Letters from School

I remember, when I was at boarding school in the early 1950s, every Saturday morning we had to sit down and write a letter home. In those days we were only allowed to go home two or three times in a twelve-week term. In retrospect, the strict rules and punitive punishments were dreadful to inflict on any child. My letters generally followed this format:

Dear Mummy and Daddy,

How are you? I am fine.

The film was called Lassie Come Home. It was sad and I cried.

I got detention for running in the corridor. I got a credit for art.

I hate school please can I come home?

Love from Eleanor xxx ooo

The letters were carefully written on Croxley Cambric paper – in pencil until we graduated to ink. Royal Blue Quink Ink was the favourite. Some lucky pupils had fountain pens; otherwise we used a dipping pen. I can’t remember addressing the envelope but I do remember we were not allowed to seal it. This was not a ‘reform’ school but an upper-crust church school (Anglican) and all the correspondence was vetted. Hard to believe in this day and age! I have no idea what was censored – or censorable in an eight-year-old’s letter!

From week to week the only change in my letters would be the name of the film; how many ‘order-marks’ (bad) I got and how many ‘credits’ (good). Three order-marks equalled one detention. The top punishment was being ‘gated’: in other words, not allowed home for one of the Sunday Exeats. Major punishment was not being allowed home for Half-term. I was gated once for pulling a tongue at the matron. The fact that I was terrified of her and licking my lips to moisten them was not a valid excuse! Anyone who has lived through a winter in High-Veld of Africa will know how cold and dry the atmosphere can be.

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Letters from School

8 thoughts on “Letters from School

  1. Pam Crowther (nee Haworth) says:

    Oh how I remember those years so well – no wonder I never did well at school I was too busy being sad, terribied and frightened. Fifty years on, your letter brought back so many memories – I had a sleepless night last night……and my late mum would say “What would Miss Charles say?”

    Like

  2. Fiona Adams says:

    I know what was censored in at least one of my letters home. I was six and one exeat weekend I hurt my neck and my mother made me promise to tell her if it was still sore after I went back to school. Keeping a promise was a Big Deal and I remember feeling good when I did just that, and wrote “My neck is still a bit sore” in the next weekly letter home. But I was told to rewrite the letter without that part, “Because you don’t want to worry your parents, do you?” And that pretty much sums up Bishopslea for me – a place where a rosy picture was presented to parents, but behind the scenes it all ran on fear and the emotional abuse of vulnerable children. I remember one matron (can’t recall her name) timing us at bathtime – we were given three minutes for six-year-old fingers to undo buttons, unlace shoes, get undressed, get into the bath and wash and rinse and get out – which meant that for an entire term, I didn’t actually bath once. When I went home, my mother had to put oil all over me to soften the dirt before she could scrub it off and my clothes had to be burned. I remember being seven and vomiting uncontrollably in the dorm and being made to clean it up myself. I remember being put out in the passage outside the dorm, which was open to the air, and being left outside there for a night as a punishment for talking after lights out.
    Most of all, I remember being “sent to Coventry” for a term, for saying the matron we had then, Mrs Farrell, was a nincompoop and that she smelled bad (which she did – she was a smoker). I don’t know if that punishment actually lasted an entire term – all I know is that I was six, and a day felt like a week and longer than that was just forever. None of the girls were allowed to speak to me – only teachers were. That punishment didn’t teach me respect for authority, or not to be rude about adults, or whatever the lesson was meant to be – it did teach me what isolation and social rejection felt like; it taught me that when fear rules, no-one can afford to be your friend; it taught me what loneliness is and what abandonment feels like. And it destroyed my trust in my parents. What kept me going while I was “In Coventry” was knowing that of course my parents would rescue me, of course they wouldn’t let me go back to such a horrible place, of course they would. And when they fetched me for the next exeat weekend I left the school grounds absolutely convinced I would never be back: the relief and happiness I felt when we drove out of there was almost overwhelming it was so intense. But they didn’t rescue me and they did send me back. They simply didn’t believe me – I can still remember my mother saying, as we drove into the garage at home, “But it’s such a good school and you have such a nice new matron! You’re a lucky, lucky girl to be there and you should be grateful”.
    Sorry to ramble on like this. It’s hard when those awful memories come back. I envy the girls who had such a wonderful time there and who can sing the school’s praises – for me it was hell.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Fiona Adams says:

        They were indeed, and I doubt whether some of them would be allowed anywhere near children now. I was there in the late 1960s.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It took a long time to change … I was fortunate to become a day-girl from Std 3 until I went to Arundel in Form 1 as a boarder.

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