor social skills. I was a target for bullies straight away. One rough girl (let's call her "X") and her coterie made my life a misery for 5 years. X smoked down the school field, smuggled in vodka in medicine bottles and led on the other girls. In the second year, so many girls in my class smoked that the whole class rather unfairly got detention. After a few years of verbal and physical abuse I finally snapped, lashed out and hit someone. The physical bullying stopped, but the verbal abuse continued until X and most of her followers left after O Levels. I already knew that if you told the teachers they punished the bullies and the bullying went underground. Embarrassingly, in my last couple of years there, another girl developed a crush on me (maybe she mistook my nerdy engineering mindset for something else).
After passing the 11-Plus and accepting a place at CCHS, I went to an induction evening with my parents. Part of this was spent sitting in the school Hall hearing about what the school had to offer - this was pitched both at parents and at prospective intake pupils. Parents could also ask questions. Afterwards there was a tour of part of the school building to show off the teaching facilities.
One big shock were the sheer number of pupils. Primary school had fewer than 200 children, while secondary school had closer to 800. I'd gone from being the cleverest girl at school to being average. The other shock was commuting to school. My parents drove everywhere so I knew nothing about bus travel. My parents' advice, apart from the bus numbers, was to follow other girls so I knew where to get off for school and where to find the bus stop for going home. For several weeks I missed the "first bus" home through getting out of the last class to slowly. It was half an hour for the next bus - no big deal if you're familiar with the buses, but I felt that I was stranded in an unfamiliar town! The trick turned out to be to pack your homework stuff your bag, take your coat etc into last class and take your stuff from last lesson home with you because there wasn't time to go back to your form room and put it back in your desk. The French teacher in first year was notorious for overrunning so that we missed our buses. When I was in second or third year there was a bus strike and we were all stranded in Chelmsford. A group of us heading back to Witham and Braintree ended up walking to the rail station and pooling our money to get home by train. We then had to phone from the rail station to get picked up as it was a couple of miles from home. Up till then, I'd hardly ever travelled by train, and never done so without my parents.
Travelling during foul weather and in winter could also be challenging. We were supposed to be at school by 8:45, but in severe fog or snow there were public transport problems. If you arrived during main assembly, you had to sit in the dining hall and you were allowed into the main Hall just before the notices got read. If you got to school later than that you were supposed to join your class, but you wouldn't have any text books or exercise books with you except the ones you'd taken home for homework (and if you had homework to hand in, you put it in the teacher's pigeonhole and you filled out a "late slip" if she'd already collected everyone else's), then you'd have to go to your form room to get your books between lessons (unless it was a double lesson in that room). If you got to school late and you had school dinners you were supposed to sign the Late Dinners book outside the secretary's office. Otherwise the kitchen wouldn't make enough dinners to go round.
There were a couple of winters in the late 1970s that were so snowy the buses couldn't get through from Braintree. If enough pupils were affected, school closed early so the ones who did get there could get home safely; sometimes school got a phone call to say bus services between Chelmsford and somewhere else were being suspended at such-and-such time, which meant pupils who lived on that route had to leave in time for the last bus before services were suspended. We had to make an effort to get to school though. In heavy snow, my bus could take an hour to get from my stop on Bocking Churchstreet to Braintree Bus Park; we'd wait there to find out if the bus was going on to Chelmsford or turning back to Halstead. When I moved to Howe Green at the end of Fifth form travel was less exciting.
When school was founded, methods of transport included pony and trap, bicycle and omnibus. Girls who lived a fair distance away spent five days a week living at the School Hostel further down Broomfield Road. Girls living closest to school walked or cycled. Some were dropped off by parents on the way to work. By Sixth form, some had motorbikes (which were parked at one end of the bike racks) and a few had cars and driving licences; they had to park on side roads opposite the school. During my years there, the most common form of transport was Eastern National bus. The distance from my home in Braintree to school (measured along the 311 bus route) was 13.5 miles and took 1 hour on average. Some girls travelled approximately 15 miles which took a little over an hour and involved changing buses part way along the route. No-one thought anything of it (apart from written homework done on the bus home was a bit untidy as a result), though the school now wants to impose a 12.5 mile limit because pupils are tired from commuting longer distances. After moving to Chelmsford I sometimes cycled to school so I could go cycling with friends afterwards.
In 1977, the big national occasion was Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee. Our normally sober classrooms got a bit more decoration. Miss Pattison had met the Queen Mother and in 1962 the Queen Mother had visited CCHS, so school was a supporter of royalty. A lot of us had jubilee stickers on our books and school bags. I'm sure there was a lot more going on, but I don't remember it!
During my third year there was a nationwide paper shortage. To save paper we were asked to fit two lines of writing per ruled line of a standard feint exercise book. For one History essay I managed to fit 3 lines per line of standard feint, but apparently it played havoc with the teacher’s eyes. A lot of us still read comics and many of those comics combined two-into-one in order to save paper and they split up again when the paper shortage was over (a couple of years later we would get into teen magazines).
From about 3rd year, I was aware that some of the girls developed crushes either on a teacher (usually a sports mistress) or on one of the Sixth formers. Sometimes this was more a case of hero worship than attraction, though there were rumours of "incidents" where a girl had made advances. There were also rumours about the orientation of some teachers; no-one actually cared either way and it was just part of school gossip. In single sex education there simply weren't any male teachers to have crushes on. We had a male maths teacher for one term and I believe he was the only male teacher the school has had (presumably the school is exempt from the usual sex discrimination rules when employing teachers) and some girls became more interested in flirting than in maths. When I became ill at 17, the fact I'd been in single sex education led one doctor to suggest that I was sexually confused and in denial about being attracted to my classmates (not so! when we had building contractors on site I was one of the girls covertly ogling them).
In our final year we were allowed to do some fun activities such as hold a garden party behind the Sixth Form House. This involved cucumber sandwiches, flouncy dresses, lacy gloves and wide brimmed hats. We weren't allowed wine, but there was plenty of tea. The staff were invited so it was partly a thank you in the last weeks of formal lessons before A Levels. After A Levels, we'd go our different ways. Sadly the lovely garden behind the Sixth Form House (where we once had a goat tethered to keep the lawn trimmed) has been built on since I left.
I've never been to a high school reunion. Dad was a school governor, but when we got a new headmistress who wanted to change everything, he didn't get on with her. The headmistress threatened to change my school records in the hope of getting me to make dad "toe the line" (her words). I never told him - at least not until I was in my 40s. At the time I was frightened she might doctor my records sufficiently to expel me in order to spite him (at my first job interviews I had to explain why I could not able to provide school records as a reference). After leaving school, I never received invites for the Old Girls' Society or reunions though other girls were invited to "stay in touch" with the school. Maybe mine got lost in the post, but I suspect it was never actually posted.
The history of CCHS was printed in the School Magazine over the years and a sense of its history was instilled in all of us, right from the start. On the wall between the Headmistress's Office and the Gym were photos of the previous headmistresses. Sometimes, former headmistresses (Miss Cadbury) or governors (Miss Cramphorn) came to speak to the school at assembly.
Early Floor Plan. Rooms 4 & 5 (with 13 and 13A above) were not part of the original building
if you compare the floor plan to early photos, but were added along with a new entrance for "Juniors".
A Walk Round Secondary School
The main part of CCHS was basically built around a quadrangle (the "Quad"), although the building had grown add-ons over its long history (built in the early 1900s). There was a large entrance in the centre of the front facade, but that was for staff and visitors. The usual entrance for uniformed pupils was the door with "Juniors" inscribed on the lintel to the far left of the front facade. After going through this door, to the left were Rooms 4 and 5 (general teaching rooms). Straight ahead (north corridor) there were lower school toilets and Rooms 7 and 8 on the right hand side. A spur opposite Room 7 led to coat pegs and the Music Room (room 6, I think). Halfway to the Music Room on the left was an open area (used in my day for coats) that later got turned into another class room; on the right hand side opposite this area was a short corridor to the science labs (Chemistry Lab on the left, Biology Lab on the right, Room 22 - set out as a lecture room - at the end). This short dead end corridor was fascinating because it held the cabinet of pickled biology specimen. Between the science labs and the main "square" of the school was a green area with a small pond in it.
If you turned right after going through the Juniors door (west corridor), on the right was Room 3 (a small maths room), Room 2, school offices and Room 1 (History Room) all on the right hand side. Opposite Room 1 was Room 6 whose occupants got to ring the lesson bell! The Stationery Room was also along here. Opposite the Maths Room were stairs up to Room 11, (two thirds of the way up) and then 13, 13A, The Needlework Room (Room 12) and the Cookery Room at the top. In a dead-end section of corridor between the cookery room and needlework room were fridges, freezers and a pantry used by cookery class. There were some Middle school loos under the stairs. Opposite the History Room were stairs leading to Room 15 (Latin Room, again two thirds of the way up) and the staff room (and homework pigeonholes) and the opposite end of the long Cookery Room at the top. To the left of the main staffroom (i.e. the south end of upstairs) was a classroom that had become another staffroom, and unlike the main room this had a window panel in the door. There was a small seating area outside of this smaller room so that a teacher could talk to you without you going into these rooms. It was pretty nerve-wracking if you got sent to knock at the staffroom to ask for one of the teachers. Near the foot of these stairs was a short passage leading to the Sick Room and to a door that led into the Quad behind this original bit of the school building. Past Rooms 1 and 2 was the school gym and a corridor turning to the left which led to the school hall and canteen (this south corridor was an enclosed walkway that once separated the main school building from the gym hall).
