The Boarder

The year was 1928, and after the death of my mother I was sent to boarding school as a tender eight-year-old in a desperate attempt to make me a lady.

The difficulties I encountered were intensified by the fact that most children came from affluent backgrounds whereas my father had to struggle to give me this opportunity. Buying the uniform alone was a nightmare, for most things had to be purchased in triplicate. Outdoor wear was tailor-made, but always allowing for growth at no time did it fit.

Summer, winter, sports and casual wear had to be bought, but when King George V died our Sunday best was changed from a white silk dress with black stockings and cream coat to a grey flannel suit with a black triangle for mourning on the sleeve. I’m sure my Father mourned the outflow of cash from his bank account, he almost had a breakdown.

We were proud to look smart as we walked in crocodile along the Leas at Folkstone. If we got out of line we were soon corrected, but in retrospect I realise that the rules were sensible, made either for our safety or that of others, and
they encouraged us to be respectful.

There was no talking in corridors or running upstairs two at a time, and fines for spillages were imposed at 2d for gravy and 3d for tea.

We were well looked after, with weekly doses of senna and nightly potassium of permanganate intended to safeguard our throats, but which was used to tan our bodies.

The school was well run but the curriculum limited. Almost any subject could be taught, even golf, but the charge was £1. 10s per term, and I could choose one subject which was art.

I should have taken up needlework or cookery, because upon leaving school I could do neither. Maybe the richer girls would not need this expertise!

Teachers were kind, especially when a first trip to Madeira was organised, and I was almost the only one whose parent couldn’t raise the money. Occasionally father managed to come to prize-giving, but whereas other parents stayed at the Grand, he stayed at a humble bed and breakfast.

We all wore Marina Green at the time of the wedding of that most royal of personages to the
Duke of Kent, and were very shocked when one pupil from the USA showed cuttings about that association of the then Prince of Wales with Mrs Simpson. Trees were planted in our sports ground to commemorate the King’s Silver Jubilee in 1935.1 recently searched for mine but was unable to locate it.

There was no pop in those days, but our idols were hutch and Henry Hall.

If I have any criticism of the school it is that having educated us well, little was done regarding careers. Maybe few expected to work, and only a handful went to university.

Apart from theatre visits and concerts, the only other places I was taken to see life from the other side was a visit to the local laundry and sewage works – a strange choice for ‘ladies in waiting’ although we never regarded ourselves as snobs.

Father could never afford to take me out to dinner: it was always tea and a chelsea bun which I would unwind. I was reminded of this when the time came to leave school and the ritual was to unwind our straw hats until they became one long strand. Woe betide any girl who failed her exams and had to return!

Boarding school has a lot to be said for it. I’m grateful I was taught to stand on my own two feet because life is not always the easy ride our parents pray for.

Christine Bress