Mabel Howlett school days

I was born in May 1920and started school in 1923. I don't remember which month but, in those days, you would start school when your parents and the school teacher thought you were ready. My own daughter started at the same school when she was 3.

Mr Cuthbert was the headmaster. The teachers were Mrs Cuthbert, Mrs Kate Barrett, and Mrs Seymour the last two being daughters of Mr Jones who was headmaster when my mum and dad attended the school. All Mr Jones pupils wrote in lovely copperplate writing.

To get back to my school days. When I started in the infant’s school Mrs Seymour taught us. She was assisted by pupil teacher Miss Phyliss Mark who lived with Mr & Mrs Charlie Seymour in the High Street and took me to school for a while. We were taught the alphabet and 3 or 4 letter words, counting and simple sums. I remember Mrs Seymour had a thick pointer to point to things on the blackboard and if your attention strayed it was pointed into your tummy quick.

We all went home to dinner at midday 12 - 1.20pm. At about 2 o'clock out came the truckle beds. They were stacked in the cloakroom. They were made of canvas and wood something like a stretcher, and we all had to lie down for a rest. I can't remember how long for.

The pupil teachers helped all over the school. Some of them were home from college getting practical training to become proper teachers, but some had no formal training just a fair amount of knowledge and as I remember a love of children. All the children in the school went out into the playground at some point to do P.E unless it was pouring with rain.

When we went into the juniors (at about 8 years old I think) under Mrs Barrett’s tuition we had to get down to real work so that you were ready to sit the entrance exam for one of the Thame grammar schools (like today's 11 plus exam) or is even that old hat now. We were taken by bus to sit this exam. In the year that I sat this exam Mrs Cuthbert's sone Colin and Douglas Rolfe passed. Others did as well. These two sticks in my mind because they were both killed in the war.

Mrs Barrett was very fair and just and expected you to do the very best you could. There were very few places for ordinary children in those days as the final decision was taken by the headmistress of the girl’s grammar school and the headmaster of the boy’s grammar school a kind of grace and favour thing.

Once the exam was over you were in the seniors where as well as the three R's history and maths you were taught needlework and cookery if you were a girl, gardening, and woodwork if you were a boy.

We also had country ad maypole dancing also a bit of drama. I remember us performing "a midsummers night’s dream" on Mr Manchester’s lawn one summer. He lived in the house along Oakley Road where the Chinnor nursery school is now. That was great fun.

On Mayday the boys carried the maypole up to the home of Mr Walter Benton where we did maypole and country dancing in the garden. This was followed by a lavish tea supplied by Mr & Mrs Benton

Mr Walter Benton started the Chinnor lime works in 1908. This was soon to become Chinnor Cement and Lime Works. The works were to solely in their possession until Mr Norman Benton sold to Rugby Cement in the sixties. The Benton’s were great benefactors in the thirties. We had the first asphalt playground in Oxfordshire, and 4 new wooden classrooms all supplied by Mr Walton Benton. Mr Norman Benton later bought the centre of our village for the school ad sports field which are there now. Its only my opinion, but I think the cement works and the Benton’s saved our village from dying on its feet as many other villages did just before the war. I digress, but these things should not be forgotten.

Back to the school. Two of the classrooms provided were used one for cookery for the girls and the other for woodwork for the boys. Previously we had to march down to the old British School in Lower Road for these lessons not together I hasten to say. Our cookery teacher was a scoot named Miss Auld she later became Mrs Honour and spent the rest of her life in the Thame district.

Also, in the thirties we saw the start of school dinners. Those were cooked by Bessie Witney and my Aunt Ivy. We had to lay the tables, after we had finished our cookery lesson in the cookery room. These dinners were not for children within walking distance of the school who should get home and back in the 1hr 20 minutes allowed for dinner. They were supplied for pupils who came from a distance at eleven years old. Some children came from Lewknor, Aston Rowant and Sydenham to Chinnor. Henton did not have a school and neither do I know when Hempton became Henton. These children were supplied with bicycles (I don't know from which authority). I am not quite sure, but I seem to remember juniors who were two miles from the school and seniors who were three miles away got one. I recall us villagers were quite envious of those with bikes. I can't remember how many of us were to a class but there seemed to be a lot of us. Many of whom still live in the village.

I left school in 1934. I left on the Friday and started work at Risborough Furniture the next Monday. They were very happy years I spent at Chinnor School I didn’t want to leave, but it was time for me to start to earn a living. I still have my leaving report given to me and signed by Mr Cuthbert a good teacher and wonderful man.

In addition

My dad attended The Old British School in Lower Road before he went up to the National School as it was known at first. Hid dad paid twopence ad week for him to go to the British School. A free education for every child was something to be treasured. I think that is why education was thought so much of in my young day. It was felt to be a real privilege to attend full time education. It was a new and wonderful thing to them.

I don't know why we had to have Attendance Officers as unless you were almost at deaths door a day off school was unheard of.

There was a watch given to Oxfordshire school children for never being absent or late in all the years they were being educated. My Uncle Fred had one it was one of his most treasured possessions.

Mr Jone’s daughters taught both my daughter and me. They must have been at the school for a long time. When my dad went to school you could leave when you attained certain standards of education. He reached this standard when he was eleven in 1896 and was sent to apprentice to a grocer in Hillingdon. He did not return to the village until 1919 after the Great War of 1914 - 1918. After that he spent the rest of his life here.

I hope this has been of some interest. Mabel Howlett

NB: All the above has been copied from Mabel's handwritten script.