If you continued straight on down the north corridor after going in through the Juniors door, you went past Rooms 7 and 8 (on the right), past coat pegs (on the left), past the corridor to the Music Room and science labs (to the left) and you had to turn right into the east corridor. On the left of the east corridor were the middle school loos, Rooms 9 and 10 (Geography Room) and at the end of that corridor on the left were stairs up to the library (1st floor) and lower 6th form rooms (18 and 18A, I think) and art room (2nd floor). Under the stairs were the 6th form loos. At the end of the corridor you went across the Quad to get to the school hall and canteen.
The two-storey library/art block on pillars above one end of the Quad. This formed a covered walkway between east corridor and the Hall and dining room. It was also popular on rainy break times if you didn't want to stay in the classroom. The covered area was used for storage of chairs, large wooden "boxes" (used as props on the stage and also as steps and as tables for fundraising stalls). A common game was to jump up and "touch the beams" i.e. the horizontal concrete beams supporting the library floor. On the main Hall side of the covered area were steps that led down under the stage, this was where the props for plays were stored and was out of bounds unless you had permission (drama club activities, Sixth form revue, school orchestra activities etc). When I was leaving, there were plans to enclose this and create more teaching rooms.
At the far right of the front facade was a large entrance leading into the gym, which is actually a separate hall tacked on and had been the original assembly hall when there were far fewer pupils. It still had that function for House assemblies and on one occasion for when the whole of lower school got a stern telling off over "manners" when getting on the bus (a member of the public had reported us as being more like a rugby scrum than young ladies). Between the gym and the outside door there was a foyer area with a PE office to one side and a big box of "lost and found" PE kit. To mum's annoyance, girls who forgot their own kit sometimes borrowed indiscriminately from other lockers and then left the borrowed kit lying around in the changing room. Staff put abandoned kit in the lost and found box. The Gym had 4 doors: the big front doors, the doors to the main (west) corridor, the door to the changing room and doors to the dining hall that had been tacked on to the south side. All outdoor shoes had to be removed when going into the Gym, except when it was used as a themed restaurant at Christmas Fayre.
I will always remember the smell of the changing rooms; a mix of bleach, sweaty shoes, sweaty bodies and damp clothes that dried off in the lockers (goodness knows how it didn't sprout mould). Each locker was divided into several wire compartments and each girl had a tall compartment for clothing and the small compartment underneath for footwear. I think each locker served 9 people i.e. no individual lockable lockers to prevent your kit being "borrowed". The lockers lined most of the sides of the changing room and there were central benches with clothes pegs over them to hang uniform on during sports lessons. Valuables were put on the Gym windowsill or in the PE shed, depending on whether it was indoor or outdoor PE. There were showers and we were encouraged to use them, but in reality there just wasn't time and very few people enjoy chilly showers. There were a couple of toilets and basins in here, which also got used by pupils in the main Hall and dining hall. Along the side of changing rooms, facing the quad, was the covered way. The fully enclosed section led from the main corridor, alongside the gym, and finished at double doors at the other end of the gym (this had once been an open alleyway). It then continued, open along one side, alongside the changing rooms and the the double doors of the block housing the main hall and dining hall. The gymnasium side of the covered way was often covered with inspirational posters which we readas we queued to get into the hall for assembly.
Tacked onto the far right beyond the gym was a modern building tacked on to the school - the dining halls, kitchens and assembly hall. Just in front of these was a detached house that used to be the original caretaker's residence, but which became class rooms for smaller classes (usually 6th formers). Along with some school friends, I helped redecorate this building during a holiday period. We submitted an estimate and plans, and even references from our parents who had let us redecorate our own bedrooms, to one of the Deputy Headmistresses. School provided the money for woodchip wallpaper (to cover the uneven walls), Polyfilla (to fill the worst of the holes where shelves had been removed), paint and decorating equipment. Rather unfairly the school newsletter/magazine credited all of this effort to the newly formed PTA (the previous one had disbanded when Miss Pattison retired) who had converted the cloakroom area opposite the science labs into an additional music room. It's time to put the record straight - this building was redecorated by Sixth formers wanting to give something back to their school!
Back to the Music Room corridor at the far left (north) of the school .... at the end of the corridor by the Music Room was an exit.. Turn right and you got to Bancroft Wing which ran down the side of the top playing field. This was a long building housing the physics labs and named after a former headmistress. At the top on the right were the toilets. Then there were 3 rooms on the right: B1, B2 and B3. B2 and B3 were used for Physics while B1 was smaller and used for Biology, especially for dissection classes. Right at the end of the corridor was a room used for storage and occasionally for small tutorials.
Tacked onto the end of Bancroft Wing and accessed from the playing field, not from Bancroft itself, was the school swimming pool. Turn left at the end of the corridor instead, and you got to an Upper 6th pre-fab (Room 25) and the 6th form house (which used to be the house next to the school, but was acquired and adapted into teaching rooms). There were various other rooms, changing rooms and buildings and after I left the open area under the library (which was part of the old Quad) was apparently enclosed and turned into more classrooms.
At the back of the school were plenty of playing fields. Looking from school, the top Sports Field was bounded to the north by Bancroft and the swimming pool and at the top end by the east corridor of school. The tennis courts were to the right, bounded on the south by the Keene Homes (and screened by a row of cedar trees). There was a long hedge between the top field and the bottom field (the tennis courts went right the way down the right hand side of the bottom field as well). Then a hedge separating the bottom field from the allotments, where there was sometimes a flasher. To the north of Bancroft was another playing field, formerly the KEGS (boys school) cricket field which became our athletics field. Part of this has been Astroturfed and part has been tarmac-ed over to replace the tennis courts that were lost when Chelmer Valley Road was built (this road also wiped out allotments and a pleasant footpath which went alongside the river all the way to Broomfield). The remains of the bottom sports field seems to have trees on it now. When I looked at recent satellite images, I found it sad that large amounts of the sports fields have been lost to buildings.
Having spent so many years there, I can recreate much of the school, as it was between 1976 and 1983, in my mind. I sometimes dream I am walking round the school, almost like a ghost. Sometimes I am hurrying to lessons, but more often I've forgotten my books and can't find my form room or I'm in the wrong lesson. I have sometimes thought I'd like to go back and walk around, though the changes would jar with my memories.
There were altercations and I wasn't a perfect pupil by any means. As well as poor social skills, I was too self-opinionated and I stood my ground - positive qualities for my line of work, but not at school. The problem for school was that I do not automatically respect authority figures such as teachers - they have to earn my respect (I didn't disrespect them and I wasn't disruptive, but I often questioned things that I considered unfair). The French teacher was convinced I wasn't trying, but when I changed French teachers, I actually did surprisingly well and got a good grade - the first teacher's immersion method simply didn't suit my way of learning.
In 1979, the headmistress retired and the new headmistress threatened me several times. Dad was a parent governor and she thought she could control him by threatening me. She even threatened to "change my school records" showing me as a troublemaker. This meant I couldn't use my school records as references in my first jobs. The new headmistress came from the sciences and her emphasis on these meant that other subjects, in which we'd had a good reputation, started to fall by the wayside. She seemed unable to steer an even keel.
In the First year I was in Room 5 with English teacher Mrs Dunstan as Form Mistress. In Second year I was in the Music Room (Room 6) and we had Mrs "English" Greenwood (there was also a Mrs "music" Greenwood). Third Year was Room 13 upstairs and our Form Mistress was the History teacher, Miss Pearson, but we were too noisy and got moved to Room 1 downstairs. Fourth Year was Room 7 with Miss Burns the Biology teacher as Form Mistress; she was much more of a disciplinarian and the class had a reputation for being noisy or unruly. Fifth Form was Room 10 (Geography Room) and Mrs Hickman. Lower Sixth form room was 18A with Miss Judge and Upper Sixth form room was Room 25 (the demountable) also with Miss Judge.
Once on school premises, we were not allowed to leave without good reason. Between First and Fifth Years, we had to stay in the grounds during lunchtime (i.e. no leaving school grounds to buy food from fast food places). A favourite place to spend warm and sunny lunchtimes was the paved path that ran alongside Bancroft to the swimming pool. With the wall of Bancroft on one side and a wire fence the other side, this path was usually lined with girls sitting with their backs to the wall or the fence and reading comics, Jackie magazine or doing homework. You had to pick your way over outstretched legs and school bags to one or other end of the path when you wanted to move elsewhere. Other favourite places were behind the hedge that divided the top sports field (used for hockey and tennis depending on the season) from bottom field (used for hockey or athletics depending on season) and against the boundaries of the former KEGS cricket field. We used to sneak a radio into school on Tuesdays to listen to the new Top 40 pop charts at lunchtime. Dinner ladies patrolled the fields so you had to keep one eye out as radios were not allowed at school.
On the south-west corner of the top sports field (the corner by the Keene's memorial homes and the school hall) was a weeping willow tree. On the south-east corner, between the entrance to the tennis courts and the gap in the hedge to the bottom field, was the PE shed where hockey sticks were stored in winter, and tennis rackets were stored in summer. These were numbered and you ended up with preferred sticks/rackets identifiable by colour and number. Hurdles were also stored in the PE shed in summer. In the north-east corner of the bottom field (diagonally the PE shed) was a second PE shed beside a mound of earth that must have been excavated when the shed was built. Running alongside the bottom hedge (dividing the field from allotments) was the long jump area. Between this PE shed and the swimming pool was the high jump area. We also did shot putt and javelin as well as track events. The "KEGS field" ran behind houses on Broomfield Road, between the school and First Avenue. here was grass path leading to an entrance to the field between two houses on Broomfield Road - this was a set of big gates between brick pillars and sometimes dinner ladies had to shoo CCHS girls away as they were talking to boys there! Where the grass path met the playing field was a cricket pavilion that was out of bounds. It was a good place to hide behind to listen to a smuggled-in radio. In summer, the athletics track was on this field.
