Dellfield (Newtown) School
By David Evans
I hold quite mixed memories about the primary school. I spent the first 20 years of my life in Hatfield Newtown and, as everywhere was new at the time, Dellfield school seemed quite old when I joined it at 5. Miss Cotterel, the first teacher, was kind enough, with the alphabet letters arranged around the room and her well worn Wendy house to play in. But you had to stand and face the wall for a while if you forgot your fresh cotton hankie each day!
The following year was with the more strict Miss.Robinson. ‘Strict’ was the order of the day really from the Headmaster Mr.Preston, later ordained a Vicar. We called him ‘Press Button B’. Then through the more psychopathic old-type of school teachers such as Miss Allen, who would hold Country Dancing classes in the hall – standing to one side by the record player, tapping her foot to the beat of ‘The Brighton Reel’ whilst we would form groups and nervously perform the dance routines waiting for her to race across to you in long energetic strides, to hold you up by your shorts with one hand and repeatedly smack the backs of your legs with the other if you’d missed the sequence. This frequent act would completely spoil and change the atmosphere in the room and leave it completely at odds and in contrast to the jolly background music, thus putting me off dancing forever.
We also had ‘Music and Movement’ in the Hall, where the teacher would just tune into a BBC Radio programme at a certain time and you’d just follow the radio broadcast. ‘Now children – Make yourself BIG like a tree … stretch those branches … skip around the room again and now make yourself small – as small as you can’. Good bludge for the teacher, who was usually Miss. Allen.
Mr Pomfrey was reserved for the older children. He had an almost bald head and a strange almost Nazi-officer kind of a sweat on his top lip. He always seemed to be just on the edge of exploding I felt, finding it quite hard to contain himself. His frequent use of the ‘slipper’ (a black plimsoll) on children’s bottoms for little reason was probably, I later deduced, concurrent with his betting shop losses. He could frequently be spotted hurrying out of ‘Uncle Stan’s’, one of the bookmakers in the town centre. Indeed – His only real interest it seemed was sport and certainly not teaching.
Mr.Rhodes and Mr.Jolly added to the above, with their dark green, leather-elbowed jackets and were, to my way of thinking the old order. Poorly trained, untalented, uninterested and just pounding their feet to their pensions on the whole. But there were shining lights. The post-war late 1950s / early 1960 era was a time of great change and not least within the teaching profession. New staff were coming into the school and one such teacher I recall with great affection was Miss Shutes – gentle, calm, unflustered and good humoured. Her craft class was heaven to me. She was young, looked nice (she had coloured ‘wings’ on her glasses which she’d change each day) in her bright print ’60’s shift dresses. She always smelled nice too and she and Mr Graham were the opposite of the old timers I thought. I always helped Miss Shutes tidy her classroom after school.
Oddly at 60, I can still recall some of the people in my classes and generally within the school: Brenda Kirby, the Caretaker’s lass (wee’ed herself in class on occasion), Carol Perrett (I had to be seated away from her at the request of her Mum, as she was pretty and I kept ‘bothering’ her!), my mate Stewart Bullen with his amazing white hair, Steve Wasnock (excuse the spelling Steve!), Dennis Day, Barry Osbourne, Linda Reece (who once had a cat-fight after school with another girl, to everyone’s delight), Tony Bell, Michael Carney (strange!), Billy Lacey (who must without doubt have ended up in prison), Billy Pratchet (poor lad had a bad stammer), Gary Sage (a really likeable chap who had to wear calipers for a while through polio), Alison Dunn, and for a short while the red-headed Sorcha (Sor-ka) and Pichot (Pee-ko) Cassidy (The twins) who were nicknamed Pinky and Perky and who moved on to a Catholic school after a couple of years.
About the school – I can certainly recall the stinking outside toilets – uncleanably heinous and vile. I’d hold myself to the point of busting rather than ever use them, with walls and floors dripping wet in water and urine, the green-streaked dark satanic urinals were a taboo, no-go area to all but the sick or the desperate! In fact, one of the playground taunts included threats along the lines of, ‘Do that again and I’ll chuck you in the toilets’.
There was an attractive line of conker trees to the rear of the school in the seemingly large playing field over which I’d day-dream my time away. Miss Ingrey, the cook, would come each mid-morning, pushing her bicycle towards the kitchens to produce the usual school food of the day – liver and bacon, boiled fish, mash and cabbage, spotted dick. I was lucky; I could go home for lunch!. In fact, one classroom only had a thick-grey curtain partitioning it from the dining room/kitchens and you could hear and smell the food being produced.
The old building did have something about it I suppose. With its dark-maroon windowed doors, parquet-floored corridor and hall, it served (as did all new town’s) the over-spill of London together with the children of the swathes of workers up at ‘De Hav’s’ more or less adequately. But to me, it seemed a place uncomfortably wedged between two worlds, the old and the new and never quite managing to be one or the other.