Sunday, February 5, 2012

EARLY INFLUENCES

George Street Primary School was a typical Victorian red-brick institution. George Street itself was one of the old thoroughfares of historic Hemel Hempstead, a small Hertfordshire market town which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The bottom end of the street passed under the arch of an ancient pub, the Kings' Arms, which boasted an outside galleried balcony overlooking the pub's backyard. Once through the arch and in the High Street, the old Town Hall faced you on the opposite side of the road, and behind that you could just catch a glimpse of the spire of St. Mary's Parish Church. An unusual piece of architecture, since the church's origins were Norman, built with the traditional square tower - the spire had been added at a later date.

The old historic High Street has mostly been preserved. The Town Hall is now used as a performance and arts venue, the old Market Square has become a car park, and the lower level of quaint shops and houses found fame as the location for 'Pie in the Sky'.

We lived at No 19 George Street: we had moved there from No 11, my parents' first home, when my paternal grandparents died and Dad inherited. It was a double-fronted detached house, set in a road of other, unremarkable houses, but its most attractive feature was that it was virtually
opposite the gates of George Street School. I am one of life's 'owls', early mornings do not agree with me, so on many a school day I would be seen making a quick dash across the (fortunately quiet) road and through the school gates as the bell rang!

Sixty years ago the school curriculum was centred firmly on the three Rs, with music, artistic expression, nature study and plenty of physical exercise thrown in for good measure. On fine summer afternoons, whole classes would be taken on 'nature walks', out into the countryside, which started at the top end of George Street. But my best memory is of those Friday afternoons when the class would settle back in the little wooden chairs and an inspired teacher read to us from great children's classics. Here it was I first became entranced by Tom and the Water Babies, both Alice books and many more. Miss Jarman brought Ratty, Mole, Toad and the rest alive for us; she was at all other times a strict disciplinarian, but with a book in her hands, she let
loose her hidden talent for acting and each character was given a distinctive voice.

And it was standing at assembly in the little school hall on the morning of 6th February 1952 that I and my schoolfellows learned of the death of George VI. When it came to singing the final hymn, I remember my neighbour urging me in a whisper: 'You mustn't sing, don't sing, the King has died!' The radio played solemn music all day. The State Funeral took place 9 days later, on my birthday.


© MWD 2012

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