In lower school, skipping games were popular; the ones where you had two girls tuning a long rope and others jumped in or out during a chant. Sometimes there were 2 ropes, turned in opposing directions. The game I remember ended with "take (however many) salts or else you're dead!" and the "salts" were double speed skips. Another game involved all-but-one of us linking hands in a ring and tangling ourselves up (without unlinking hands) then calling the "doctor" to "cure" (unravel) us. In 3rd, 4th and 5th form these games were considered babyish, but at the end of 5th form (O Level time) and sometimes in Sixth form, we'd let out hair down and play junior school games again.
In Third year, part of the Integrated Studies afternoon was to go into town and take notes and make sketches. In Sixth Form we were allowed to go to the reference library if we had "free periods" in the afternoon. At that time, the reference library was by the bus station, underneath the lending library. We were also allowed out at lunchtime. As we no longer wore uniform, this often meant going to the pub as we looked old enough (this may be an argument in favour of a Sixth form uniform). It was well-known that you could get pot at the Prince of Orange pub (Hall Street, just off Moulsham Street, just behind the Elim Church) and a couple of girls were a bit "not with it" in the afternoon as a result. Sometimes we'd cadge a lift back from one of the Marconi apprentices who had a large enough car. I remember several of us plying a friend with strong coffee in the hope that teachers would notice she was stoned. We also spent many free periods in friends flats above shops on Broomfield Road as they were rented out to Marconi apprentices (these shops and flats were demolished, along with part of Cedar Avenue, when the Parkway extension was built).
The Chelmsford County High School for Girls (CCHS) motto was "Vitae lampada ferimus" (we carry the lamps/lights of life) and the crest was a flaming torch set against the Essex county symbol of three seaxes. While primary school theoretically had a uniform of white and grey, it was never adhered to. CCHS staff acted as school uniform police and would caution you for infractions whether or not you were on school premises. Other schools also had a the “uniform gestapo”. We had a few "discretionary days" (a day's holiday while they did staff training or got the central heating running) which didn’t always coincide with other schools’ discretionary days. On one such day I'd been shopping (because my bus pass was still valid even though school was on holiday!) and was hanging out with uniformed pupils from another school at the local bus station. I got a tongue lashing from one of their teachers about me being out of uniform. At the end of it I just told the teacher that I didn't go to her school. For some reason this gave me huge satisfaction (I suppose I could answer back and be in the right for once!). The teacher did not apologise - they never did. We were also supposed to have briefcases or satchel-style bags, not rucksacks or sports bags. After the first year I was fed up of being teased about carrying a black briefcase and went through a succession of shoulder bags.
CCHS uniform for years 1 – 3 was long-sleeved white blouse with lapels (short sleeved in summer) and a shapeless 2-tone blue tunic made of hardwearing upholstery-fabric that stuck to walls when you leaned on them. A blue and white striped tie was compulsory with the long sleeved blouse . Knee-length socks and flat shoes (brown or black) were worm in winter, but sandals (but no open toes and no sling backs) were allowed in summer. Nylons were permitted after 3rd form. There was an optional regulation pattern blue summer dress which was cooler than wearing the tunic in summer. In the 3rd year the tunic became optional and we could wear an upholstery-fabric skirt instead. If home made, it had to be a simple A-line skirt. Subtle make-up was allowed from 5th form onwards. Luckily school boaters (straw hats) were a thing of the past and I don't think there were ever school berets, though plain woollen hats were tolerated in very cold weather. I can't remember anyone fussing too much about the colour of our woollen gloves, but they were probably meant to be black or blue,
The panorama is best opened in a new window – it’s a very long photo!
There was a thin French navy jumper once tunic days were over (thank goodness for Damart undies, it did nothing to aid warmth). There was a French navy blazer with the school crest on the pocket. This was compulsory on certain occasions and during summer instead of a coat. It was also warmer than the jumper. In colder weather there was a school regulation blue gabardine knee length coat that did not keep out the cold. Same colour warmer alternatives were grudgingly permitted, but my parents insisted on following the uniform to the letter (all obtained from official outfitter Hornes in Southend). The school regulation scarf was French navy with longitudinal white stripes. I got told off for wearing my "Dr Who scarf" (a multicolour effort about 20 foot long, similar to that worn by Dr Who in the Tom Baker era), so that got hidden in a carrier bag and only worn on the bus. Several of us customised our school regulation coats with non-regulation belts (mine was a denim one from Oxfam) until spotted by the uniform gestapo. For a while I got away with wearing a plain blue pleated skirt in fifth form, but only because my family were in the middle of moving house and hadn't had time to get a new regulation skirt to replace the one I'd outgrown.
Sometimes, when walking from the bus or rail station to the school in bad weather, we got soaked. We were allowed to change into PE kit and wear it until break-time (or very rarely until lunchtime if you got really soaked through) by which time your clothes should have dried out on the radiators. The form room would be full of steaming clothes as they dried off. It only happened to me a few times, though one of those occasions (towards the end of fifth form) was a "soaked to the skin" event in a thunderstorm when the rain seemed to come at me from all directions as well as water being splashed from passing vehicles.
I think it was while I was in Fifth Form that school introduced "wear what you like day" which Miss Brooks called "Civilian Day" because we were in civvies rather than uniform. I think we had to donate to charity and there were restrictions - smart casual. I wore brown corduroy trousers which were too tight to be comfortable (and which contributed to the competitive dieting during Sixth Form). During Sixth Form I wore jeans or trousers the whole time except for a bet (that I couldn't go a week wearing skirts or dresses) and the Upper Sixth Form Garden Party (which was rathe Laura Ashley in style).
In 6th form we could wear "smart casual" and during that time the awful upholstery fabric skirts and tunics were phased out and plain navy skirts introduced for the lower school. The summer dress was also dropped when the tunics went. Slogan or logo teeshirts weren't allowed, nor were torn, faded or frayed jeans. Plain or patterned teeshirts and neat jeans were okay though. Many of my "young adult" clothes came from my mum's younger sister. My Sixth form clothing was based around tidy blue jeans, black corduroy trousers, black skinny rib jumper, denim short sleeve jacket (summer), black corduroy jacket, patterned jumpers, various teeshirts (no slogans of course), a long Arran cardigan a silver anorak (made me look like a spaceman!) and lilac-and-pink trainers. Many of us altered our fifth form blouses by removing the collars and sleeves and adding contrasting edging. I removed the crest from my blazer and continued to wear that. It was very much what college students might wear. After I left, the school uniform went through a "grey skirt" phase (which didn't set the school apart visually from local comprehensives) and has now gone to lilac, navy and tartan. Sixth form went from smart casual to "businesslike", but Sixth form uniform based on black blazer (with school crest), black skirt and plain blouse has now been introduced.
School Dinners Secondary Style
For the first couple of years at secondary, I had school dinners. At the beginning of the term, we got a book of dinner tickets – one ticket per school-day. At morning register, there was also a dinner register so the kitchen staff knew how much food to make. Late arrivers (due to traffic problems) were supposed to sign the late dinners book outside the school office to ensure the kitchen adjusted quantities.
In a school of 800 pupils (though not all had school dinners), there were 2 35-minute sittings i.e. each the same length as a lesson. First sitting was for seniors, second was for juniors. We sat at tables of 8 in the dining hall, school hall and the corridor between these. A dinner lady told each table when it was time to join the queue. You handed in your dinner ticket at the servery door, got served, got cutlery, returned to your table and ate. The "Staff dining room" was the foyer between the dining hall and the front of the building.
This was not without problems. If you were at the end of second sitting and there were shortages (due to non-signing of the late dinners book), you got emergency rations of cheese and crackers. Stationery (getting new exercise books when yours was filled up) was once a week during 2nd sitting and meant rushing your meal in order to join the stationery queue. If your table was at the end of the 2nd sitting queue and you urgently needed a new exercise book, you had a problem. Sometimes the dinner queue moved slowly and those on the end of the 2nd dinner queue had to gulp it down and get to lessons. In the 3rd year I switched to packed lunches. My parents were fed up with hearing about "no time to eat dinner" and "only had cheese and crackers".
While I remember the logistics of getting one's dinner, I don't remember much about the food. Plated salads were served from stacked plates. I discovered Spam fritters which I initially liked, but later hated due to their frequency on the menu. Rather soggy chips were available twice a week. There was liver and bacon; bright yellow chicken curry with sultanas in; spaghetti Bolognese; fish fingers; sausages; toad-in-the-hole; beef cobbler and corned beef hash. Usually there were 2 meat/fish options – at least for those at the front of the queue!
The choice of 2 puddings (until one option ran out) included jam/syrup sponge, mince slice or fruit pie with optional custard. Sometimes there were fruit salads, trifles or rice imperials in individual glasses (i.e. the Duralex drinking glasses common to most schools I've visited). Since you collected your meal in one go, you had to eat the first course before seconds got cold! It's a hard habit to break and for years, my parents complained about me bolting my food at home or in restaurants.
