Sunday, 27 May 2007

St Christopher School 1

Arundale House, St Christopher School

My brother and I did not have very long to explore and enjoy our new territory. Before the end of September, we had to make the journey to our new boarding school, where my brother had already spent two terms. St Christopher School in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, is the school which I really can remember vividly, and which I often revisit in my dreams. It was where I was extraordinarily happy, and where I remained until I left school for good at the end of the war.

Our parents must have chosen this school very carefully. This was before the 1944 Education Act, which made secondary education free for all pupils in the UK, thereby opening up secondary schooling to girls as well as boys. The educational possibilities available to families living in the depths of the country must then have been very limited, and I think my parents must have cared deeply about finding the right school for both of us, to send us each term from Worcestershire to Hertfordshire to attend this particular establishment.

St Christopher described itself, in its advertisement in the New Statesman, as “a community of some 350 children and adults”, and in those days it was recognised as a ‘progressive’ school, or somewhat less flatteringly by some as a 'crank' school. My cousin Mirabel, who went to a similar school called Bedales, used to refer to them affectionately as 'lettuce and brown sugar schools'.

So what made ‘Chris’ progressive in its time? In the first place it was coeducational, which was relatively unusual then in private schools, and so was a more natural community than single sex schools, thus enabling us to develop intellectually, socially and emotionally in a more rounded way. Indeed, in some respects it was a better place for growth and development for my brother and myself than our home in the country, where we were isolated, both by distance and by the war, from intellectual, social and cultural stimulus, other than what our parents and a very limited social circle could provide.

Secondly, it was vegetarian, though on health grounds rather than on ethical principle. In addition to extra cheese and nuts, thanks to our special ration books, our diet included masses of vegetables and salads; wholemeal bread, and wholemeal rice, pasta and flour for cooking, and strictly no strong seasonings such as pepper and vinegar. I seemed to thrive on this diet, and was convinced I would remain vegetarian when I left school – but in fact I didn’t.

At the beginning of the war the school offered meat dinners twice a week for those children whose parents wished it. This had to be discontinued however, as the catering became too complicated with rationbooks which had to be either one or the other. My mother had the same problem during the school holidays, when she and my father would share their tiny meat ration with mybrother and myself, eking out with the extra cheese ration to which we were entitled with our vegetarian ration books.

Here I am with my younger brother,
clipped from the annual whole-school photograph in the summer of 1940.

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