Unlike modern school serveries, this was not cafeteria style – you didn't pay-per-item at the end. You handed in your ticket and got set portions doled out. When salads were an option (a few days per week, mainly in summer), grabbing a cheese or pilchard salad was easy. With the hot food, you had to have a portion of meat or fish – vegetarians were not tolerated! At least one portion of veg was mandated, two was recommended. No-one patrolled the eating areas to make you clear your plate. Leftovers from our plates were scraped into a pig swill bin. It wasn't bad, but it did get boring after a while as there are only so many dishes that can be freshly made in bulk in a school kitchen.
While sometimes there were shortages, on other days you could go back for seconds after everyone had been served (if you were at the front of the original queue, this was an advantage in getting seconds). In winter I often had seconds of the less popular options such as liver and bacon or curry. With the school emphasis on at least one PE session per day, plus outdoors activity at lunchtime, I noticed only a few fat girls (one of whom probably had a chromosome abnormality).
Lessons at Secondary School
Apart from alternate Wednesdays, the schoolday started with assembly in the main school hall. First to third years sat cross-legged on the floor. Older pupils sat further back on chairs. Upper Sixth sat on stage - the house captains (and any special guests) in the front row and the rest of Upper Sixth in three or four rows behind them. The Headmistress was centre front, with the two Deputy Heads one either side of her. Musically talented pupils would play as we filed in and out of assembly - the themes tune to "All Creatures Great and Small" was a favourite on the piano. Alternating Wednesdays were Form assemblies and House assemblies. Sixth Form assembly (on Wednesdays) was in the school hall.
At CCHS, our school-day was divided into morning assembly followed by 8 35-minute lessons: 2 in the morning followed by morning break, 3 after break and three after lunchbreak (1 hr 10 mins). Generally each subject had a 35 minute slot, but once a week it also had a double-length slot. This was especially necessary for science lessons where it took time to set things up and clear things away.
Just before the year's exams there seemed to be a "silly season" where pre-exam nerves manifested as rowdiness. Teachers referred to this as "examinitis" and did their best to restore proper behaviour. The exams were both a preparation for O and A level exam disciplines and helped teachers assess your proficiency. There are arguments that not all pupils perform well at exams, but we'd all passed the 11-Plus so we couldn't have been terribly unnerved by sitting tests and exams. After the Second year exams I went into the B stream for both Maths and French while the pupils with aptitudes for those subjects went into the A streams. In the first few weeks of the Third year there were a few transfers between the A and B streams based on class-work. I went on to get B grade in both subjects.
In the first year we had English Language, English Literature, French, Maths, History, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Singing, Music, RE (Christianity), Needlework, Art and PE/Games. The headmistress, Phyllis "Floyd" Pattison was a firm believer in a healthy body and a healthy mind, hence the balance between academic lessons and daily PE. I turned out to be good at English Language, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I was not very interested in Geography or History. The Singing teacher told me I had perfect pitch, so I ended up in the school choir, only giving it up in Lower 6th because I didn't want to do solo. However, I can only sing or play music by ear and was no good at Music theory, especially at musical dictation. There was also a trip to the Museum of London.
There were 2 art rooms above the library and quite a variety of art topics. In the first year we were taught some pottery techniques and I made a rather lumpy clay pot. We learnt about "repeating designs" and designed "wallpaper" (mine was an owl silhouetted by the moon). During lino cutting and printing, my knife slipped and I still have a "tramlines" scar on my left index fingertip. My watercolours skills were pretty basic, but I learnt to handle a brush with some dexterity (these days I use diluted acrylics). I was somewhat better drawing with pencils - generally the subject matter is recognisable! I would have loved to do woodwork craft items. During the first 3 years, art tended to be competitive so I enjoyed it more when I could do art as a relaxation subject during Sixth form (no grading of work etc). My science overall doubled up as an art overall and one year a friend wrote "I am Picasso" on it - a reference to my drawings not always being accurate.
In the second year German was added and RE was more about comparative religion than Christianity alone. In the third year Latin and Cookery/Home Economics was added (for half the year only, we did needlework for the rest of the year) and Singing was dropped. In the third year, RE became "Moral Discussion" with less emphasis on religious content and more on personal morals and social responsibilities.
During third year we were supposed to study the difference between an old town (Chelmsford) and a "new town" (Harlow). I missed the coach trip to Harlow and was decidedly unenthusiastic about studying Chelmsford, seeing as I lived in Braintree and Bocking and my only experiences of Chelmsford were the Cathedral for school services, Debenhams (that used to be Bonds) and the High Chelmer shopping precinct when mum wanted to go to Sainsbury, Tesco or Bejam. I've since made up for my lack of enthusiasm, having amassed a huge collection of photos and books about Chelmsford and its history. This formed part of "Integrated Studies" which combined History and Geography (and a bit of Social Science), possibly to help timetabling as we now had so many subjects.
At the end of the third year we chose our O Level subjects. English Lit, English Lang, French and Maths were compulsory. I did the sciences (Biology was so intuitive for me it was a doddle, and dad got the idea I'd go to medical school). I did Latin, because dad had failed Latin and I wanted to outdo him. I made up the compulsory 9 subjects with History, which I failed because I decided to concentrate my revision efforts on the sciences. I took, and passed, English Language a year early which allowed me to concentrate on my sciences.
Needlework started off with making a flannel using a piece of old towel and some bias binding and learning how to thread and use a sewing machine. I learnt basic dressmaking techniques and one of my term pieces (a denim bag with shoulder strap) was on display at an Open Evening. I mastered the basic skills, but have no flair for design or dressmaking. When I chose not to do Dressmaking to O Level, the teacher (Mrs Smith) was very kind and said that as long as I'd learnt how to mend and alter things for myself, that was a good thing. I have a trusty old-fashioned Singer machine, identical to ones we used at school, though I doubt Mrs Smith anticipated that the skills she taught me would be applied to things such as upholstery and leatherwork!
I had a single term of Home Economics (cookery class) in Third year. I had already learnt the basics (sponges cakes, scones, gravy, pastry and crumbles) from mum quite early on. In Home Economics we were taught how to make bread, flaky pastry, Bakewell Tart (complete with feather icing), Cornish pasty and scones. To my mind, the most important skill was how to read and adapt a recipe. This was all good stuff if you hadn't learnt to cook at home and for those who wanted to go into catering. I am a "functional" cook rather than someone who makes fancy dishes, but I can prepare my own meals from ingredients rather than relying on ready meals.
In the 1970s, I didn't really think of dressmaking and cookery as being part of the female stereotype, that realisation came in the 1980s. School had been founded in an era when career opportunities for women were quite limited. In the early days of the school, women "retired" from teaching once they got married, and when even highly educated women often ended up running a household rather than pursuing a career. Make-do-and-mend and cooking on a budget were essential skills in wartime as well (and, I'd argue, for students living on a grant). Home-making skills are life skills, but I would have loved to have tried metalwork, woodwork, electronics (beyond that taught in physics) or other engineering subjects as alternatives to the more traditional, or stereotypically, feminine skills (we need more women in engineering!).
In 4th and 5th years, we were taken to recruitment events at the Chelmer Institute which was within easy walking distance of school. Local businesses had stands there and you could register interest in a summer "work experience" placement or an apprenticeship. The college computer rooms were also on display for those who wanted to do Computing A level as an after-school class. Back then, the main companies recruiting were RHP (Ransom, Hoffman and Pollard), EEV (English Electric Valve) and the various Marconi companies (Comms, Radar, Marine and Research). I did one of my summer placements at Marconi Research in Great Baddow (the whole summer, for pay!) and the other was a 2 week stint at a medical lab in Southend hospital (unpaid work experience).
Memory fails a bit here, but I think it was around this time we went on a school trip to London to a World Citizenship Conference (Council for Education in World Citizenship, I think). There were speakers telling us about the issues in other countries, how to get involved and how to be good world citizens. This conference was held close to the Commonwealth Institute and I remember spending part of the afternoon in there. Apart from the excitement of getting the train and then the London Underground and not getting left behind, I can't say I found it particularly interesting at the time. More interesting was our visit to KEGS just down the road; this was a boys' school, but allowed girls in the sixth form hence our visit to learn what facilities it offered. It was architecturally more old fashioned than our school.
Plenty of girls left after O Levels. Some went straight into apprenticeships though a couple dropped out and got married at 16, much to the disappointment of the teachers who had hoped CCHS girls were more ambitious than that. In Sixth Form we had an influx of girls transferring from private or church-run schools, especially from New Hall school. A few girls wanting to do minority A Levels (e.g. Music) transferred to KEGS which had a mixed sex Sixth Form. At A Levels I did Biology, Chemistry, Physics (which I failed, having concentrated on Biology and Chemistry after my illness) and a maths top-up course to support physics (I dropped "extra maths" due to the illness). AO General Studies was compulsory to give a bit of balance and prevent us becoming too narrow-minded. If there was enough demand, some pupils could do Russian or Spanish lessons (which might have involved going to KEGS for an afternoon).
Those of us not doing art A level were allowed to do a recreational art afternoon during the week, during which we learnt screen printing, macramé, basketry and, in our last year, we renovated a dolls' house to donate to a school. I greatly enjoyed this relaxed approach to art and turned out to be reasonable at some of the techniques. Some of the other girls spent the afternoon doing "community service" e.g. classroom helper at their old primary school or a special needs school, helping out at an OAP home (usually with occupational therapy) and other such things. During 5th form my family had moved from Bocking Churchstreet to Howe Green (south of Chelmsford) otherwise I would have chosen to be a classroom helper at my old primary school. In later terms, many of us used that afternoon for aerobics/dancercise instead often led by whoever had the latest fitness tape.
At the start of the 1980s, school short-sightedly viewed computers as glorified typewriters/word processors and resisted having a computer room. It was only just purchasing its first computers (Sinclair Spectrums) when I left after A Levels. It relied on fundraising for this so I remember fundraising efforts during my last Christmas Fayre. Some girls did A level computing by going to the local college (Chelmer Institute of Higher Education) one afternoon a week.
At secondary school, we got 1 – 1.5 hours homework every night. Each subject set 30 mins homework at least twice a week. That was on top of a 45 min bus journey to and from school – no wonder some of us did our homework on the bus, even though the teachers complained about messy homework. The French teacher in the first 2 years believed in the "immersion method" which left me floundering. Some nights, it took me an hour to do the 30 mins French homework, aided by a dictionary and my school books. And I still got 3/10 and was threatened with detention because the teacher insisted I hadn't spent more than 10 minutes doing French homework. It was a nightmare and though I'm sure the teacher was a nice person really, I absolutely dreaded her lessons.
I've never been good at foreign languages. After 2 years of compulsory German, the teacher told me there was no way I'd be doing German O level (something we both agreed on!). French was compulsory and was painfully drummed into me and I can still just about read it. The teacher for third year French was more understanding that "immersion" didn't suit all of us, with the result that thanks to her I got a surprisingly good grade in French O Level. Latin was optional and while I had no real aptitude for it, Dad had failed Latin which was compulsory at his school, so I was determined to outdo him. I scraped through and it has turned out to be surprisingly useful in improving my English grammar, French and Biology (especially the binomial classification system). I've also found it hugely useful in later life when trying to decipher words from Romance languages.
Where you get lots of youngsters together, pranks are inevitable (as is bullying it seems). In Third year, we started off in Room 13 upstairs, but because some girls held "chair races" - "galloping" their chairs along the aisles between desks - we made too much of a noise and had to swap rooms. We moved to Room 1 (History Room) and for a joke a couple of girls put a third girl in the waist-high wastepaper basket. Because they put her in bottom-first, she couldn't get out again.
Girls from a class above us put a wind-up butterfly (powered by a twisted elastic band) in the register during lunchtime. This fluttered out when the form mistress took afternoon register and apparently startled her greatly. Then there was the time Miss Searles got shut in the Geography Room cupboard where atlases and textbooks were kept. Miss Searles was short, plump and came across as somewhat vague and most of us had a great deal of affection for her. I met her in town some years later when she'd retired and I wonder how much of the "vagueness" was real - she still remembered me!
In Physics, charging ourselves with static electricity from the Van der Graaf generator and then touching an unsuspecting classmate was a time-honoured prank. In winter, when the pond froze over, another prank was putting chunks of ice down people's backs. Sometimes exercise books got "lost" only to turn up in the wrong desk where they'd apparently been hidden (I was never sure if that was malicious or just a silly prank).
Not all messing about was safe and teachers were quick to chastise whole classes over unsafe behaviour. One year, those of us who used the back bench in Chemistry lessons got lectured by the teacher because someone had messed with the concentrated acids kept in the cupboard at the back of the room (it wasn't our Chemistry group). Messing about was also not allowed in or near the swimming pool, though one class no doubt found it funny when their PE teacher fell in the footbath.
One thing I was good at was writing passable verse at short notice (hence the Ten Little High School Girls sketch). One Christmas we had a group exercise to write a poem about Santa losing his sleigh. Our group procrastinate for quite a while and then I wrote the whole thing on the back of a carol service programme in about 30 minutes. Memory fails, but I was probably sitting at the bus station as this was definitely not during a lesson. I narrated and the group put together some actions. In my version, Santa lit a bonfire to keep himself warm while looking for his sleigh. Unfortunately, the woodpile he'd set light to was his sled, half-hidden in the snow. I also wrote a long series of (dreadful teenage-crush-on-actor-based) playlets in rhyming couplets that we acted out during our lunch-breaks. My compulsive writing (blame the badly-wired brain) eventually gave rise to the Shrinking Hypotenuse series.
One of the older girls, Alison, had written some humorous stories portraying members of staff, which was all very well until one of her stories was confiscated during a lesson. No doubt the staff had good fun reading it in the staff room, but were not going to admit the fact. I was in awe of this feat, but my early attempts came to nothing until a 3rd year trigonometry lesson when I used the wrong formula and ended up with a hypotenuse shorter than the other two sides. The evil "Shrinking Hypotenuse" was born. He wore a black cloak, black hat and black mask and tavelled with his henchmen Hippopotenuse (a heavy) and the Dipsomaniac Diplodocanuse and they shrank hypotenuses around the world. The three heroines (Me, Twinkle and Kaz aka Mahoney's Angels - named after out teacher) travelled in the IBM Calculoputer (a sleigh-like time machine), along with Pythagoras (who spoke schoolgirl French) and we fought the Shrinking Hypotenuse, his henchmen and other arch-fiends such as the Deadly Black Mantissa. We solved problems using maths (the Calculoputer aka CCP used transformation matrices and whatever other maths were happened to be learning at the time). I typed the stories in duplicate on a 1930s typewriter and we read out out the stories at lunchtime, taking turns for narrated bits. They started with "The Curse of the Shrinking Hypotenuse" then "The Return of ..." and "The Revenge of ..." and "The Curse of the Deadly Black Mantissa". Each one had a "zip scene" with Twinkle's heat-throb who was code-named "Russell-Gary" in which the pair had innuendo-laden conversation about a stuck zip (pencil-case, banana, anorak, sleeping bag etc). Later on Be, Yvo and Carol joined the gang (now renamed The Bike Squad) and I wrote "The Metrication of Time" and "West Pole Story". By then we were in the Upper Sixth and these stories seemed increasing childish. We got into The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy instead. A year after leaving school, I tried to rehash the Shrinking Hypotenuse stories, but ended up burning them all instead (something I'd predicted in the very last story).
Sporting and Social Events
School was divided into four "Houses" for sports and other competitions: Pennefather (green), Chancellor (blue), Hulton (red) and Tancock (yellow). The names referred to local notables (I think they had to be connected to the school somehow, otherwise how did Mildmay get missed out?). I was in Chancellor (the Chancellor Hall on Market Road, Chelmsford is also named after Frederick Chancellor). The teachers were also allocated to different Houses. Unlike Primary School, there were no "house points" but there were competitions between the houses e.g. Debating Society and sports events. Each House had a hockey team and there were junior and senior inter-house hockey matches. Had there been points for loudest voice yelling on one's team, I'd have won hands down - it left me unable to speak for the next few days (I'd had plenty of practice calling family members in for dinner across a third of an acre at home!).
The school sports day was held at a sports stadium on the Melbourne estate opposite school. Being uninterested in competitive sports, my only memories of this are of sitting in the stands doodling or chatting and taking minimal interest in the athletics events. I can only remember this in my first two or three years at CCHS and I think we held it on the "new" sports field after that. There were also Staff vs Sixth Form hockey matches and tennis matches and one year there was a Staff vs Sixth Form swimming competition. It was always interesting to find that some of our sedate non-PE staff were very sporty; for some reason we couldn't imagine them outside of a dusty classroom and racing round a muddy field.
There was always a Christmas service at the Cathedral, which meant walking down there in a crocodile. Being in choir I didn't sit with the rest of my class. To this day I automatically sing the twiddly descant bits of many carols. The Commemoration Day service was also at the cathedral. Out school hymn was "Our Father by whose servants, this house was built of old" and there were several spoof version of it (that we daren't sing on Commemoration Day) one of which commemorated a small roofing collapse at school and ended "... the coping stones have fallen, and flattened Miss Read's bike".
The other big event was Awards Day (or Prize Giving) when the O Level and A Level certificates were given out. Up until I was in 4th Form, this was held in the old Odeon cinema near King's Head Meadow (junction of Parkway and Baddow Road). The Odeon was then closed down ready to be demolished so I got my O Level certificate at the Cathedral. This wasn't really a suitable venue, so from then on Prize Giving ceremony was in the Chancellor Hall and that's where I picked up my A Level certificate. I went to my A Level awards wearing a black trouser suit, cream blouse and matching hat, forgetting that we were not supposed to wear trousers, but were meant to look like "young ladies". Afterwards, we went back to the school for a social afternoon circulating in the school hall and chatting to teachers and special guests. The Headmistress didn't speak to me at all, though the Deputy Heads did and a couple of the parents and special guests said I'd looked businesslike. I've always been much more comfortable in trousers than in a skirt.
It surprised me that there was no school Harvest Festival (pupils instead participated in their own church's Harvest Festival or were encouraged to go to Chelmsford Cathedral's Harvest Festival) though we did sing the appropriate hymns in assembly at that time of year. Once a year we had Open Evening when parents and siblings (and any other relatives) came to visit the school. There were demonstrations of simple experiments in the science labs and displays in the assembly hall, gym and other classrooms. One year my needlework project was displayed in the Needlework Room. There was a fundraising Christmas Fayre with the usual sorts of stalls, plus some games in several classrooms (bobbing for apples type thing). In the First year, my class did small toys/ornaments (e.g. felt mice, teasel hedgehogs). One year, my class did a stall themed around the 4 playing card suits and I walked around wearing sandwich boards to advertise it. Fifth Form traditionally did stalls that didn't take too much attention away from revision (my class did bread and cakes) while Upper Sixth took over the school gym as a cafeteria which was supposed to have a theme. Many girls in our year wanted to do a 1940s theme, but an equal number of us were against this on the grounds that not everyone remembered that era with fondness. Other classes ran games in the form rooms closest to the main hall. There was the traditional grotto on the school stage.
There was an annual Open Evening when parents, brothers and sisters came into school. This included displays of needlework, artwork and cookery as well as demonstrations in some of the science labs. Open Evening was the only time I have ever set foot in the Staffroom (upstairs at the front of the building) as it was used as a display area. I remember admiring some fancy cushion covers (made from interlaced ribbons) and a decorated cake in here. Each piece displayed was labelled with the name of the pupil and which form she was in. In the two art rooms at the top of the library/art block were displays of artwork, especially work produced for O or A Levels and several pupils would be sitting sketching or painting and ready to answer parents' questions. In the science labs in Bancroft there were simple science experiments e.g. completing an electric circuit by heating a bimetallic strip so that it bent and touched a contact. Some of the teaching rooms might have small study groups speaking French or German (and parents were welcome to join in). It was a good way of showcasing the school's achievements and facilities to younger sisters and encourage them to take the 11-Plus.
During school lunchtimes there were various clubs e.g. choir, brass instrument group or woodwind/recorder group. These groups could play music at assembly to accompany us filing in and out of the main school hall. I think there were also language clubs (for conversational French etc) though I didn't belong to any of them. For the more sporty, there was tennis club (which for a week turned into "Wimbledon-watching" in the lecture room), hockey club, gym or athletics etc. Those chosen to represent the school also went to after-school sports practice. Drama club was also after school. Because I had a strong voice, I was invited to join the after-school Drama Club, but I didn't really enjoy it as I was better at narrating than acting. It also made the day far too long due to the bus journey home which, at that time of the evening, meant changing buses at Braintree Bus Station instead of having a single bus that went straight through the village. The Drama teacher also pronounced that I had "an aggressive persona," though in reality I had poor social skills and poor volume modulation due to a brain that wasn't wired quite the way it should have been (something I only learnt 35 years after her pronouncement). I joined junior choir instead (and then senior choir) and enjoyed that a lot more, especially as it was a lunchtime activity and not after-school. There was an annual school magazine with reports from the various clubs as well as a creative section and other news. My poem "The Clown" was in the 1981 issue.
Whenever there was a General Election, this was mirrored with a school election. Some of the Sixth formers became candidates and canvassers for the political parties and went round wearing rosettes and canvassing for support during break times. Each party produced its own posters that were put on the walls, especially the wall opposite the coat racks on the north corridor (where Rooms 7 and 8 were). This happened twice while I was there; once when I was in the lower school and once when I was in the upper school. As well as Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties, there was an Environmental Party (this was the beginning of the Green Party). The National Front wasn't allowed and I think a watered down National Party replaced it (putting Britain first but without any racism). I'm sure there was a Monster Raving Loony Party as this was an election tradition and in the first of the school elections I participated in, there was also the Hippopotamus Party (a Canadian joke political party). We all got to vote and the results were announced at assembly.
We were encouraged to do fundraising at breaktimes and lunchtimes and this usually these were food stalls in the Quad, set up in the covered section under the library. These tended to be "cake and biscuit" or "soup and sandwich" stalls and were announced at that morning's assembly with the amount made being announced a day or two later (alternate Wednesday morning assemblies were "Form Assembly" so the notices were read out on the other days instead). Our class's second year fundraising project was to collect up magazines and newspaper for recycling. This was stored at the front of form room (luckily we had a large room) and every couple of months a parent took it to a recycling centre to be sold by weight. We separated out the comics and teen magazines and held a "Comic Stall" in the Quad. From my fifth year onwards, the break-time food stalls competed with the Tuck Shop held in the dining hall servery.
When I was in First year there was a Pet Show for small caged pets (held in the Biology Lab) and one classmate stuck whiskers on her friend and tried to enter her in the Pet Show. In my first few years, there was also an annual gymkhana held at a riding school outside town. Quite a few girls owned ponies. I only remember one school ski-ing trip and that was when I was in First form. This had been an annual event, with teachers taking girls to Austria for a week during the school holiday and teaching them to ski. Several girls from First form went and some of the anecdotes were used in morning assembly. It seems that some girls had invented a new downhill sport called "dustbin lidding" where the aim was to stay on a rotating dustbin lid as it sped down a snowy slope.
Parents were not supposed to take their daughters away during term-time unless it was an educational trip. Having tickets for Wimbledon Centre Court or Court One (and only for those courts) was considered educational, perhaps it inspired the girls to do well in tennis lessons. During Wimbledon fortnight, the TV on its trolley was left in Room 22 (lecture room with rows of flip-down seats and a ledge in front of each row for your books) and we were allowed to watch Wimbledon during lunchtimes as long as we were quiet. I think it was for third year and above, but Room 22 had a back door and it was sometimes possible to sneak in at the back. In later years we had pancake races in the Gym, using some of the Gym equipment as obstacles.
While I was in First year there was school play celebrating a school anniversary of some sort. I was in a short scene depicting an Edwardian family from the founding years of the school. This was supposed to include a typical family evening with the children demonstrating their piano skills, followed by the family singing "The Bells of St Mary's". To the teacher's surprise (or horror) I'd never learnt piano so I had to sit playing with a ragdoll. My ringletted hairpiece wouldn't stay in place either. And someone later told me the song was an anachronism. Never mind.
For one of the school variety shows (for want of a better term), our group wanted to do an original sketch, so we did "Ten Little High School Girls" and in each verse a teacher commandeered one of the girls. The only bit I can recall is "... little High School Girls, innocently playing, Miss P swiftly captured one and soon had her relay-ing" and a hockey stick came out of the wings and hooked one of the girls, pulling her into the wings; a few seconds later she sprinted across stage holding a relay baton. I had a hand in writing the somewhat awful rhyming couplets, but it seemed to go down well.
When I was in Second Year (1978) there was the "Dracula Spectacula" play put on by older drama students. This was a spoof horror production from which the line "It came off in my hand, master" still remains a motto for some of us. The Dracula Spectacula (aka "Fangs ain't what they used to be") was a spooky musical by John Gardiner & Andrew Parr. Miss Nadia Naive (a sweet, vulnerable American schoolteacher) and her three pupils end up amidst some riotous, and pun-ridden, Transylvanian happenings with the irrepressible Count Dracula and his gruesome acolytes. In the CCHS adaptation, Professor Nicholas Necrophiliac (a young English doctor with a mission and a surname deemed inappropriate for a girls' grammar school production) was renamed Nicholas Necromancer. An Elvis-style song was cut from the play because of the Presley-esque pelvic thrusts (also inappropriate). There was Father O'Stake (the good Irish priest), Dracula and his brides, his looney mother, Countess Wraith, and (my favourite character) his hunch-backed servant Genghis "it came orff in my hand marthter." In the CCHS version, Nicholas Necromancer was played by Katherine White. The heroine, Nadia Naive, was played by Deborah Poplett (who became a TV/radio actress). Genghis "Yeth Marthter" was Jean Staplehurst. Felicity Wright (now Felicity Gage) was Dracula. It had quite the cult following that year (a bit like a young person's Rocky Horror Show). There were red teeshirts produced with a batwinged vampire design; I bought one and wore it during a 20 mile fundraising sponsored walk round Hylands Park after which I ached so much that I mum said that never mind Dracula, I was walking like Frankenstein (my other memory of that sponsored walk was frequent stops at the ice cream van for "Popeyes" - an ice-cream cornet with an orange mini ice-lolly stuffed into it instead of a flake). I think quite a few younger girls had a crush on the Nicholas Necromancer character.
A major event during my time at the school was Miss Pattison's retirement which was marked by a set of short acts and musical interludes on stage. I was in some of the musical interludes singing sections from Haydn's Creation and I remember one of the acts was about building a wall between "us" and "them" - all very metaphorical. There was a rather macabre, and to my mind incomprehensible, playlet by drama club where all the pupils were numbers who were learning a play and one number didn't get to speak and went and killed herself. This didn't go down well and got cut after the first night much to the dismay of the teacher who'd written it. One of the acts was a letter-shuffling act explaining Miss Pattison's nicknames. One was "Floyd" after the boxer and another was polyphylla (a pun on Polyfilla aka Spackle) because she championed a polymath (diverse) curriculum.
Miss Brooks became headmistress in 1980 and I felt that the school rather lost its way. Science became the be-all-and-end-all to the detriment of other subjects, and especially to the detriment of sports (it was she who wiped out the 4 House system in favour of a 3 House system). Floyd had kept the school on an even keel, encouraging and praising arts, humanities, sciences and games equally. Rather than build on this, Miss Brooks seemed to lurch in one direction and then another. My father had been elected a parent-governor in 1977 and got on well with Floyd. While I was a CHS student, he didn’t bring parent-governor stuff home, but I gleaned a few facts much, much later. We had a very capable physics teacher, Mrs Witter whose enthusiasm was infectious. Unfortunately she didn’t have the “right credentials” so Miss Brooks did not approve of her. In the Fifth form, I was taught by a new physics teacher who totally destroyed my love of the subject by teaching only to the fastest girls in the class and by assuming we were all mathematicians (a subject I take a bit longer to master). I had the temerity to complain, both at home and at school, about her “teaching to the fastest” and this incurred the wrath of Miss Brooks. As far as she was concerned, the new teacher had the right credentials (which doesn’t actually mean a teacher is good at imparting knowledge). Miss Brooks also saw an opportunity to control my dad, who has never been a “yes man.” If I didn’t get my dad to toe the line – Miss Brooks’ line – or if I complained about anything again, she would change my school record. I didn’t tell my dad, but I dared not use my school record as a reference in my first few jobs. I have no idea if she changed it or not. In fact I only told my dad about the threat when I was in my 40s. I have been told by an Old Girl that Miss Brooks was a troubled and bitter person and that I wasn’t the only person affected by her.
For A Level certificate giving (Chancellor Hall), I wore a black suit with cream blouse and, for a slight touch of the dramatic, a ladies black bowler hat. I hadn’t realised that Miss Brooks vetoed the wearing of trousers for this event. I thought it looked smart and several of the governors and dignitaries complimented me on looking smart and business-like. In the social gathering afterwards, one said that the contrast to the dresses had made him sit up and pay attention! Miss Brooks looked like she’d eaten something sour and made it clear to me that I wasn’t welcome to keep in touch with the school. Maybe she thought I'd done it deliberately, but not so. Besides, she mostly wore trouser suits.
I didn’t head straight off to university (maybe if I’d been diagnosed and medicated back then things would have been different), but I did get a Law A Level the following year, study accountancy and economics for a year, get an HNC, HND and BSc 2:1 in IT (on day release), I’ve co-authored some cat books and “translated” some pretty technical stuff (genetics-related) so that high school students around the world can understand it. In retrospect, if the field of genetics had been around when I was at school, I would have been straight into it.
I won't mention most of the teachers, but some stick in my memory. Miss Palmer, a music teacher and school orchestra conductor, was a flamboyant character whose flailing arms made her resemble a bird in flight. Every so often one hand flicked back her long hair – was she calling up 2nd violin or was she getting hair out of her eyes? This was a common dilemma for the musicians! Miss Read, the English teacher, was renowned for her bicycle parked against the front wall of the school. In a spoof version of the school hymn (Our Father By Whose Servants This House Was built of Old) we had the lines "The coping stones have fallen and flattened Miss Read's bike" (we had a few problems with falling masonry).
Miss Searles the Geography teacher was short, plump and vague and had once got stuck in the geography room cupboard. Although we teased her in class, it was with great affection. I think she was well-loved by everyone. I met her while out shopping in town a few times after she retired and looked 10 years younger and was far less vague – and she still remembered my name! Miss Harris the physics teacher had cropped hair and almost always wore a brown suit. She was very masculine looking, though the official reason for the cropped hair was "safety around bunsen burners".
For many years there was a "no male teachers" policy that would be impossible to enforce today. We only got a male teacher for a couple of terms when we were in 4th or 5th form - a maths teacher who was related to the German teacher. Sad to say, many of the girls were more interested in flirting than in maths and there was much adjusting of make-up before the maths lesson. Had there been male teachers right from our first year, it wouldn't have been a big deal for most of us.
It was rumoured that a couple of years before I joined the school, an unmarried teacher had been dismissed for getting pregnant because this set a bad example for the girls. I have no idea how true this was (it wouldn't be allowed in modern times), but when we were in Sixth Form the fact that our form mistress cohabited with her boyfriend was also very hush-hush. As an aside, I only know of one pupil "getting into trouble" - years after leaving school I discovered that a fifteen year old who collected her "baby brother" from a child-minder on the way home was actually the child's mother, not his older sister.
Characters like these made the school what it was and it's sad that I see so many of their names in Obituaries columns these days. Each year there were the staff vs 6th form sports events and before A levels, 6th formers did the annual "6th Form Revue" for the whole school – this was a series of sketches, most of which poked affectionate fun at teachers and school institutions. Much of the school revue was a pastiche of "Monty Python" and "Not The Nine O'Clock News", but some sketches were entirely original.
These are the names of teachers I remember:
Jolly Hockey Sticks!
I am in favour of compulsory PT or PE (known to many of us as Physical Torture or Physical Exertion) . That doesn't mean I enjoyed it on a personal level. Most of us with sight problems wore glasses, not contact lenses (which were too expensive). I am very short-sighted and without specs I couldn't see well enough to do PE. The teachers insisted I took my glasses off for gym lessons and then wondered why I couldn't do even the basic vaulting over a box or waling along a beam without misjudging distance. It also undermined my confidence and I was considered clumsy, or worse, lazy. Even with glasses, I am not very physically co-ordinated; I've only managed to hit a rounders ball once in my life - and that was by accident! My tennis is not much better: "Concentrate! Watch the ball!" I did concentrate and watch the ball, but I rarely managed to hit it (only many years later did I discover that very strong prescription lenses, such as I have, tend to "flatten perspective" and may have been part of the problem).
We had a daily 35 minute PE/sports lesson except for one day when we got double PE (1 hr 10 mins). In winter we did hockey, swimming (once per week), athletics, netball, gym/modern dance. In summer we did tennis instead of hockey. I managed to be an enthusiastic and reasonable centre half in hockey, but the end of year report was in summer and the PE section of my school report was always about tennis so I never got better than "tries".
Swimming was an ordeal. We were divided into "red caps" (non-swimmers) and "blue-caps" (swimmers). I have a phobia of water as the result of a swimming pool accident when I was 7 or 8 years old. I can't even stand water on my face when showering. School pride dictated that no girl had ever left unable to swim. The sports teachers seemed to think I was being deliberately awkward. Finally I got a spare pair of glasses made for swimming and school were told that I needed to wear them. That helped a great deal. I eventually managed a sort of front and back crawl, but the moment I got out of my depth I panicked. At least I was excused from swimming when I had a period or verucca! Sadly my phobia meant I am one of the few girls to leave CCHS still unable to swim. If there are any sports staff reading this – I am sorry, I did my best and if it's any consolation, I'm still phobic. One of the swimming teachers once fell in the footbath. A later swimming teacher actually used to get in the pool to help non-swimmers.
From 6 PE sessions in 1st year (4 single + 1 double lesson) we cut down to accommodate other lessons. By 6th form we only had a couple of PE lessons plus a triple lesson occupying a whole afternoon. The single lessons were aerobics and "dancercise" which I loved as I was constantly weight-watching. Being motivated, I was quite good at them and was also very fit (I cycled a lot). In the triple lesson we could do table tennis, fencing, basketball (or netball if we chose). Even better, we ran many of those lessons ourselves with minimal supervision. We also used tapes for aerobics. Tennis, table tennis (in the main Hall or dining hall) and basketball/netball were not closely supervised. Staff (often not PE staff) just checked we were actually doing sport and sometimes sat within calling distance marking homework (presumably for health and safety). Fencing was closely supervised for obvious reasons!
In between A levels, school was fairly deserted and we were often did unsupervised PE/sport to unwind. French cricket with tennis racquets, badminton and volleyball (using a netball and badminton net) were great fun. We also did our own aerobics lessons as magazines were giving away free aerobics tapes (Jane Fonda's exercise tapes were very in vogue).
I also have memories of several of us doing time trial laps round the school on our bikes. The staff didn't know about this as only the caretaker/groundsman was around at the time. The school was locked up, but we had been using a self-contained 6th form house for revision and we'd decided to let off steam.
In Sixth Form we were considered young adults and treated as being more mature. I'm sure this had a psychological aspect - in Fifth Form we were still in uniform and were allowed minimal make-up, but in Sixth Form we dressed "smart casual" and wore visible make-up. There were some rules - no scruffy clothing or torn jeans, no "punk" hair colours and piercings were confined to the ear lobes only. The form rooms were smaller and more casual - instead of forward facing desks, they might be "tutorial rooms" where we sat round a central table.
In Lower Sixth, our form room (18A) was on the first floor, near the school library. The library was supported on pillars and created a covered area at one end of the Quad (after I left, this covered area was turned into classrooms). We had lockers on the landing and, if memory serves, there was an upright piano in the form room though we rarely played this because of the library next door. We had a kettle in the room (which we took it in turns to fill from the taps in the toilet area under the stairs) and were allowed to stay in at break time and have hot drinks and other instant meals made with boiling water. In theory, this should have meant lots of Pot Noodle dinners, but in practice this wasn't the case. We made instant soups, instant custards and instant semolina in drinks mugs - it was okay as long as it wasn't too pungent and we didn't fill the rubbish bin with leftovers. We also had a splendid view of the workmen re-asphalting some of the roofs around the Quad and there was both overt and covert ogling of some of them.
I missed a chunk of Lower Sixth due to serious illness that kept me off school for much of the autumn term. I returned somewhat before Christmas, but had to drop one of my subjects (Maths for Physics top-up lessons) in order to catch up with my A Level studies and so I wasn't overworked which could have caused a relapse. Having discovered boys (in theory or in practice), many of us went on diets and started doing fitness tapes. Sad to say, there was an element of competitive dieting where we'd compare how little we'd eaten and how many lunches we'd skipped. For some of us, lunchtime meant sucking limes as we'd heard this killed the appetite. This went on right through Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.
During Sixth Form we had a combined Biology and Geography field trip to Dale Fort, not far from Milford Haven, in Wales. It was a mile's walk from Dale village to the field studies centre and we had enough time between lessons and field-work counting barnacles, identifying plants, creatures and debris in the littoral zone, day trip to the very deserted Skomer Island to spot puffins) to walk there a few times though there was little to do except post letters and go to harbourside shop to buy paperbacks (I bought James Herbert novel). Or we could go to the entertainment building and play Space Invaders. I was with a group of girls (some doing Biology like me, some doing Geography) in the girls' accommodation block in "Ankle Biters" dorm which comprised 2 sets of bunks and 1 single bed. The shower area was along the hallway. Some of the others managed to get rooms in the newly built and nicknamed "Dale Fort Hilton" which had rooms with en-suite facilities.
Our Upper Sixth form room was a prefab (Room 25) at the front of the school between the Music Room and the north end of the main building. At first this seemed the short straw because the other Sixth Form groups moved into the Sixth Form House next door to the school and they had a kitchen area. The prefab was divided into 2 areas - the front was a teaching area and the back was a casual seating area and instead of a kettle we had a large water-boiler which had an additional pan you could put on top to warm milk (using the steam from the water). Every couple of days two of us had to walk from the prefab into the school building to refill it (or refill it using old squash bottles filled from the taps when we used the loos), but we seemed to have a never-ending supply of boiling water for drinks and soups (still no smelly snacks though). It was rather nice having the whole prefab to ourselves (fewer than 20 of us) at break times.
It was expected that CCHS girls went to university or into an apprenticeship, business or even sport. The emphasis was on academic achievement as opposed to vocational skills (hence CCHS was quite slow to embrace computers) and girls were expected to aim high. Miss Pattison promoted sports, sciences, languages and arts equally. Her successor, Miss Brooks put a strong emphasis on science and fell out with some of the governors over seeming neglect of the school's excellent sporting tradition.
Careers advice wasn't so much about eventual careers as about choosing university courses. We were given two paperback books each "Your Choice at 13+" and "Your Choice at 15+" ; the first was to help us choose O Levels and the second to help us choose A Levels (this was based on which subjects did you have to get good grades in so that you could do a certain university subject). In sixth form there was also a checklist where you ticked what you were or weren't interested (I think it was scored 1 to 5 i.e. from "very" to "not at all") and this was analysed to give you a list of possible career routes. My results included "toxicology" which shows a big flaw in the system - most people who love animals and who like science probably don't want to go into a field that includes experimentally poisoning small animals.
Sometimes a former student came back to visit CHS and tell us about their career. I recall going to a talk by one such girl (I was probably in 2nd or 3rd year). It was held in the school gym and she told us about life as a stewardess on one of the Arab airlines. At that time, stewardesses were still thought of as "trolley dollies" while CHS was aiming for academic high achievers heading for university, but the mitigating factors seemed to be "travel broadening the mind" and she was exposed to a very different culture and language. Much later, there was a girl who was planning to become a professional ladies golfer and who was already very successful at junior ladies golf. In Miss Pattison's time, a sporting career was considered equally worthwhile, but this seemed to change when Miss Brooks took over. Another acceptable practice was the "year out" or "gap year" - a year of doing something worthwhile or horizon-expanding before starting university. We had a talk from a girl who'd spent her year as an au pair, mostly in the USA. The family she lived with was headed by an obsessive collector of vinyl albums stored on shelves in his library; one of the au pair jobs was to clean a certain number of albums each day.
Following serious illness when I was in Lower Sixth, I'd very much lost my way and now had no idea what I wanted to do after leaving school. I had been aiming for pathology, but that was probably from watching too many episodes of Quincey. One of my Asperger-like traits is that I don't have future ambitions, but people around me expect me to have ambitions so I had to make something up in order to fit in. I ended up going to a careers evening at Gt Baddow comprehensive school and signing up for a Higher Education college to learn some practical skills while I tried to work out what I wanted to do in life (in the eyes of CHS I was a dropout, though I hope I've made up for it since). I'm now in my mid 40s and though I enjoy being in engineering I never did develop "ambitions". With my eventual science qualifications, I've twice worked in microbiology labs and enjoyed it (and apparently have an aptitude for it), but the wages just didn't pay the mortgage compared to working in engineering.
School After I left
Though I was never invited to school reunions or to join the "Old Girls" Societies (due to some issues between my family and the Headmistress, and due to me being seen as a drop-out for not going to Uni), I occasionally hear or read of changes at the school; dad was a former Parent-Governor and is still interested in what goes on and he expects me to be just as interested (only when I was in my 40s did I tell him about being threatened by the Headmistress who crossed swords with him).
On Mondays and some Wednesdays, there is Form assembly instead of full assembly. Sixth Form assembly is Wednesdays in the main Hall. On Tuesdays and Thursdays there are House assemblies for 2 out of the 4 houses and form assemblies for the remaining pupils. Full assembly, which was 4 days per week in my time there, has been relegated to Fridays only. Due to Fire Regulations, instead of the whole school assembling in the Hall, Years 7 and 8 (First and Second Form in my day) have School assembly in the Gym while Years 9-11 (Third, Fourth and Fifth Form) have assembly in the Hall. At some point after I left, the daily hymn-singing was dropped from assembly, but this was reintroduced when Ofsted reported the school as not meeting obligations to provide a "Daily Act of Collective Worship". Ofsted believe collective daily worship unifies a school. 7 years of assemblies with hymns from "Songs of Praise" mean I can belt out seasonal hymns with the best of them (and descant parts to Christmas carols) despite being an atheist throughout secondary school - morning assemblies prepared me for singing at weddings and funerals.
The school day still begins at 8:45 with registration as it did in my day, however the school buildings are now open from 8:00. Assembly (when held) is much shorter 8:55 - 9:05 rather than 20-25 minutes in my day (time to file in, have one or two readings/lessons or guest speaker, 2 hymns, let late arrivals file in, hear announcements/notices including results from inter- house/club/school/county events, then file out). With the school being so much larger, pupils now have 5 minutes transit time to get from one classroom to another. In my day, you left class when the bell rand and got to the next class as fast as possible, which meant pupil-jams on stairways and some corridors. Instead of 8 35-minute lessons (some of which were "double lessons 1 hour 10 mins long), the school day contains 5 1-hour lessons. Morning break is still 20 minutes, but lunchtime is 1 hour instead of 1 hour and 10 minutes. The day also ends 5 minutes earlier.
The school uniform for Years 7-11 (1st Form to 5th Form) is no longer French navy and white, but is navy, lilac and dark blue (having gone through a rather scruffy "grey skirt" phase soon after I left). Instead of Sixth Form being "smart casual" it became "attire suitable for the workplace", but a Sixth Form uniform based on a black business suit is now in force with a blazer to be worn at all times!
The House system has also changed. At intake, we were allocated to a House based on first person in the year goes to this house, 2nd person to that house, all the way through to the last person in the year (the year comprising 3 classes or tutor groups suffixed C, H and S). The Houses were separate from the classes in each year where (based on surnames arranged alphabetically) the first 30 pupils went to C, the next 30 to H and the last 30 to S (transfer pupils from other schools went to whichever class had a space made when a pupil moved away). Nowadays, houses and tutor groups seem to be the same thing: when starting at CCHS the first on the register goes to C, the second to G, the third to H and the fourth to S, the fifth to C (rinse and repeat).
The Houses have gone back to having names again, but not to the historical Governors' names. Instead pupils voted for names of famous and inspiration women. C (green) became Marie Curie, G (blue) became Tanni Grey-Thompson, H (red) became Audrey Hepburn and S (yellow) became Stewart. House-points have been introduced and inter-house competitions include pancake races, shows, decorated classrooms, karaoke, sports day and winter games. A House Shield is presented in December.
Life After School
Due to illness in the sixth form, I didn't go to university, but went to the local college and learnt Economics, Accountancy, Law and typing. I got Law A Level in 1 year and my Accountancy and Economics were A level standard, but lack of a grant meant I left college during the second year and got a job. A few years later, I went back to the same college for my Software degree. Typing - or at least "keyboard skills" - was a hugely useful skill in later life as the workplace became ever more dependent on computers (and fluency with a keyboard gave me a head-start in some respects).
My first "job" was a summer job in a hospital pathology laboratory. I enjoyed this greatly and had a career path planned out: A levels, University degree and then pathology. Unfortunately serious illness interrupted this neat career path and I left school with 2 A Levels and went to college to learn some vocational skills. I had decided to do some work and earn an income while I got my life back together again. I got Law A level and was particularly good at property law, but I didn't get a grant for the second year at college. My father was expected to stump up the whole amount in "parental contributions". The estimated parental contribution was based on the previous year, during which my 2 sisters were still at school. They now needed funding for their college so I decided to get a job and become self supporting. At the same time I met someone and made the big mistake of setting up home with him.
My next jobs were in an engineering company's private library and in a couple of local estate agents' offices. I then joined the Marconi Company as a secretarial temp and moved into computing. After a few years of writing software (sadly not very well) I did a succession of temp jobs including a stint in their standards dept before temporarily going back into pathology. I worked as an assistant in a hospital microbiology lab and though I thoroughly enjoyed it and demonstrated enough of a flair that I was offered sponsorship to get full qualifications, it simply didn't pay enough (especially with marital breakdown looming).
I returned to software in the form of software quality assurance in a defence engineering company (that used to be part of the Marconi Company). After we'd lived more-or-less separate lives for a long while, my partner finally moved in with his mistress whom he'd been seeing for several years (I knew about his affair and chose to ignore it). A few years later I decided I was getting stale in the software side and needed a new challenge so I switched to hardware quality assurance. Engineering is a good place for geeks.
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